A new lawsuit reveals the high stakes in gaming as brands like Coca-Cola and Bud Light push the hourly income of popular streamers as high as five figures: “It’s become something nobody predicted.”
A decade ago, Benjamin Lupo’s hobby of playing video games was just that. Today, a gamer like Lupo could earn as much as $15,000 an hour broadcasting his gaming to the nearly 3 million people who follow him on live-streaming platform Twitch.
Lupo, who goes by the online avatar DrLupo, says it took him “two full years of streaming 40-plus hours a week” while working a regular job before he felt comfortable gaming “full time.” Now considered one of the world’s most popular gamers, he’s part of a burgeoning cottage industry of streamers who are profiting from the booming business of video games.
Over the past five years, the gaming industry has more than doubled, rocketing to $43.8 billion in revenue in 2018, according to the NPD Group. Skilled gamers — buoyed by the rise of streaming platforms like Google’s YouTube and Amazon’s Twitch — have turned into stars who can not only attract millions of fans but also earn millions of dollars. Top Twitch streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, for example, has said he made $10 million in 2018 playing online game Fortnite.
“There’s been incredible [revenue] growth across the board,” says Mike Aragon, who oversees Twitch’s partnerships with streamers as senior vp content. “The entire ecosystem has become more mainstream.”
Being a professional video gamer has become so lucrative, in fact, that disputes are arising about who has the right to the advertising revenue and brand endorsements that have started to roll in for top streamers. On May 20, esports player Turner “Tfue” Tenney became the first major player to sue his team, FaZe Clan, alleging that it has limited his business opportunities and pocketed 80 percent of his earnings in violation of California’s Talent Agencies Act. FaZe Clan responded claiming that it has collected “a total of $60,000” of the “millions” Tenney has earned since signing with the team.
Streaming personalities regularly appear live on camera for more than eight hours a day, responding to fan comments and questions as they play. Twitch, the largest live-streaming platform, averages nearly 1.3 million concurrent viewers daily. Streamers monetize those viewers in a variety of ways, through in-stream ads, donations and paid subscriptions to their channel.