Twitch data leak shows top game streamers earn big money

A devastating data leak this week at Amazon’s Twitch livestreaming service shows that some of its star video gamers are earning jaw-dropping payouts. 

Twitch disclosed this week that a “malicious third party” was able to access its data due to a technical error, confirming reports that a hacker had posted a link to the information on the notorious 4chan online message board.

Among the information exposed was a list of payouts by Twitch to some of its highest-profile streamers. CriticalRole, a group of voice actors who stream their sessions playing Dungeons and Dragons, earned $9,625,000 from August 2019 to October 2021, according to a Twitter thread about the hack. Meanwhile, xQcOW, a former professional Overwatch player, earned nearly $8,500,000 during the same period.

The information highlights just how big a business live-game streaming has become and how it’s helping some of the most popular gamers cash in. Twitch, acquired by Amazon in 2014 for nearly $1 billion, competes with Google’s YouTube and Facebook’s video game unit to attract top gamers in hopes that the companies can lure a bigger audience.

It’s a big deal when a streaming star is poached by a rival, as when the high-profile streamer Ninja left Twitch in 2019 for Microsoft’s Mixer service, which it shut down in 2020 after forming a partnership with Facebook’s gaming unit. Ninja eventually returned to Twitch in 2020.

High-profile streamers may earn even more than was disclosed because the Twitch leaks primarily list earnings from subscriptions (users must subscribe to watch the streams) and a cut of online ad sales. The payouts do not include the donations users make to players through Twitch, sponsorship deals, or merchandise sales. 

While popular streamers appear to be making good money, most streamers earn far less. Analysts estimate that a streamer who averages 50 subscribers likely only makes $500 to $700 monthly. 

The leaked data also shows how video game streaming—at least among the top echelon—lacks diversity. As gaming news site Kotaku noted, only 3% of Twitch’s top-earning streamers were women.

“Out of the top 100 creators, only three of them are women,” the report said. “Only one of them is a woman of color.”

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