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To get big Twitch payouts, you have to be among the top .01% of streamers


xQc is the highest individual earner of direct Twitch revenue, according to unverified data. (Photo: xQc on Twitter) (Image credit: xQc)

Some of Twitch's internal records are now public knowledge following a major data breach and the distribution of documents that, among other things, appear to reveal how much money top streamers earned directly from Twitch streaming over the past two years. 

The numbers have not been disputed for the most part, but they don't necessarily reflect each streamer's actual total income. From what we've heard and our knowledge of Twitch, the unconfirmed figures represent each streamer's cut of revenue earned from channel subscriptions, in-stream ads, Bits (one-cent tokens viewers can tip streamers with), and possibly Twitch's built-in “Bounty” system, which connects streamers with sponsorship opportunities. Those are just some of the many ways streamers make money. They can also negotiate their own sponsorships, sell merch, use affiliate links, and so on. This leaked ranking of the top Twitch earners shouldn't be treated as definitive, then.

You’d need to be in the top 0.015% of all streamers to make the median US household income from direct Twitch streaming revenue.

The data does at least provide a baseline sense of how much money a person can make directly from streaming on Twitch, and as expected, it's a lot—although only a tiny percentage of streamers are making 'quit your job' money from direct Twitch revenue.

According to data pulled from the files by KnowS0mething on Twitter, D&D group Critical Role is the biggest earner on Twitch in the last two years, making over $9.5 million from August 2019 to now. The next highest earner is xQcOW, who made over $8.4 million in the same period. He's followed by summit1g at $5.8 million, and then Tfue at $5.3 million.

Top 10 Twitch payouts, Aug 2019-Sept 2021 (Unconfirmed)

  1. CriticalRole $9,626,712
  2. xQcOW $8,454,427
  3. summit1g $5,847,541
  4. Tfue $5,295,582
  5. NICKMERCS $5,096,642
  6. ludwig $3,290,777
  7. TimTheTatman $3,290,133
  8. Altoar $3,053,839
  9. auronplay $3,053,341
  10. LIRIK $2,984,653

The revenue drops off pretty quickly as the list goes on. A longer copy of the unverified list seen by PC Gamer shows that the 100th most successful Twitch streamer makes approximately $400,000 per year. At 200th, the yearly gross income is around $270,000. When you get into the 400s, streamers are making under $150,000 per year from direct Twitch revenue, somewhere in the range of an optometrist. At 1,000th place, a streamer makes around $85,000 per year—what a junior software engineer might make in California.

According to the US Census Bureau, the median US household income in 2020 was $67,521. To make that much per year on Twitch, assuming you aren't bringing in money from sources not included in this data, you'd have to be one of Twitch's top 1,322 streamers right now. There are around 8.8 million active streamers on Twitch (via Twitch Tracker), which means you'd need to be in the top 0.015% of all streamers to make the median US household income from direct Twitch streaming revenue. Some of the streamers at that level are live every day of the week for sessions that last anywhere from 2 to 12 hours.

How Twitch streamers make money 

Political commentator HasanAbi, who according to the leak has grossed $2,810,480 on Twitch from August 2019 to now, has indicated that the number is roughly accurate. “Cant wait for ppl to be mad at me about my publicly available sub count again,” he wrote on Twitter, referencing an ongoing argument over his income's compatibility or incompatibility with the political views he expresses. The implication is that anyone could've estimated his income by looking at his subscriber count.

That's roughly true. Each channel subscriber on Twitch represents at least a $4.99 monthly payment, with a minority of subscribers choosing the $9.99 or $24.99 tiers for extra perks. In most cases, a channel's subscriber revenue is split 50-50 between the channel owner and Twitch, so multiplying a channel's estimated subscriber numbers by the subscription prices and then halving the result at least gets you a ballpark answer when all you want to know is, 'Does this person make enough money to buy a nice house in LA?'

Estimating income based on subscribers should always result in too low of a number, though, because streamers also get a cut of the revenue from ads played during streams and one cent for each Bit gifted by viewers. HasanAbi noted on stream that the leaked numbers represent “pretty much all of the revenue” he makes on Twitch.

For other Twitch streamers, however, the leaked data offers no visibility on money earned through special deals made with Twitch or third-parties, or any revenue related to streaming that isn't paid out directly by Twitch.

