European IRL streaming events growing in popularity and power
- Concurrent viewer records are being made and broken on a monthly basis.
- Highly produced and professional: streamer events are adopting the codes that were once the calling cards of linear TV.
- Big-name sponsors are lining up to be part of the action.
- Streamers’ communities are characterized by closer relationships than communities on other social media networks.
In June, Spanish streamer Ibai (12m Twitch followers) attracted a record-breaking 3.3m concurrent viewers to boxing event La Velada del Ano II (Night of the Year II), which was held in front of a sold-out crowd of 12,000 in Barcelona.
This was followed in France by F4 motor race GP Explorer, instigated by YouTuber Squeezie (17.4m YouTube followers) and held at the country’s mythical Le Mans Bugatti Circuit. Some 40,000 spectators attended the IRL event, which set a new French record of 1m concurrent viewers on Twitch.
That record was broken a month later when 1.2m concurrent viewers tuned in, and 20,000 people turned up IRL to watch Eleven Allstars, a football match that pitted France and Spain’s top streamers against each other.
IRL events staged by Twitch streamers are not new. The first ZEvent charity fundraiser created by Twitch streamer ZeratoR (1.495m followers) was held in 2016. But over the years, they have become more frequent and more elaborate in design.
“[GP Explorer] highlights two things: It legitimizes the internet, it legitimizes the platforms and especially Twitch,” comments streaming influencer marketing agency Madi Stream founder Jérémy Chabrier. “There have been other big events, but the highly professional production level of this one legitimizes the content creators. As Squeezie said, it’s like putting a big stamp on it that says ‘OK, we are capable of doing it’”.
Twitch’s sophisticated livestream functionalities — chat, moderation, streamer subscriptions — are a key factor in creating the powerful streamer and audience communities for which the platform is known.
“On Twitch, people are used to doing live streams on a regular basis. They are used to interacting with other people in the streaming world and they’re happy to be able to meet up at events,” comments The Metrics Factory consultant Sport/Sponsoring Clément Joffrin. “[GP Explorer] was an extreme case. It is impressive to see they sold a huge number of tickets. There has been a shift to events where streamers and influencers have a need to see their fans, to offer them things IRL and not just on the stream.”
Community ties on Twitch are strengthened by the very nature of the platform. The live format ensures a level of authenticity in content that is absent from other social media platforms.
“You can’t cheat on Twitch,” comments Chabrier. “Before the live, after the live, people gather to talk about it. We find people we know, or meet people on Discord which is used a lot. It’s this community that is engaged with the streamer but also with the community, with each other.”
IRL events created by streamers push the boundaries of social media engagement even further to include multiple actors, argues SVOD platform The Pit founder Jean Vilgrain.
“These formats allow us to break a barrier that we didn’t necessarily think about a few years ago from behind a screen,” comments Vilgrain. “Now, we see consumption which is a lot less passive. Where content creators are actors in their content, but their audience is also becoming an actor in the streamer’s content. It pushes the limits of engagement towards content that has a multiple impact.”
The increasingly professional production level of IRL streamer events — and the sponsors they attract — is a clear sign that streaming communities can longer be dismissed as niche.
As platforms like Twitch and YouTube begin to pay colossal fees for the broadcast rights to major sporting events, it’s undeniable that they are carving out a place in the hearts and minds of audiences that was once the sole domain of linear TV.
However, experts argue that the real success of IRL events like GP Explorer lie in the care taken to maintain the community values so dear to Twitch users.
“It was done very much in the spirit of community that is the Twitch identity. Some people on Twitch will say ‘Yeah, it was just like TV’ but it kept the values of sharing and community communication that are unique to Twitch,” says Chabrier.
That big-name brands are lining up to sponsor streamers’ IRL events is further evidence that these communities are moving into the mainstream. From social media and streaming platforms like TikTok, Prime and YouTube, to brands like Adidas, Xbox, UK eyeglasses company Specsavers, and Spanish food brand ElPozo King, brands clearly see opportunities to reach new audiences through the format.
“The difference compared to TV audiences is the age of those who will watch,” comments The Metrics Factory’s Joffrin. “The problem for many sports today is reaching young people. On Twitch we know that the majority is 18-25 year-olds, or even 18-35, who are using the platform. It’s an incredible opportunity.”
Spreading the love
Also particular to the community on Twitch is the solidarity amongst streamers. IRL and streaming events often involve the participation of multiple streamers in a spirit of entertainment, fun, and respect for their communities.
Last September, for example, UK YouTubers Sidemen’s (17.4m followers) annual Sidemen Charity Match gathered nearly two-dozen of the world’s top YouTubers, including YouTube’s biggest content creator, MrBeast (115m followers), who traveled from the US to participate.
The charity football match was watched by 2.4m concurrent livestream viewers, 27,000 people IRL, and raised £1m for cancer charities.
The impact is clear: drawing bigger audiences for everyone. And IRL streamer events generate massive engagement impact not only through the livestream, but on social media networks across the board.
GP Explorer, for example, generated 864 Stories and 56m engagements on Instagram, and 121m views on TikTok, according to The Metrics Factory. It was the top trending topic on Twitter for 12 hours in France and for two hours globally, and saw 35 additional influencers activated on Instagram around the event by sponsors.
Joffrin argues that French streamers are ahead of the curve compared to their Spanish and US counterparts when it comes to coming together to stage events and livestreams.
“The relationship between streamers, who tend to do a lot of events together, is a specificity that we have in France compared to other countries,” says Joffrin. “They exchange regularly and rising streamers on Twitch benefit from the help of other streamers. The ‘raid’ function at the end of a live enables you to send your community to another person, and often this is how tens of thousands of viewers are able to discover new channels.”
Proceed… with caution
“[IRL events are] part of a trend that sees content creators trying to get their audience back. There is a kind of emancipation from platforms and methods of broadcasting versus finding the most original content,” comments Vilgrain. “It’s good for the market because it means content creators are regaining control over their audience, or at least how they activate and monetize their audience.”
Opportunities abound for brands looking to capitalize on the growing power of Twitch streamers and their communities. But because the platform is so different, and the communities so passionate, influence campaigns require a hefty dose of nuance and a distinctly light touch.
“All brands can work with streamers but the difficulty is identifying the community that will be receptive to the brand messaging,” cautions Joffrin. “Twitch has very defined codes, and communities that are very close to the streamer because they have spent hours and hours each week with that person. If a brand pushes a product too directly or abruptly, there will be an outcry because people won’t understand why it is suddenly appearing in their favorite streamer’s stream.”
Thorough research and due diligence is paramount for successful campaigns, as is building relationships with streamers before any launch.
“There are rules to be established beforehand, but the freedom of tone, expression and creativity must be maintained. There are brands which have completely understood how it works, and even those that go further and participate in the chat and answer questions,” comments Chabrier. “Influencer marketing on Twitch, when it’s done right, generates more loyalty than other channels.”
Twitch may represent a brave new world for many influencer marketers, but those with the audacity to take it on could see their brands becoming closer than ever to their target audiences.
And what’s not to like about that?
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