What did we learn from Ninja’s streams on Twitch and YouTube?

Ninja has a big decision ahead.

Photo via Red Bull

Since Mixer announced its intentions to shut down in July, there’s been one enormous question looming over the entire streaming industry: Where will Ninja go next?

The energetic, blue-haired content creator signed on with Mixer exclusively last summer. But in less than a year, the platform has shut down, despite nabbing some of Twitch’s top streamers.

While Mixer’s additions of Ninja and Shroud helped stimulate the platform’s viewership and gave it some much-needed attention, it ultimately wasn’t enough. Mixer’s inability to show the growth that its rivals Facebook and YouTube Gaming were able to achieve was enough to make Microsoft end the platform for good. And now, a content creator who was once the most-watched streamer in the world by a large margin is free to stream wherever he pleases.

Since Mixer’s announcement, Ninja has only streamed two times. He streamed once on YouTube Gaming and once on Twitch, each receiving drastically different levels of viewership despite giving fairly short notice to fans for each stream.

The first of his streams, which came before Mixer had even actually ceased operations, was on YouTube Gaming on July 8, where he peaked at more than 165,000 viewers with an average audience of 118,384. 

In less than two hours, Ninja managed to hit a higher peak than he ever did on Mixer, even his first broadcast that came live from Lollapalooza that included a party. With a peak of 93,000 viewers on the platform, Ninja was never able to leverage his massive success on Twitch to generate an audience of the same volume on Mixer.

Ninja’s figures on YouTube were impressive considering how much of a seemingly impromptu occasion it was, announcing the stream on Twitter with short notice.

Yesterday on Twitch, with just about the same amount of notice to fans, Ninja spent two hours playing games with DrLupo. He peaked at 96,834 viewers, according to Twitch statistics website SullyGnome, and averaged 70,319 viewers, according to a tweet from his official account.

Though the stream was enough to get Ninja’s account “affiliate” status almost immediately on the platform, it was a far cry from how well his YouTube Gaming broadcast performed.

If this time spent on two different platforms is some sort of test by Ninja to see what viewership would be like, it seems like YouTube Gaming might have an edge. But for a streamer who has the level of influence that Ninja does, it’s not about viewership anymore.

The blue hair, the headband, the spunky attitude, they’re all a part of a brand that’s larger than anything a streaming platform could have possibly imagined two or three years ago. 

If Ninja went back to a regular stream schedule on Twitch or YouTube without attempting to negotiate a deal, he’d be hurting his potential earnings and devaluing his rights as an asset. 

To put it simply, Ninja staying offline for the most part lately is essentially him following the saying, “don’t do something for free if someone will pay you for it.”

Watching the stream yesterday, it was clear that streaming is something Ninja is still passionate about. And despite a feature with The Hollywood Reporter that said the gaming star is setting a “course for Hollywood,” he’s acutely aware of his roots. 

“Today just solidified how much I miss it,” Ninja said on stream. “I actually kind of missed playing Fortnite right there, I actually just really enjoyed playing Warzone. I’ll be streaming soon, and I love you guys.”

Tyler Blevins may have turned “Ninja” into an other-worldly brand, but at the end of the day, he’s still a streamer and gamer at heart.

It’s difficult to say that Ninja will be back on Twitch or that he’ll move to YouTube. Based on his time on each platform over the past two months, it seems clear that he’s courting both to see who can provide him the best offer.

But in the meantime, these one-off streams don’t necessarily provide that much in terms of insight from a viewership perspective. At this point in his career, the viewership numbers don’t have the same level of meaning to Ninja as they did before he was paid to stream on Mixer.

Ninja’s success in 2018 was so profound that he’ll likely never hit viewership totals like that again. And frankly, he doesn’t have to.

He’ll be streaming on a normal schedule again, and whether it’s on Twitch or YouTube, it’ll come to be as a product of the discussions happening behind the scenes, not the audience he attracts on one platform over the other.