For example, in the period covered by the leak, the data shows that Ninja made $1,378,791.48, but his actual income was certainly much higher. Twitch exclusivity deals, such as the one Ninja signed, would be paid out separately, and he could have other custom deals with Twitch. Popular streamers like Ninja may also be paid to run sponsored streams or to otherwise promote products. They can also make money from off-Twitch gigs. Ninja, Jacksepticeye, Pokimane, DanTDM, and LazarBeam all had cameos in the movie Free Guy, for instance. Meanwhile, Critical Role is at this point a company of over 30 people that publishes games and is producing an animated show funded through Kickstarter.

Niche streamers who aren't appearing in Ryan Reynolds movies or making TV shows can also earn money from affiliate links, off-Twitch donations (on ko-fi, for example), merch, Patreon, as well as smaller sponsorships from game publishers, hardware makers, chair brands, sellers of caffeinated powders, and other gaming and gaming-adjacent companies. 

Many Twitch streamers also stream and post videos on YouTube and other platforms, but you can't see any of that income in the leaked data. It's possible that there are streamers whose direct-from-Twitch income is relatively small, but whose earnings from other streaming-related sources put them in the same tax bracket as HasanAbi. (I am not encouraging anyone to quit their day job to find out, though.)

What sort of streamers make the most money?

One of the top 10 Twitch earners isn't a big streamer at all. Number eight on the list, Altoar, makes Twitch extensions. Whenever someone spends Bits through Altoar's Sound Alerts extension on a streamer's channel, for example, he gets a 20% cut. That arrangement, according to this unconfirmed data, has earned him over $3 million over the past couple years.

The leak is proof of what we’ve been saying all along regarding the lack of diversity at the top, that’s all.

Black Girl Gamers

With the exception of Critical Role, which is a whole troupe, the rest of the purported top 10 earners on Twitch are individual streamers.

Over a third of the recent games streamed by the top 10 group are shooters, with Call of Duty: Warzone, Apex Legends, and the Battlefield 2042 beta being the most popular. The category with the most overlap, however, is Just Chatting. Only Tfue and Altoar, who is not a streamer, haven't used it recently. Also played recently by more than one top earner: Roblox and Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl.

On Wednesday, the Black Girl Gamers group, which includes over 180 Twitch streamers, expressed a lack of surprise that the unconfirmed list is primarily made up of white men.

“Viewer count isn't just achieved in a vacuum,” the group said, “it is affected by endorsements, ranking, exposure, opportunities from brands including the streaming platform itself, algorithmic visibility—there are many variables that affect viewer count over time. Even the games played has an effect but make no mistake race is always a factor. 

“…The leak is proof of what we've been saying all along regarding the lack of diversity at the top, that's all.”

See more

Twitch has recently struggled to combat 'hate raids'—coordinated stream chat floods of slurs, threats, and other hate speech that frequently target Black streamers—which prompted some Twitch streamers to boycott the platform for a day in September. Shortly after that, we learned that Twitch has sued two individuals (real identities unknown) who it says are dodging its hate raid counter measures by creating “new waves of fake bot accounts designed to harass creators.” A week ago, Twitch added a new phone-verified chat option to help streamers keep bots out of their chat, and has promised to continue working on ways to combat the raids.

The Twitch breach fallout continues

Until this week, Twitch's inability to stop hate raiders was the most pressing public criticism it was facing. Now it's also facing a security breach that would “send a shudder down [the spine of] any hardened infosec professional,” according to ThreatModeler founder and CEO Archie Agarwal. Aside from business information, Twitch source code is also circulating online.

I don’t know what I’m going to need to fucking do to protect myself further. That’s like, actually terrifying.

HasanAbi

There's some tentatively comforting news for Twitch users: The company says that it currently sees “no indication that login credentials have been exposed,” although it has reset everyone's stream keys just in case. Twitch also doesn't store full credit card numbers, so those can't have been revealed, it says.

Given that streamer revenue data was part of this cache, though, it feels possible that more information about Twitch's stars could be revealed in another release of data, or found within the files that have already appeared online.

“I don't know what I'm going to need to fucking do to protect myself further,” HasanAbi said on stream. “That's like, actually terrifying.”

For now, with just revenue data out there, some streamers have brushed off the leak, making jokes and pointing out that it's easy to estimate their Twitch earnings, as HasanAbi has.

“All of my billions have gone straight back to other twitch hot tub streamers,” wrote streamer TommyInnit, who has made over $1.5 million on Twitch since August 2019 according to the documents. “Dont worry. i stay grounded.”

Twitch's most recent statement says that the breachers took advantage of “an error in a Twitch server configuration change.” It continues to investigate. 

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