Jack “CouRage” Dunlop and Tyler “Ninja” Blevins at the Fortnite World Cup in 2019. | Photo by Eric Ananmalay/ESPAT Media/Getty Images
Mixer, the soon-to-be-shuttered streaming platform from Microsoft, always had a tough road ahead of it. In a space already dominated by Twitch, and with YouTube using its unparalleled audience scale to carve out its own slice of the market, Microsoft’s offering was a hard sell.
But while Mixer was ultimately a failure, as evidenced by yesterday’s news that it was shutting down, that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an important place in the fledgling world of streaming. In fact, the sheer existence of Mixer, and Microsoft’s big-money push to make it relevant, showed some of the world’s biggest entertainers their true worth. And the platform kicked off a talent war that will likely continue even after Mixer no longer exists.
Mixer launched in 2016, but its big impact didn’t happen until three years later. Last August, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins — arguably the most famous video game streamer and a public face for both Twitch and Fortnite — announced that he was leaving Twitch for Microsoft’s platform. “I feel like I’m going to get back to the streaming roots,” Blevins said at the time. While initial numbers were strong, Blevins was never able to overcome Mixer’s significantly smaller user base, and he struggled to pull in viewership comparable to Twitch.
But ultimately that didn’t matter. The fact that someone as big as Blevins could up and leave Twitch showed that there was a demand for the talent that drives these platforms. Other streamers followed suit. Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek and Soleil “Ewok” Wheeler also went to Mixer. YouTube signed 100 Thieves stars Jack “CouRage” Dunlop and Rachel “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, while also signing an exclusive streaming deal with the controversial figure Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg. Jeremy “DisguisedToast” Wang jumped to Facebook. Not to be outdone, Twitch held on to some of its most important names including Imane “Pokimane” Anys and Guy “Dr DisRespect” Beahm with new, likely lucrative, contracts. It was a moment that disproportionately favored the biggest names in the business.
Before Ninja’s departure, the streaming world was largely opaque. There were exclusivity deals in place, but most people didn’t know about them. That changed. After Ninja’s move to Mixer, following the world of streaming was akin to tracking NBA free agency. There were big names moving to new places for lots of money. Much of it is still opaque — the actual details of these contracts, such as length and value, are largely still secret — but Mixer kicked off a bidding war that gave talent more power and choice, changing the way these deals were done.
Now we’re set for arguably the biggest free agency frenzy in the history of streaming. Suddenly, all of those big names that Microsoft spent millions of dollars to lure in are searching for a new home. Because the landscape has changed so much, it’s not clear where they will land. The obvious choice for many would be Twitch, but YouTube has also emerged as a strong competitor. Cory “King Gothalion” Michael, who joined Mixer last October, has already announced that he’s moving to Facebook.
“[Ten] months ago, when I joined the Mixer team, my hope was to create a more robust and competitive streaming market,” he said in a video announcing the move, “while mentoring streamers on Mixer, helping them grow their brands, and creating a space that we can all feel safe streaming in. My mission hasn’t changed.”
Ninja, meanwhile, has yet to reveal his future. “I love my community and what we built together on Mixer,” he tweeted yesterday. “I have some decisions to make and will be thinking about you all as I make them.” Similarly, Grzesiek said that “I appreciate the Mixer community and everything I’ve been able to do on the platform. I love you guys and am figuring out my next steps,” and Wheeler wrote that she is “excited for what future holds for me.
Mixer wasn’t a success. But Ninja’s move to Mixer was. He continued to build out his brand in significant ways — like launching an apparel line with Adidas and becoming the first streamer to have their own Fortnite skin — and, more importantly, kicked off a new era of competition in the space. It was good for him, yes, but also for the industry itself. When he signs his next deal, it’ll be in a very different world than when he joined Mixer just last year.