Ninja has the third most social interactions in the month of March, confusion ensues
A few days ago, I accidentally sparked some controversy within the industry by tweeting an image and noting that among all athletes, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins had the third most social interactions in the month of March. That’s right, falling just behind LeBron James and ahead of global superstars like Lionel Messi and Shaquille O’Neal is a guy who plays video games for a living.
The most common reaction to this stat was pretty much the same as mine: that’s insane. However, the post drew a lot of negative attention as well, primarily for two reasons. First, the graphic compared Ninja to other “athletes,” which is somewhat problematic given the fact that he plays video games for a living. Second, the graphic labeled Ninja as an esports player despite the fact that he’s currently a full-time streamer.
I want to address each of these critiques as they are excellent examples of two debates that come to the fore in this industry fairly regularly.
Let me start by getting this out of the way: esports are not sports. I’ve heard hundreds of definitions of the word sport, but the ones I find most compelling incorporate some form of athleticism that simply isn’t required by any popular esport in 2018. With that said, I couldn’t care less. I find baseball to be sinfully boring and yet I thoroughly enjoy watching a wide array of video games; the label for the activity doesn’t in any way change my perspective. It’s time we retire this debate.
On the other hand, it is important to distinguish between gaming and esports. Esports is the umbrella term that surrounds competitive gaming—you have to be playing to win some form of competition, not simply playing by yourself or with friends in an unorganized setting. By this definition, Ninja’s regular streams aren’t esports content, though he certainly has a deep esports background as a pro Halo player. This distinction actually matters, as too often gaming and esports trends, news, and investments are conflated in a way that confuses non-endemic audiences. And while consumer conversation is fairly unimpactful, it is critically important for decision makers at sports teams, media companies, brands, investors, and more to understand this distinction so that it can color their viewpoint on the space.
With all that said, these arguments really missed the core point behind my post. Esports or not, sports or not, the fact that a gamer generated close to the same level of social buzz as Lebron James is a milestone moment. We talk all the time about the growth trajectory of esports and gaming more broadly, but this single data point is indicative of just how large and engaged the gaming audiences already is in 2018.
The Rise of Fortnite in Three Graphs
We’ve all heard about the meteoric rise of Epic Games Battle Royale game Fortnite, but without public daily active user (DAU) numbers it’s really hard to gauge quite how popular the game really is.
While not a perfect analog for comparison, we tracked Twitch viewership over the last 6 months across 7 of the top viewed games to showcase — in three easy to understand graphs — how seismic of a shift Fortnite represents to the gaming universe.
Graph One: Twitch Viewed Hours By Game
- Fortnite has seen a 700% increase in viewership from October of last year to this past March, taking total viewed hours from ~16 million to just under 120 million.
- Most other games — apart from PUBG and Overwatch — have maintained fairly consistent viewership, correlating to major game related & esports events. Eg: LoL Worlds in Oct & competitive lull in Dec, CS:GO Major in Jan, Hearthstone expansion in Dec.
- PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) has taken a not-insignificant hit to its monthly viewership with the rise of Fortnite, losing about 22% of viewers from its max in October to the most recent full month in March.
- Overwatch has seen a nice little growth in viewership due to the launch of the Overwatch League in January, raising its three month average from 18 million hours watched (Oct-Dec) to just over 30 million (Jan-March). While still a fraction of the biggest games on this chart, the solid growth shows that perhaps the shooter’s esports viewing is immune to even Fortnite.
Graph Two: Total Twitch Watchtime and Fortnite Watchtime as a Percentage of Total Viewed Hours
- The rise of Fortnite has been additive to the entirety of Twitch. Average monthly watch time between January and March is 677 million hours — over 103 million hours more than the average monthly watchtime between October and December. That’s an increase of 18%.
- Over the last 6 months, Fortnite has become the most dominant single title on Twitch. In October, it made up only 2.8% of the total viewable hours on Twitch. In March, that number rose to an impressive 16.7%.
- January and March (31 days each) saw roughly equal total viewed hours on twitch: 713M and 712M, respectively. January had multiple major esports events: the launch of OWL and the NA LCS, the Boston CS:GO Major etc, signaling that the +10% increase in Fortnite’s proportion of total Twitch watchtime between January and March (from 6.4% to 16.7%) is indicative of it’s resilience to a competitive calendar — the game hasn’t needed esports events to show strong viewership, where other titles have.
Graph Three: Average Concurrent Viewers by Game
- Similar takeaways from the first graph we analyzed, but most interesting to me is the stark contrast this graph shows in Fortnite’s concurrent viewership between October and March. While all other titles show a fairly stable line, Fortnite has simply skyrocketed, increasing from ~22k CCV’s in October to just about 160k CCV’s in March.
- While League of Legends still impresses in terms of viewership — showing such stability & relative dominance for a 9 year old game is no easy feat — its reliance on esports probably speaks to its competitive match viewability rather than to a growing, or even recurring, player base.
- For all the data we have — dating back two years to April of 2016 — Fortnite’s March average concurrents (159,500) is the highest across any game within any month. For further context, during the week of April 2-8, Fortnite averaged 187,336 viewers — a number which, if holds, will represent another ~17% increase in MoM average viewership.
Is there something we missed? More numbers you’d like us to run? Want to compliment us on our impressive analytical thinking? Drop us a line – we’d love to chat.