Why TikTok stars are pivoting to gaming

Max Dressler and Jason Waud have 4.4 and 2.7 million followers on TikTok respectively. 

Waud, 17, who began using the app three years ago, built his platform creating dance and comedy videos. Dressler, 18, who joined TikTok last summer, made his name with reaction videos.

Dressler and Waud used to derive a significant portion of their income selling merchandise to their fans on tours or at meet-ups. However, as these events have been canceled due to coronavirus and stay-at-home orders, they’ve sought to find another source of revenue online. 

And they see games as the future. 

Most of Waud and Dressler’s content on the app remains focused on dance and comedy, but both stars are big gamers themselves, and say gaming will take a more prominent role on the platform in the coming months. 

“Gaming is something new for the platform and it’s a different type of content, so it can bring more attention to my page,” Waud said. 

Gaming on TikTok is mostly clips from games, highlights, and news videos, according to Wilhelm. But TikTok’s new CEO Kevin Mayer has already stated that one of his goals is to expand the presence of gaming on the platform, and live streaming capabilities specifically for video games could be a part of that. TikTok parent Bytedance has already made a push into gaming, mostly in China with a new gaming division that makes its own games. 

In January, TikTok worked with Epic Games and asked TikTok users to create a new Fortnite Emote; users shared their submissions on TikTok in January with the #EmoteRoyalContest hashtag. And last month, TikTok collaborated held an esports competition with the Collegiate StarLeague. A spokeswoman for the platform said it will add more gaming content this summer.

Internet gaming stars such as Ninja, who has more than 23.6 million subscribers on his YouTube channel where he posts videos of his games, have already started posting gaming content on TikTok. Ninja has built a following of 3.2 million on the video sharing platform and has received more than 17.3 million likes.

TalentX Entertainment, which manages a roster of TikTok creators, including Waud, Dressler, and Sway Houses members Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson, Anthony Reeves, Bryce Hall, Kio Cyr, and Jaden Hossler, recently partnered with esports company ReKTGlobal to create TalentX Gaming. The joint venture will seek to bring more TikTok stars into the gaming world that already exists on YouTube and Twitch and expand gaming content on TikTok itself. 

“These TikTok stars are the next big digital creators, and there are opportunities for them in the gaming world,” Jason Wilhelm, a YouTuber who started a channel in 2011 with Call of Duty gaming content, and now serves as CEO of TalentX Gaming, said. 

TikTok stars would have the ability to advertise the games they play, include ads when they live stream their games, and partner with gaming companies.

“If you start gaming on the platform, you can now go to Xbox and say, ‘hey you’re launching something new next year, you should get me on board, I’m a massive gamer.’ There are more revenue opportunities for the creators across the board,” Wilhelm said.

TikTok experienced a 15% rise in average daily traffic between January 21 and March 24, according to a report by The New York Times.

The video-focused nature of TikTok could allow it to compete with streaming platforms such as Twitch, Wilhelm said.

“TikTok has an opportunity, if they do it fast enough, to take on the entire streaming market,” Wilhelm said. “A lot of these TikTokers are big gamers, and if they had the opportunity to stream their games on TikTok, they would do it in a second because it would be so easy to start and run ads on it to monetize.”

“Gaming is a world of its own when it comes to brand and influencer partnerships. The pay is usually significantly higher than other verticals,” Mae Karwowski, the founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Obviously, said. “First, there are simply fewer creators to work with who are talented enough at gaming to develop a large audience. [And second], these creators have a captive, target audience […] that already love and spend time and money on gaming. That’s pretty priceless for a brand.”

Wilhelm told Digiday he hopes to help TikTok stars produce more gaming content on TikTok itself and allow them to expand onto other platforms like YouTube and Twitch where they can film their games and run advertisements within those videos to monetize their content.

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“Rates for influencers on TikTok are still being defined across the industry, [so] TikTok influencers are turning to platforms like YouTube or Instagram where brands will often pay more for their content, especially with gaming,” Joe Gagliese, co-founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Viral Nation, said. 

“When you have a 30% or 40% engagement rate on Instagram, if you’re able to capitalize on that, you’re able to catapult yourself into being one of the biggest digital creators,” Wilhelm said. “These TikTok stars’ fans will go where they go, so now is the perfect time to move into gaming.”

He compared today’s TikTok creators with the Vine stars from a few years ago. “You look at the ex-Vine stars, the David Dobricks, the Logan Pauls of the world, they’re the biggest digital creators right now, the most mainstream in digital. And when you look at the fanbases of these creators, they’re very similar to these TikTokers. They both have cult-like followings.”

Successful Vine stars built their careers by moving their audiences onto Instagram and YouTube. Wilhelm believes TikTok stars could leverage their fan bases to create careers in the online gaming world.

“Gaming gives you another way to monetize your platform,” Wilhelm said. 

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