by Dave Argento ’21 A&E Staff
With sports seasons disrupted, music tours canceled, and the average person having much more free time at home, the gaming industry, specifically live streaming, has boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Games such as Call of Duty: Warzone, Fall Guys, and Among Us have gone from fun new games to cultural phenomena. Combining a fast-growing gaming industry and celebrities on hiatuses has led to a new wave of celebrity streamers that may reinvent gaming content entirely.
The first wave of celebrity gamers live streaming on platforms like Twitch.tv and YouTube came in 2018 with the rise of Fortnite. On March 14, 2018, Twitch broke its record for the most-viewed stream by a single player with 628,000 concurrent viewers. James Vincent of The Verge wrote, “Fortnite pro Tyler “Ninja” Blevins assembled an unlikely supergroup to play the wildly-popular sandbox shooter Fortnite. Ninja was joined by NFL rookie-turned-gamer JuJu Smith-Schuster, rapper Travis Scott, and—drum roll please—pop superstar Drake.” This night of streaming seemed to have broken the internet and blown the doors wide open for celebrities crossing over.
This trend has continued to grow exponentially during quarantine as millennial and Generation Z athletes, musicians, and politicians have become streaming icons. The gaming culture in which many of these mainstream celebrities have grown up has ascended in popularity with them. NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. has been particularly active as his debut Warzone stream on YouTube had 88,000 viewers tuning in to see him play with gaming giant Dr. Disrespect. Beckham plans to stream consistently during the NFL season on Monday and Tuesday nights.
The most recent major night of gaming that trended across the internet came Tuesday, Oct. 20, with United States congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar streaming Among Us to over 400,000 viewers on Twitch.tv. This unusual voter outreach event brought the congresswomen significant praise for engaging with a youth-oriented industry such as gaming. The crossover of the two legislators with popular streamers such as Pokimane, Dr. Lupo, and Jacksepticeye proved the potential of humanizing politicians with gaming as a viable outlet to engage with voters.
The full career change by Grammy-nominated rapper Logic has been the most drastic move so far. Wesley Leblanc of IGN writes, “Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, the rapper known as Logic and in some cases, Bobby Boy and Young Sinatra, has announced in an interview with The Verge that he has signed a deal with Twitch just days after announcing his retirement from rap.” The idea of a best-selling rapper retiring from music to stream video games is mind-boggling for most, but moves like this might become increasingly common with the music industry suffering so greatly from the lack of touring as COVID-19 persists. The big names in Logic’s Among Us lobbies often combine for over 500,000 live viewers across ten streamers on Twitch.tv and YouTube.
COVID-19 has brought about new opportunities in the gaming industry that might signal shifts in content consumption for years to come. As more mainstream celebrities become involved with live streaming, the public image surrounding gaming is likely to shift and change the entertainment landscape.