In four days, tens of thousands of people will descend on Miami to watch Super Bowl 2020, where San Francisco will battle Kansas City for dominance and, more importantly, bragging rights. For the live-streaming platforms Caffeine and Twitch, however, the big game is happening before Sunday’s kickoff — both are hosting their own celebrations, which pair athletes, celebrities, and gamers in head-to-head faceoffs. Both platforms are in Miami for the same thing: to get more people to care about live-streaming.
Twitch is hosting the Twitch Rivals Fortnite Streamer Bowl, which is roughly what it sounds like. Pro streamers are set to play a duos tournament with NFL players on Thursday at 6PM ET, with $500,000 in prize money going to charity. The platform partnered with the NFL Players Association — the labor union that represents players in the NFL — along with Verizon and Turbo Tax to put it on. Earlier this month, streamers like Nick “NickMercs” Kolcheff, Tim “TimtheTatman” Betar, and Mason “Symfuhny” Lanier competed in their own Fortnite tournament to decide who would get the first pick from the pool of NFL players.
For Twitch, which has just reached the end of a two-year partnership with the NFL to stream its Thursday Night Football games exclusively, the Twitch Rivals tournament seems like a show of good faith toward the league. As CNBC reported at the end of December, Amazon (Twitch’s parent company) paid the NFL $130 million for the right to stream its games over the course of that two-year agreement, which ended in 2019. And furthermore, the NFL wants to continue the partnership in a new two-year contract, which would expire in line with the NFL’s television deal with Fox.
The NFL still isn’t convinced that digital platforms like Twitch are ready for the exclusive rights to broadcast a certain number of games — that they aren’t quite ready to take over for television deals, Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer, told CNBC. If you squint, the Twitch Rivals tournament makes sense in terms of negotiating a new, better deal with the NFL; it can’t have escaped the league’s notice that a lot of its players — who are young and internet-literate — are interested in streaming, either professionally or personally. In that, at least, their interests are aligned.
Caffeine is also using the Super Bowl to hype its platform. The newer live-streaming service has focused on signing players like JuJu Smith-Schuster and celebrity musicians like Offset — who’s streaming his own game show Thursday night from South Beach, which will feature Ric Flair and Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi — as a way to find an audience that’s different than most of the other live-streaming platforms. Being in Miami for the Super Bowl is another way to draw the kinds of people it wants to its platform; Caffeine is more interested in the intersections between sports, music, gaming, and celebrity than it is in gaming alone.
One of the players who’s set to compete in the Twitch Rivals tournament is Smith-Schuster, who currently is on the roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers (and will bee playing with Fortnite world champ Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf). And because he’s also supposed to host an episode of his Caffeine show, he’s going to have a busy weekend. His own video game tournament will stream live from South Beach for Caffeine, which signed him and hooked him up with his own show at the end of last year. In the upcoming episode of Catchin W’s with JuJu, he’ll be playing a currently undisclosed game against Ricky “Faze Banks” Banks, the chief operating officer of Faze Clan. (Smith-Schuster partnered with Faze in 2018.) That kicks off on Friday at 7PM ET.
In a way, Smith-Schuster is the perfect avatar for this weekend. He’s a 23-year-old, high-profile NFL player who loves esports — the kind of guy, in other words, you want watching your broadcasts. It’s no wonder that this time he gets to play on both teams.