No doubt you have heard about Ninja getting rapper Drake to play Fortnite with him on stream. Fun fact: Ninja is getting half a million US per month just from showcasing his awesome Fortnite skills and being entertaining. If you were to ask us if this could be done 15 years ago, we would tell you that this is a crazy notion. Yet here we are; the disruption is strong indeed.
How big is @FortniteGame on YouTube? Fortnite holds the record for the most videos related to a video game uploaded in a single month EVER. Yesterday, the Battle Royale tournament had over 42M live views, and set a record for biggest single live gaming stream @ 1.1M concurrent.
— Ryan Wyatt (@Fwiz) March 26, 2018
How did it all come to this? How did it come to a point where the niche gaming fanbase gets to do all this?
It all started with Justin.tv and a guy’s attempt to become a reality TV star.
Back in the lovely days of 2007 when YouTube was still struggling against Vimeo and other similar competitors, 2 students from Yale launched the website Justin.tv: Emmet Shearer and Justin Kan. The “Justin” on the title is there for a reason: the site was portraying the life of Justin Kan, from the mundane activity of getting up and chilling to gaming. This was no different than a reality TV show, only that it’s done with a minimal budget, with their livestreaming backend, and it’s basically everyday streaming.
Back in that year, this was unheard of. It also helped that Justin.tv was backed by accelerator and seed capital firm YCombinator. The Justin.tv duo were given US$50,000 to make fools of themselves in public. Because of the nature of reality TV-esque show formats, the website generated thousands of viewers. The one big problem ended up rearing its ugly head after the initial buzz: it wasn’t completely entertaining.
The streaming tech was there and was slowly being established and perfected, but the hours of livestreaming Justin had done needed to be cut down as sizeable and manageable bits. As fun as it was, people got bored easily watching Justin doing mundane activities. He did switch up his routine with dates, learning new life skills like guitar playing, and being spontaneous with his routines.
Again, human nature dictates that people are always greedy for content. So people started taking matters into their own hands. Since Justin.tv let other people post up their own content, early livestreamers like IJustine started doing spoofs and comedy content. It worked, since at around 2007, Justin.tv became the biggest network hub for livecasters in the world.
However, Justin.tv was facing a financial crisis despite evolving from its original business model. Their current sponsorship plans weren’t enough to offset the rising costs of making their streaming tech evolve and business scale, Still, their hard work bored fruit; the software they used brought the cost of livestreaming down to half a penny per hour.
This led to great opportunities for Justin.tv to adopt an ad-revenue system to keep the funds rolling in. As a result, the website’s traffic ballooned up to 21 million monthly users and 30,000 streamers/channels between 2008 and 2009. Around 2010 however, the site’s growth stagnated due to copyright issues involving cable TV sports events. The fact that a 19-year old kid broadcasted his suicide on the site did not help matters; Justin.tv had to clamp down and restrict its content. As a result, the user base numbers went down steadily.
The team at Justin.tv still persevered to make the site and service relevant when 2011 began. Then it hit co-founder Emmett: what if they focused on the then-niche gaming market? What if we grow the gaming part of the site?
While at first glance it was just a big company hitting a niche target and getting more losses out of it, it was actually the rare case where the niche ended up growing bigger and bigger. The fact that the esports and esports viewership numbers needed a streaming service like this for competitive gaming means that there was nowhere to go but up.
The fact is that people want to watch other better players play games while also interacting with them. The niche and extremely dedicated fanbase was craving desperately for a platform like Justin.tv. There were even no restrictions and little to no copyright infringements on top of that; the ecosystem where players, gamers, fans, commentators, and gaming leagues benefited greatly and are in sync.
It also helped a lot that Emmett was a gamer who resonated with the community. There was an actual drive for him and his team to deliver this to gamers, especially at a time when StarCraft II was gaining popularity as the go-to competitive game of that year.
When that section grew fast in 2011, it ended up being its own dedicated hub. It was called Twitch.tv. The rest, as they say, is history. People used Twitch to stream their games, be entertaining, crack jokes while getting headshots, and even interact with their fanbase. Eventually, people like Ninja made a living out of it, getting better at the games they’re showcasing while also being entertaining.
Because of its catering and hyper-levels of support for its niche audience, Twitch.tv viewings skyrocketed against other platforms like Ustream, Azubu, Own3DTV, and even its brother Justin.tv. They went from 3.5 million unique monthly users in 2011 to 20 million in 2012. The numbers just keep multiplying from here on out.
This is where companies who try to get into esports fail because they don’t identify with the community. They see dollars and sense first before figuring out that this was a long haul kind of game. You need the right mindset and the actual heart for the hobby to even attempt something this monumental.
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