The nature of celebrity has always been a nebulous concept. Movie, music, and sports stars fit the mold of what we naturally think of a celebrity, but there are certainly others – politicians, models, reality TV show contestants – who obtain fame for any number of reasons, including talent, looks, scandal, and just being near a famous person.
So, celebrity is tough to comprehensively define, but it’s something you know when you see it. Part of the definition difficulty is that what people find popular is constantly shifting. Whereas once opera singers were the height of popularity, today it’s hip-hop artists, and tomorrow … who knows?
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As an example of celebrity’s unknowable nature, let’s take a look at the curious case of John Madden. After being hurt in his rookie year playing for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, Madden discovered a love of coaching while recouping on the sidelines. As the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Madden never had a losing season. After retiring, Madden moved to the broadcast booth and quickly became a fan favorite for his outsized delivery and frequent use of exclamations (like Boom!, Pow!, and Doink!) as punctuators. He parlayed his success in the booth to become the spokesperson for several major brands. He even lent his name, voice, and expertise to the Electronic Arts video game Madden NFL, a franchise that is still ongoing despite Madden’s retirement as a broadcaster in 2009.
There are three stages to Madden’s celebrity: winning coach, beloved broadcaster, face of a video game franchise. In fact, someone’s reaction to the name John Madden will depend entirely on their age.
At the height of his career, John Madden was an overweight, slightly schlubby guy from Austin, Minnesota. He was never anyone’s idea of a celebrity, yet he achieved fame thrice over.
Celebrity is impossible to define and even harder to predict. Ten years ago, if you had asked most people where today’s John Madden would be found, it’s likely that the bottom of the list would have been an online streaming platform.
Yet, that is exactly where the latest breed of celebrity is located, and Twitch.com is currently the largest platform. Twitch was founded in 2011 as just one part of a streaming service called Justin.tv. Its exclusive focus on video games became so successful that it overshadowed its host service, and Justin.tv was eventually shut down and replaced by Twitch. Three years later, in 2014, Twitch was purchased by Amazon for $970 million.
Today, Twitch features over two million unique streamers each month. The market research firm Newzoo recently analyzed 10 months of Twitch service and found that over 100 million users had streamed 800 million hours of esports.
No two livestreams are exactly alike. Some streamers offer training sessions, others provide commentary during game walk-throughs, and still others will coach viewers as they play along with the streamer. Live chats throughout the session enable real-time communication between spectator and streamer, which helps to forge the bond with the broadcaster.
The most popular of these streamers, by far, is Tyler Blevins, who is much better known by his alias “Ninja.” Ninja just hit a record milestone on Twitch by being the first streamer to reach 10 million followers. To put that accomplishment in perspective, the next closest streamers are Ali “Myth” Kabbani and Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek, both with approximately 3.9 million followers.
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Ninja is 27 years old, primarily focuses on the game Fortnite, and married to fellow streamer Jessica “JGhosty” Blevins. (In fact, Ninja recently stirred up a bit of controversy by declaring that he doesn’t invite female streamers as guests to avoid the implication of impropriety. Some felt that, regardless of his intentions, Ninja is further marginalizing a group that’s already marginalized on Twitch.)
Ninja recently did an interview with Adweek about his experience as a professional game player (which took place before the aforementioned controversy), and he discussed the power that streamers have while communicating with their audience.
“I think that what streamers have is a direct connection to their audience. Imagine if LeBron James or Michael Jordan could interact directly with their audience every time they went to work. Streamers are replying to their viewers and talking to them and that’s what a streamer does every day. Even though I’ve gotten larger I still do what I did a year ago, which is interact with fans and create direct connections. People are already in your stream because they relate to you. There is a deeper connection with streamers and viewers than any other celebrity or influencer—I’m live 12 hours a day, that’s half my day I’m sharing with millions of people,” said Ninja.
“Because of this connection, my fans want to know what mouse I use, what keyboard, what headphones—they want to use what I use. It’s important for it to be natural so I won’t use something I don’t like. There really is guaranteed interaction, so brands will 100 percent get their money’s worth out of popular streamers.”
Ninja, obviously, has some stakes in this game, but he is not wrong. Streamers have an unprecedented amount of access to their audience, but it is actually more accurate to say that the audience has an unprecedented amount of access to the streamer. Ninja is online 12 hours a day, which makes his stream extremely reliable and available. It also gives him incredible power when it comes to selecting sponsors. Yes, streamers – even ones that are far less popular than Ninja – are very mindful of their personal brand. So, sponsors may need to sell them on the benefits of a partnership.
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“I don’t think there’s any limitation,” said Ninja about deciding which brands to partner with, “it’s just about the person more than the demographic. I’ve done stuff with Bud Light, but do I want to take on a beer sponsor knowing most of my community is younger kids who can’t drink? There are still a lot of people over 21 who watch. You’re never going to hit your exact target audience.”
Brands can partner with streamers on Twitch in several ways. Branding can be added to a page and the streamer can mention sponsors during chats and commentaries. Also, Twitch has an ad-revenue-sharing program, which is essentially how the platform runs commercials – but it is significantly different than traditional broadcasting and may take some getting used to.
The way it works is when a streamer needs to take a break, he or she will announce that and say that an ad is about to run. Then the streamer will typically implore the audience to stick around for the ad, reminding them that these ads (along with the audience, since subscribers also pay to support the streamer) allow the streamer to provide this content.
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Due to the relationship that has built between the streamer and the audience, a majority do stick around for the ad. So, it may seem strange not to have a set ad schedule and to allow the streamers to decide when the ad runs, but it makes the experience much more organic.
For brands interested in breaking into the esports scene, partnering with a streamer is a good bet. There may be other chances for branding in the future, such as in-game opportunities, but both players and publishers are very aware that any such attempts need to be organic to the game or the public will resoundingly reject the effort.
“I think it’s all about keeping the integrity of the game,” said Ninja, “so there would be nothing wrong with adding a Coke machine as long as it doesn’t change things and people can still play and enjoy the game. Epic deserves to reap the benefits, through advertising deals, of having created this game. I don’t think there should be massive adverts, though, for instance in the in-game cities. But, so far, I think they’ve done a great job with little things – if you’ve checked the new updates, for example, they changed the grenade launcher to launch fireworks for the Fourth of July. They can do sponsorships or implementations like that for a short period of time.”
If you would like to discover more about your opportunities for partnering with a live streamer or another esports sponsorship, give eGency Global a call at 972-323-6354.