Tue, Aug 13, 2019 - Page 13 News List

The billion-dollar race to become China’s game-streaming boss

With superstar players, millions of fans and a US$3 billion industry on the line, game-streaming rivals Douyu and Huya are duking it out to become the Twitch of China

Bloomberg

It didn’t take long for him to establish a name in the professional gaming world. By putting in more than 15 hours a day for training, he became captain of Invictus Gaming, one of China’s top e-sports clubs, which won the country its first League of Legends World Championship last year.

After he retired in 2014, Liu began to stream his gaming sessions full-time on various platforms. Now he lives in a 300 square-meter downtown apartment, where he broadcasts at least four hours a day to his 10 million Douyu subscribers. One of his few regrets is treating himself to a white Ferrari, as he almost never goes out.

Over the years Liu built a laid-back, wacky persona. When his avatar dies, he yells, “I got cracked open,” a phrase that spawned a world of memes. One time he got so excited about unearthing a rare virtual weapon that he fell off his chair. Another time he spilled water all over his trousers but had no time to change in the middle of a game. “Leak! We have a leak!” Liu cried out to his girlfriend.

Liu’s fans lavish him with virtual fish balls and rockets, ranging from a few pennies to US$300 per item. Hardcore devotees like Sun Yi, 22, traveled 24 hours on a train from his village to join the meetup at one of the crayfish restaurants.

Wang Jie, a 20-year-old college student, spent months saving up for a plane ticket to Wuhan after watching Liu play League of Legends every night for years. She remembers exactly the moment Liu added her on instant messaging service WeChat — at 2:19am sharp. She was so excited she had to take laps around a soccer field to calm herself down.

Neither Sun nor Wang was disappointed. At Douyu’s festival they mingled with thousands, many dressed as elves and warriors — popular gaming avatars — and sauntered down the 1.5km-long riverside park. On stage, streamers battled away sitting in Tron-like LED lit boxes, while their hack-and-slash feats were projected onto two giant screens.

STRATEGIC FIGHTERS

Twitch’s former biggest star, Fortnite gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, has said he earns almost US$7 million a year through paid subscribers on the platform alone.

Liu might well rival that. Platforms like Douyu pay top gamers like him at least US$4 million a year to retain them exclusively, said Liu. He also redeems money from virtual gifts from followers, after giving Douyu half the cut.

The battle to be the biggest game-streaming platform is costly. The cash burn on marketing and retaining top performers has caused investors to question the business model. Douyu’s archnemesis, Huya (虎牙), is trading at only half of its June peak last year.

That doesn’t bode well for Douyu. Despite having a larger user base and more top performers, Douyu lags behind Huya on margin and revenue.

“Notwithstanding Douyu’s strong first quarter performance, Huya is simply a better business,” said Arun George, a London-based analyst at Global Equity Research. “Huya’s higher monetization is likely due to its apps, which enable users to more easily search and discover content that resonates with their personal tastes.”

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