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Analysis | Ninja and Pokimane, two of Twitch’s biggest stars, fly the coop

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Analysis | Ninja and Pokimane, two of Twitch’s biggest stars, fly the coop

Not so long ago, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins was nigh-inescapable on Twitch. A breakout 2018 saw him stream with Drake and become inextricably tied to “Fortnite’s” meteoric rise, alongside other burgeoning big-timers like Imane “Pokimane” Anys. Fast forward four years, and both believe their futures lie beyond Twitch’s purple walls.

On Thursday, Blevins announced that from now on, he’ll be simultaneously streaming on “all platforms” — specifically Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. This follows a similar announcement from Anys last week in which she said she plans to sharply reduce the amount of time she streams video games on Twitch in favor of a more diverse spread of videos and shorts about subjects like fashion and travel across YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

While neither plans to abandon Twitch entirely, they no longer see the benefit of Twitch exclusivity in an era where Twitch is offering less money (when it offers exclusivity contracts at all) and creators are pushing back against individual platforms’ unpredictability by putting their eggs in multiple baskets. Additionally, Twitch recently informed partnered streamers who don’t have exclusivity contracts that they’re now free to stream on other platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, another concession to long-standing, borderline-unsolvable problems like discoverability in a time when Twitch faces more competition than ever.

Ninja is no longer Twitch’s biggest streamer, but he’s made peace with it

During her announcement — which came after a month-long streaming break — Anys discussed the mental toll nearly a decade of streaming has taken on her.

“Putting myself out there so much, especially streaming, revolves around this constant feedback loop of people telling you what they think of you,” she said, referring to the thousands of online comments she receives per day. “As an adult in your formative years, you’re figuring out who you are, discovering yourself. And I feel like when I’m just constantly putting myself out there, I’m not taking the time to actually reflect or grow as an individual — or think about what I like.”

During her month off, Anys did some reflecting and came to a realization: “Nowadays when I see things on Twitch, it kind of feels like ‘been there, done that,’” she said. “I’m not really, really excited or passionate about much.”

She went on to tearfully explain that it feels like she’s “closing a chapter” by taking her focus off Twitch, but that this change is necessary for her mental and emotional well-being.

Blevins also made his announcement after what seemed to be a mental health-related crisis — but which appears in hindsight to have been a promotional stunt. Last week he abruptly ended a stream in which he got frustrated while playing “Fortnite,” saying, “I just need a break … I don’t know when I will be back, or where.” Shortly after, he changed his Twitter display name to “User Not Found” and switched his profile picture to a blank default image. He also lost partner status on Twitch.

Many engaged with this sincerely, wishing Blevins a swift recovery from the burnout that’s now become an epidemic among streamers. But the move happened to coincide with the end of his two-year Twitch exclusivity contract — which he first announced in September 2020. Some streamers, like Anys and Hasan “HasanAbi” Piker, suspected a marketing stunt.

This week, they appeared to have been proven correct. Following Anys’ sincere video on the subject, the move left a bitter taste in the mouths of many creators.

“Seeing Ninja using mental health as a marketing tool for [his] latest venture is pretty [crummy],” said a Twitch partner and trainee therapist who goes by the handle Jebro, using a move vulgar term. “It stigmatizes mental health even more so within the streaming realm. … People are having real troubles in the realm of mental health, everywhere. This sickens me, honestly.”

From 2021: Ninja’s ‘Valorant’ experiment is over, but his team marches on

“The whole ‘User Not Found’ [thing] had people legitimately worried as it mimicked a lot of folks who suffer from internal demons,” said “Mario Kart” champion Bassem “BearUNLV” Dahdouh. “This was terribly executed and whoever thought it was a good idea has no empathy.”

On Friday, Blevins streamed across all the aforementioned platforms, attempting to juggle chats on Twitch, YouTube and Facebook — to mixed success. He did not read chat on the platform where he unexpectedly found the most success: TikTok, on which he pulled in over 17,000 concurrent viewers compared to around 13,000 on Twitch, 8,000 on YouTube and 1,000 on Facebook and Twitter. Seeing as Blevins was landing in a similar range on Twitch before the all-platform switch, one could call this a success — albeit with the caveat that streamers almost always experience inflated numbers immediately following a big move.

“This is crazy,” he repeatedly said at the stream’s outset.

Blevins and Anys are hardly alone when it comes to hitting a wall with live-streaming on Twitch. Staying on top requires a grueling schedule and an eagle eye for ever-changing trends, and that’s if you can claw your way to the top in the first place on a platform with well-documented discoverability issues. Even — and perhaps especially — the best are destined for burnout. Now, we’re beginning to see not just what comes after for individual creators, but how this inevitability is redefining the idea of what a Twitch streamer even is.

As ever, Twitch remains the biggest game in town when it comes to live-streaming, but it’s not difficult to envision a future in which the majority of current Twitch creators view streaming as just one tool in a much larger multiplatform tool kit, in which only a select few consider themselves primarily Twitch streamers. Blevins and Anys aren’t the first to turn Twitch from a main gig into a side hustle. They probably won’t be the last.

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Go to Publisher: Technology
Author: Nathan Grayson