Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek — one of the most influential live-streamers on the internet — has today announced his triumphant, exclusive return to Twitch, the platform that made him famous, after a detour to Mixer that possibly netted him a cool $10 million when the site went dark and his contract got paid out.
It’s a big deal. Grzesiek was one of the biggest names on Twitch pre-Mixer acquisition, and him leaving the site last October for then-greener pastures appeared to signal a worrying exodus of talent from Twitch onto other competing live-streaming platforms, like YouTube, Facebook Gaming, and Mixer. Ten months and one (ongoing) pandemic later, Mixer is gone and the entire live-streaming landscape has shifted again.
The power is back with the platforms, which have conspicuously stopped offering exclusive contracts to streamers — Grzesiek’s return to Twitch is the first, highest-profile move. (Guy “DrDisrespect” Beahm getting permanently banned from Twitch and then returning to stream on YouTube without a contract is a slightly different kind of movement.)
As the pandemic has decimated industries across America, it’s actually helped live-streaming flourish: according a report published by StreamElements and Arsenal.gg, Twitch grew a full 56 percent in terms of hours watched between the first quarter of this year and the second, and Facebook Gaming grew 75 percent over the same period of time. Grzesiek returning to Twitch means that his astronomical numbers — he has 7.1 million followers on Twitch as of this writing — will be counted toward what I’m sure will be even more growth in the back half of this year.
Even so, it’s hard not to think about the reasons that live-streaming platforms might not want to sign new streamers to exclusive deals. First and foremost, there’s the pandemic: while these platforms are growing, COVID-19 has done a number on advertisers, which are integral to the business models of live-streaming platforms. Growth doesn’t necessarily mean a subsequent increase in ad revenue.
Second, it’s not so clear that signing streamers to seven-figure contracts brings in a commensurate amount of revenue; the competition between live-streaming platforms only started after Mixer shook up the whole market by getting Tyler “Ninja” Blevins to sign on their dotted line. Now that Mixer is gone, it’s not exactly clear whether any of the other platforms are willing to shake up the market again — it didn’t exactly benefit platforms to pay live-streamers tons of money just to have them stay there. (That said, Mixer’s legacy is obviously in how its lucrative contracts showed the top live-streamers how much they were worth.)
Personally, I think Twitch signing Grzesiek to an exclusive deal was more about not letting him leave again — which was a tactical error! — than it was anything else, similar to how YouTube immediately signed Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg after his contract with DLive was up. In many ways, you could even read Grzesiek’s homecoming as a return to the old status quo.