Apples and Oranges: Misleading Statistics in Esports, Part 2
A few weeks back we showed you how to properly assess clickbait headlines by highlighting the viewership metrics that really matter. Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into every marketer’s favorite buzzword: engagement.
An account’s engagement can be a much more relevant metric to analyze as opposed to raw following or total viewership. Of course, that depends on what you’re optimizing for — if straight up impressions are what you want, stop reading here. But I see you savvy folks skimming this on your iPhone and you’re looking for the juicy stuff. Let’s take a look at what you should actually care about.
Engagement. Who the hell cares?
While a content creator or channel’s viewership can illuminate its broad scope, engagement — expressed differently on different platforms — can help quantify active audience. These are the people who are most likely to love you, evangelize your content to their friends, and try to break into your house. You see, not all engagement is good.
Anyway, let’s take a look at the major video platforms and what you need to know about measuring engagement on each. Maybe these nuggets of gold will have you second-guessing how popular that 10 million sub YouTuber really is…
Very few relevant engagement metrics are publically available in an easy to grasp one-stop-shop database. However, some of these metrics can be gleaned from tuning in to your favorite streamer or following them on other social accounts.
- Subscribers – The holy grail for Twitch streamers. These are fans that pay between $4.99-$24.99 per month to get special emotes (Twitch emojis) and to avoid seeing ads on your channel. Even though Twitch shares in on this monthly revenue, Amazon (Twitch’s parent company) has made it easier for viewers to sub by enabling one monthly “Prime Subscription” for Amazon Prime members. Some streamers publicize total subs, subs gained during a stream, or other tidbits like a ‘sub train’, which is receiving new subscriptions in a recurring period of time (eg: every 5 mins). For context, Ninja — the biggest name in Fortnite streaming right now — recently broke the Twitch record by hitting 100k subs.
- Chat – Have you ever tuned in to an esports broadcast only to barely understand what’s happening on the side of the stream? Same. Countless emotes, numerous random letters (gg; glhf; etc) and enough inside jokes for a fourth-grade classroom make Twitch chat one of the most fascinating sub-cultures on the internet. The velocity of comments is a good way to tell how many viewers aren’t just watching this on their second monitor, but rather engaging with the stream. The Twitch backend gives you “Chatters” and “Chat Messages”, which break down how many people were active, and how many messages were sent in a given period of time (one stream; one week; one month etc).
- Donations/Bits – Streamers often promote or incentivize viewer donations by enabling a donors message to pop-up on stream. The good streamers thank the donor. The great streamers engage more deeply with the message. The best streamers count this as significant revenue stream. The streamer, the viewers, chat, and PayPal all win.
- Clips – Clips are 30-second bites created by users who are watching a channel live. They’re typically used to share highlights, sick plays, or funny moments. Often, when something noteworthy occurs on stream, many viewers will clip the same 30 second, with only one uploader receiving Reddit karma. Clips viewed is more a function of how good the streamer is (as clips are often disseminated off platform), while clips created is a proper engagement metric. Unfortunately, only the channel owner can see how many clips were created in their Twitch backend.
- Followers/Lifetime views – Not exactly engagement metrics, but use these to gauge the relative engagement of a stream. If yah boy has 1 million followers, 10 million channel views, and 10 live viewers, maybe he’s not as big as he once was…
- Video Views per Subscriber – Although the YouTube algorithm is constantly changing, one data point that’s always been interesting is the proportion of video views to the channel’s total subscribers. Subscribers should, in theory, see newly uploaded videos from their subscriptions in their feed. If they decide to, they can also opt-in for notifications for video uploads. Gauging — on average — what percentage of a creator’s subscribers view their videos will tell you how often their fans come back. Looking at this data point over multiple videos and a medium-long term time frame can show engagement growth or decline. Accounts with different subscriber numbers (tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions) will get different views/sub but a good rule of thumb — for accounts with over 1 million subscribers — is that 5% engagement is good and 10% engagement is great.
- Comments, Likes, Dislikes, Shares – Combined, these will be the total engagements on a video — all easily calculated right there on the video page. Track these across videos to compare video engagements on a single channel, or as a proportion of video views to compare engagement across multiple channels. Comments and shares are the most important, yet shares are harder to find publically. Drop us a line and we’ll let you know our favorite chrome plug-in that helps us track this (bonus points: it also links out to Reddit threads which discuss the video. Huge if you’re tracking sentiment.)
- Avg. View Duration (both time and % of video completed) – This would be higher up on the list if only it was publically available. YouTube supposedly, hypothetically, maybe only counts views that last longer than 30 seconds. But who really knows… This statistic is only available on the back-end of a creator’s channel but is incredibly valuable in gauging how long their viewers stick around. As a percentage, it shows you how quickly viewers turn off.
- Subscribers Gained per Video – This engagement statistic is relevant if you’re trying to gauge an individual video’s success to the channel. Compared between videos, this stat can show how effective a video was in driving new subscribers. This metric is also hard to find publicly but or fav tool mentioned above gives you the goods. You should really hit us up to find out what it is.
Phew, that was a long one! If you’ve stuck around for the duration, you’re now ready to become an influencer marketing manager equipped with all the no-nonsense data you need to analyze video creators. Want us to do this for other social platforms? Ping us to let us know you’ve made it all the way through and we’ll consider it.
The Economics Behind Twitch Streaming
James “Phantomlord” Varga filed a lawsuit against Twitch that claims he was improperly banned from the platform and has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result. In his complaint, Varga dives into the economics of streaming on Twitch in order to show the extent to which he has been damaged as a result of the ban, including details that are often discussed behind-the-scenes but rarely confirmed publicly. Most notably, he explains how a streamer generates revenue from subscriptions (an offering on Twitch that allows viewers to pay a monthly $5 fee in order to receive an ad-free experience as well as other special features unique to the channel). Varga asserts that while less popular streamers receive 50% of all subscription revenue generated by their channel, he and other more popular streamers make 70%. With his 16,000 monthly subscribers, Varga made $56,000/month just from subscription revenue—to say nothing of sponsorships, donations, CPM from advertising, and other revenue streams available to a streamer.
Mainstream publications have flocked to cover stories surrounding professional gamers generating large salaries. When the inaugural players in the Overwatch League were being signed for reported low six-figure sums at the end of 2017 it got national press, and Overwatch salaries aren’t even at the level of more established games such as League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The same can be said of the annual coverage of the prize pool of the International, which transforms the five winning players into millionaires overnight. But while awareness surrounding the income of professional players is rising along with the compensation itself, the economics behind professional streaming has gone largely uncovered. This is particularly surprising when one considers the fact that the biggest streamers easily outstrip the biggest professional players in terms of revenue generation.
This past weekend, Fortnite streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins broke the Twitch record for subscribers to an individual channel, exceeding 100,000. This means that Ninja will make $350,000/month just from subscriptions. Beyond subscriptions, popular streamers generate revenue for ads run on their channel, donations, sponsorships, and more. When it comes to advertising and donations, a full-time streamer generates significantly more than an equally popular professional player simply because they stream far more hours. A professional player has to scrimmage daily with their team, travel to and compete in events, and has other team-related demands on his/her time; a streamer has no such obligations. And we’re not talking chump change either; donations on the most popular tipping program exceeded $100M in 2017. It’s also worth noting that many full-time streamers even receive salaries from esports teams that have started acting like MCNs on Twitch, signing deals with streamers in order to get them to broadcast on the team’s network. This isn’t a bad thing—streamers create valuable content and drive massive engagement. I’m just surprised more people haven’t taken notice.