YouTube announced on Monday exclusive livestreaming deals with three popular gamers, its latest talent acquisition in the booming market for watching skilled video gamers stream their feats online.
The three — Rachell "Valkyrae" Hofstetter, Lannan "LazarBeam" Eacott and Elliott "Muselk" Watkins — will move to Google-owned YouTube after years of streaming on Amazon's Twitch. They're the latest players in a battle that has heated up over the past few months, as streaming companies lock in the biggest stars.
Twitch has dominated livestreaming, particularly video games, beginning with its founding as Justin.tv in 2011 and through Amazon's 2014 acquisition of the company for nearly $1 billion. Since then, tech rivals YouTube, Facebook and Microsoft's Mixer have angled to carve footholds in the livestreaming hype with their own platforms amid a booming market and the shift to a more digitally based entertainment industry.
The race got more heated when superstar streamer Tyler "Ninja" Blevins moved to Mixer in August. That was followed by Michael "Shroud" Grzesiek, whose 7 million followers was third-highest on Twitch with 7 million, moved over to Mixer in October.
These efforts have eaten into Twitch's lead in livestreaming. The company saw its dominance in the worldwide market for livestream hours watched drop from 67.1% in 2018 to 61% in 2019, according to data from gaming services StreamElements and Arsenal.gg.
YouTube saw its share grow from 27.5% in 2018 to 27.9% in 2019. Facebook Gaming, while much less popular, saw the most dramatic growth, leaping from 3.1% in 2018 to 8.5% in 2019.
Facebook jumped into the streaming market in January 2018 with the launch of Facebook Gaming, where creators can livestream their gameplay to users of the social network anywhere around the world.
The company declined to say how many people use Facebook for the specific purpose of watching gaming livestreams but claims more than 700 million users who play a game on Facebook, interact in a Facebook gaming group or watch a gaming video each month.
Nonetheless, Facebook believes it has a big opportunity on its hands.
"It's easy to assume that because it's gaming and because Facebook is so big that perhaps this is a niche," Vivek Sharma, Facebook's gaming head of product, said in an interview last month. "But the 700 million people that engage every month — that's a huge number even at Facebook's scale. And we know that number is growing rapidly."
Facebook is trying to use its global reach to get a leg up on Twitch, promoting Facebook Gaming in markets like Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico. "We feel that gaming is a borderless activity," Sharma said.
That global reach has attracted creators like Amanda Oto, who goes by "Eithieen" in her streams.
Oto is a gamer in Spain who began streaming on Twitch in 2013. For Oto, streaming is a full-time gig, but after streaming on Twitch for so long, she felt she was hitting the limit of her potential audience. Oto decided in September to switch to Facebook Gaming in hopes of reaching more viewers.
Since making the switch, Oto said, she's reaching about 80 to 100 viewers per Facebook Gaming livestream, which is down from the 100 to 300 she averaged on Twitch.
However, she added, her follower count is now around 10,000, up from the 1,000 followers she had on Twitch.
"A platform change is always scary. You don't know what's going to happen," Oto said in Spanish. "But I didn't get this wrong. I made the right choice."
YouTube has also done its fair share of wheeling and dealing. Google's video platform has historically relied on video on demand as opposed to games livestreaming. In fact, YouTube launched YouTube Gaming in 2015 as an answer to Twitch, and merged it with the main site in May.
YouTube's focus on video on demand gives creators another avenue for their content to live online. YouTube managed to swipe Jack "CouRage" Dunlop and Lachlan Power from Twitch for exclusive livestreaming deals last fall.
Measured based onlive streams and on-demand videos, YouTube claims the most unique users in the U.S. with 47% of the market, according to research firm IDC. In second is Twitch with 25%, followed by Mixer's 15% and Facebook Gaming at 13%, according to IDC.
"The beauty of YouTube is the combination of different tool sets," YouTube Global head of gaming Ryan Wyatt told CNBC. "That makes us stand out."