Over the past three years, Microsoft has been relatively quiet about growing Mixer, the game-streaming site it acquired in 2016. All that changed on Thursday when the site announced a move that might finally turn the tide in its direction: the site’s first major talent acquisition.
Effective immediately, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins—arguably the most “household” name in the game-streaming universe—will stream his gameplay of popular shooters like exclusively on Mixer.
That means Blevins has left the West’s largest game-streaming service, Amazon’s Twitch.tv, after more than eight years on that site.
While at Twitch, Blevins racked up some of the site’s biggest simultaneous viewership numbers. That includes an explosion of activity after he hosted a surprise streaming session in March 2018 with musicians such as hip-hop phenom Drake. His Twitch run ends with a “follower” count of over 14 million, along with a continued run in the site’s top-20 ranks in terms of simultaneous viewers and number of viewer hours accrued. However, Ninja’s prior reign as Twitch’s number-one streamer has faded in recent months, all while he continues to rack up endorsement deals and promote a series of upcoming books.
In an announcement video posted Thursday, Blevins hosted a faux press conference in which every attending journalist was Blevins in a costume. This video, and a follow-up webcam explanation, repeated a call to Blevins to “get back in touch with my roots” as an explanation for the switch from Amazon’s platform to Microsoft’s. Blevins’ announcements did not explain whether a financial deal was brokered, and he did not offer existing Twitch users any recourse for paid subscription-based perks on that site being moved to his new streaming home.
Neither Mixer nor Microsoft issued an official announcement about the deal. Instead, Mixer’s official Twitter channel was littered with GIF replies to followers about the announcement. Meanwhile, Mixer.com loudly trumpeted the news on its home page by offering all users a free one-month subscription to Ninja’s channel (a $5.99 value). (Update: Shortly after this article went live, Microsoft declined to answer our questions about either any deals brokered with Blevins or any plans to add Mixer-based perks to its other subscription services.)
Under the hood, Microsoft’s Mixer has been building up a set of tools to differentiate itself from Twitch. Mixer’s most obvious differentiator is its focus on “experience points.” This system rewards viewers for participation instead of charging them money—though, like Twitch, Mixer also lets viewers donate real money to their favorite streamers in a variety of ways. Mixer also comes preinstalled as a no-friction game-streaming option in Xbox One consoles.
Yet Mixer’s viewership numbers continue to pale compared to Twitch’s. An embedded fanbase may contribute to that, but there’s also the matter of Amazon Prime’s Twitch–exclusiveperks, which may entice any $120-per-year Amazon user to stick to Twitch. Microsoft has yet to attach any similar Mixer perks to either its Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass subscription services. Even so, today’s news will likely drive thousands of new eyes to Mixer, which may be the tipping point needed for other streamers to consider dumping the crowded world of Twitch in favor of Mixer as a viable money-making option.
Anecdotally, Mixer may benefit most from Microsoft’s loud focus on a “gamer code of conduct” across its gaming subsidiaries, all while Amazon’s Twitch faces scrutiny over controversial streamers. This issue came into particular focus for Twitch during June’s E3 conference, when notorious streamer Guy “DrDisrespect” Beahm was banned from Twitch for streaming himself in a public restroom—then saw his ban reversed weeks later. (Curiously enough, after today’s Ninja announcement, Mixer loudly hosted a event on its front page, which prominently featured Beahm as a participant.)