Microsoft aims to restore the videogame streaming market with the "Ninja" pact

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An agreement between

Microsoft
Corp.

and a celebrity videogamer known as Ninja opened a new front in the technology giant's battle to dent its rival

Amazon.com
Inc.

The domain of the streaming games business.

When Tyler "Ninja" Blevins at the beginning of this month started playing live exclusively on Microsoft's Mixer platform, it represented the first great poaching of the software company from Twitch, Amazon's proprietary service that is by far the largest player in the rapidly growing streaming industry. The 28-year-old resident of the Chicago area had been Twitch's biggest star, where his contract had recently ended.

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The terms of Mr. Blevins' current and previous offers were not learned, but Mixer's move made Microsoft a buyer in the scorching market for streamer talent. Streaming is an increasingly large part of the $ 150 billion global video game industry, as more and more people spend more time watching others play online, attracting advertising dollars and subscriptions and influencing which titles of game gain popularity. Streaming platforms depend on famous players like Mr. Blevins to attract viewers.

Talented agents representing online entertainers argue that Blevins has probably reached a multi-year deal with Mixer with an access bonus in the tens of millions of dollars for about six years. They say they expect Blevins to continue to generate revenue from advertisements, sponsorships, subscriptions and tips like most of the best streamers.

Microsoft refused to share the details of his contract with Mr. Blevins, who declined to comment. Brandon Freytag, founder of Loaded, a talent management company that represents him, said Mixer "aligns with him in the growth of his brand" and that Blevins is working with Microsoft on numerous projects, refusing to share details.

Microsoft owns 15 game development studios and sells the Xbox One game console, with plans to introduce a later model for the 2020 holiday season.

However, Microsoft is still a little streaming. He acquired Mixer, formerly known as Beam, in 2016 and relaunched it in 2017. In the second quarter of this year, Mixer represented 3% of the hours watched among the main live streaming platforms. Twitch, which Amazon purchased in 2014 for $ 970 million, had over 70%; and YouTube, a unit of

Alphabet
Inc.

Google, about 20%, according to StreamElements, a startup service provider for online issuers. Twitch said that people spent 505 billion minutes watching live streaming on his platform last year, compared to 355 billion in 2017.

"Microsoft needs the best streamers to establish Mixer as a real destination to compete with Twitch and YouTube," said Ben Schachter, industry analyst for Macquarie Securities. Competitive pressure is growing because Google plans to introduce a cloud-gaming platform in November called Stadia that will be integrated with YouTube, potentially strengthening its position.

Twitch has become so influential that Wall Street analysts rely on viewers' data to assess the popularity of big publisher games as

Electronic arts
Inc.

is

Activision Blizzard
Inc.

Brands ranging from State Farm insurance to KFC fast food restaurants advertise on Twitch and have sponsorship agreements with the best players.

With live streaming, professional players generally play and comment on video games while reacting to text messages published by viewers in real time. Streamers earn money from advertisers and viewers who reverse and pay to subscribe to their streaming channels. In recent years, they have also signed agreements with major game publishers to spread out by playing new releases for up to $ 50,000 a few hours, for a few hours at a time.

Justin Warden, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based talent agency Ader Inc., said the best streamer – the ones that attract at least 10,000 simultaneous viewers during broadcasts – can now earn from $ 2 million to $ 4 million a year, an amount that is growing rapidly.

Mr. Blevins, best known for playing the "Fortnite" megahit game, took ample space last year when he played with rap star Drake and later appeared on the cover of ESPN the Magazine. He has signed promotions agreements with Red Bull, UberEats and other brands. He recorded an average of about 41,000 viewers for his streams, according to StreamElements, when he was on Twitch, where he had more than 14 million followers, about double that of the next most popular Twitch station.

He is one of the few streamer who have expanded their careers beyond Twitch. Benjamin "DrLupo" Lupo, a Twitch streamer with 3.5 million followers, collaborated with State Farm in January, while Michael "Shroud" Grzesiek, who has 6.8 million follower Twitch, has become an official partner of the company of food deliveries Postmates last year.

Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said he does not expect Mr. Blevins' absence to significantly damage Twitch, which has over three million issuers. "And how

Netflix

lose "Friends" ", said Pachter." There are other things that people can watch. "

Mr. Blevins' move has already had an effect on the mixer. In the first 24 hours, the Mixer mobile app has moved to no. 13 from n. 747 of the download table for

Apple
Inc.

App Store in the United States, data from Sensor Tower Inc. show. The app added 25,000 new users on the day of the announcement, with an increase of 86% compared to the previous week, says the app analysis company.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com

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