What are a few hours playing video games and a handful of tweets worth? $1m (€887,000), if you are Tyler Blevins, known to millions as Ninja, the world’s most-followed computer-gamer.
Mr Blevins was one of a few select professionals with huge followings pulled in by video game giant Electronic Arts to play and promote its latest title, Apex Legends, in the first hours of the launch last month. The buzz notched 10m sign-ups in the first three days.
The 27-year-old, famous for his hair-colour changes, tweeted about the free-to-play game early on February 5 and streamed the action to his more than 13m followers on game-streaming site Twitch. For this, he was paid around $1m, a source told Reuters.
The amount underlines the increasingly cut-throat fight for dominance of the free-to-play battle royale genre, which, through Epic Games’ global smash hit, Fortnite, has pushed major publishers, like Electronic Arts, to change how they do business. Representatives for EA and Ninja declined to comment on how much he had been paid, but the amount named by the source is more than twice media reports of Ninja’s monthly earnings from streaming his regular appearances on Fortnite and way above what was speculated on a number of internet discussion boards.
EA also paid popular Polish-Canadian streamer, Shroud, who has nearly six million Twitch followers, to play Apex Legends, but declined to disclose the terms of the deal. “They did a fairly comprehensive job at pulling together all of the relevant game-influencers in this genre,” said Kevin Knocke, a vice-president at esports infrastructure firm ReKTGlobal.
“This was a really well-co-ordinated poaching of the top influencers, the likes of which has not been seen so far in esports,” he said, suggesting that EA had also roped in streamers better-known for playing other blockbusters, like Call of Duty or PUBG. The Ninja deal also points to the possibilities for teenagers who grow up hooked on the industry’s big titles, as well as a shift in promotional strategy, with the use of popular gamers replacing expensive TV ad campaigns. EA’s market value rose 16%, or $4bn, in the three days after Apex Legends launched and, a month later, the game has 50m users, a quarter of Fortnite’s 200m.
“We really wanted to create a day where you couldn’t escape Apex if you cared about games and we wanted it to feel like an event was happening everywhere around the globe on that day,” Drew McCoy, lead producer at the EA studio that created Apex Legends, said in an interview.