Ninja's move from Twitch to Mixer is a signal to the streaming industry

Ok chances are really good you didn’t actually miss this one but, yesterday, Ninja announced he’s moving off of Twitch and onto rival platform Mixer - which is owned by Microsoft. An interesting move for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that Ninja’s career essentially began when he turned pro playing Halo, another Microsoft owned asset. So, in a roundabout way, Ninja is getting back to his roots.

The more interesting story that’s unfolding here, is that Ninja’s move may trigger something bigger and even more significant. For the past several years, streaming platforms have attempted to differentiate themselves in order to win and maintain viewership. Mixer pioneered near-zero latency streaming in the hopes it would better connect streamers with their audiences. Caffeine integrated many of the disparate streaming tools on the market natively into its platform, making it easier to actually go live. And with DLive you have the inevitable integration of blockchain and live streaming.

But that’s just a list of features and no successful business (or platform) is built solely on features. It’s the key differentiators, the competitive advantages, that win the day. For streaming platforms, that key differentiator is the talent. The people that choose to entertain on these platform and attract an audience are the ultimate value drivers. The currency that they’re trading on is community, and that’s what Mixer is betting on here.

Rewind the clock a few years, and you’ll see a timeline play out during which Mixer was investing heavily in technical infrastructure. They’ve taken a very methodical approach to how they’ll handle monetization, leading many to speculate how much longer before ads show up, just as they do now on Twitch. Mixer’s been laying the foundation.

Ninja standing on a stage checking his phone with other streamers and competitors walking about on either side of him and an audience standing in front
Ninja on the Doritos Bowl stage at TwitchCon 2018

Twitch didn’t have the luxury of taking its time, capitalizing instead on first-mover advantage. That bet paid off and likely will for years to come. By kicking this whole thing off, Twitch was essentially an irresistible magnet for up-and-coming live streaming talent for several years before it faced any serious competition. Through that talent it grew its base of viewership to over 15M unique daily users. The data may be dated, but it illustrates what’s possible with a healthy talent pool over a few years with limited competition.

Now it’s 2019, and the technology and the features have equalized. So what happens next? Well, what happened today, that’s what. The race to build the best platform is drawing to a close and it’s debatable if anyone actually won. But it doesn’t matter. The next battle between the platforms will be waged in the form of talent acquisition. Mixer didn’t fire the first shot with Ninja, but it fired a big one, solidifying its role as an ambitious contender.

More streamers are sure to follow, and not just to Mixer. Follow-up tweets to Ninja’s hinted this is just the beginning. Paul Chaloner at esports talent agency Code Red Esports had this to say shortly after the announcement:

Much like the free agent model in traditional sports, as streamers realize the value they and their communities possess, they’ll start shopping for the opportunities that best suit them. No more being beholden to a single platform out of fear of losing money by switching up. Platforms will be paying streamers to jump ship because they understand the inherent value in welcoming those communities into their own ecosystems.

The revenue potential alone from securing in-demand talent is reason enough for the upfront cost. Viewers will become less platform loyal as a result because, let’s face it, very few of us watch the streamers we do because of the platforms they choose. We watch them because we love their content. That’s the one constant in all of this, and that’s why the winners of tomorrow will trade on the currency of community.


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