According to a new report from Reuters, EA spent a cool $1 million paying Tyler "Ninja" Blevins to stream Apex Legends and then tweet about it after the game launched on February 4. Ninja is no stranger to being paid for hosting or attending events, but still, the amount he received for a day's worth of advertising is exorbitant even by his lofty standards.
Ninja has over 13 million followers on Twitch, and has been one of the driving forces behind Fortnite's continued popularity, embedding himself in its community so much that developer Epic Games has routinely courted him to be part of their advertising model. When Ninja played Apex Legends in February, he placed an "Apex Legends partner" graphic on his stream, but didn't overtly address what that label meant. Michael "Shroud" Grzesiek also labeled his stream that day with the same tag, and hasn't disclosed much more, although in Shroud's case he has admitted to being involved in the game's development as a consultant.
The report from Reuters seems credible, although it may be difficult to completely verify how much Ninja really made. According to Kotaku, two people who have worked with Ninja previously have both stated he was paid $600,000 for an event last year. If that's true, it's within reason that EA really did shell out a seven-figure sum just to have one of the most popular streamers in the world advertise its newest game. It worked, too - Apex Legends is still a mainstay on Twitch's homepage, frequently hovering in the Top 10 streamed games and flirting with Top 3 positions fairly often.
An EA rep has since stated that the company had a "multi-part marketing program" for Apex Legends that included "paid engagements with some content creators" that were designed to introduce the game to communities faster than it would have been otherwise. The rep also stated that paid streams only lasted for about a day after Apex Legends released, and that all streams after that were "completely organic." EA insisted there was a disclosure agreement with Ninja, but it didn't provide details, and it's unclear exactly what was expected of Ninja during his Apex Legends stream.
While it's clear the marketing move paid off handsomely for EA and developer Respawn Entertainment, it's also the latest ugly reminder that the Twitch platform, and streaming and video content in general, can be easily exploited for gain. The lack of knowledge about this payment and how much it influenced the rise of Apex Legends is uncomfortable and best, and insidious at worst. Millions of adolescents consume content from Twitch, YouTube, and other services daily, and if they aren't being explicitly informed with a reasonable frequency that they're essentially watching paid advertisements from content creators, then they're being exploited, plain and simple. Unfortunately, the end doesn't seem to be in sight, as EA and Ninja's latest endeavor has clearly proven.