The days where streaming was synonymous with playing video games in a bedroom are over. In recent years, streamers have been moving their cameras away from their desktops and towards impressive, hilarious, and sometimes downright strange live events. On Sunday March 26, streamer-run live events will reach a new peak with the Kings League Final Four match, the biggest event of its kind in Twitch history.
As of Sunday, more than 90,000 tickets have been sold for the Kings League finals at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium. The event marks the finale of the indoor soccer league with video game-style rules started by former professional soccer player Gerard Piqué. After conferring with Twitch and other streaming experts, Gizmodo can confirm that Piqué’s big soccer showdown is the largest live audience ever organized by a Twitch streamer.
On top of that, the Kings League has risen through Twitch’s rankings like a rocket, further cementing its mainstream appeal. As of March 19, the tournament’s official channel was the third most-watched on Twitch since its debut on Jan. 1, with 27 million hours watched, according to the streaming data provider Streams Charts.
The tournament’s huge success in-person and online shines a light on the close relationship streamers have with their fans, and underscores how that connection can turn out massive audiences—even when the event in question is something crazy and completely new. The Kings League has also made it clear that watching streamers play games and chatting with them at home isn’t enough anymore, a reality the entertainment industry is eager to finance.
In a Twitch stream on Tuesday, Twitch megastar Ibai Llanos, who leads the “Porcinos FC” (or “Swine FC” in English) team in the Kings League, said he never thought the tournament could get this big, and pointed out that streamers have a big part in its success.
“I’ve realized that there are a lot of people in this community or in this chat who watch things simply because I do them or simply because they get hooked on the passion that I transmit when I do things or simply because I explain what I’m doing and they say, ‘Damn, well I want to watch that,” Ibai said on Twitch. “There are many people who watch the Kings League because of who’s behind it, whether that’s me, Grefg, or Spursito… It’s truly crazy and it makes me very, very happy.”
Streamer-run events are more than “niche entertainment for nerds”
Streamer-run offline and live events are not new. Over the last few years they’ve included fan meetups, esports tournaments, streamer awards, and even gloriously silly events like the “Balloon World Cup,” a competition founded by Ibai and Piqué that challenges players not to let a balloon touch the ground. What’s new is that they’re becoming a lot bigger and more popular.
Quentin Bordage, founder and CEO of the influencer marketing firm Kolsquare, told Gizmodo that the Kings League’s record-breaking audience numbers aren’t surprising, pointing out that there were several sold-out sporting events hosted by streamers in France, Spain, and the UK in 2022.
“Livestreams used to be regarded as a niche entertainment for nerds, the reality is by now very far from that though,” Bordage said in an email. “They are not only a popular way for creators and brands to really engage with their audiences, they are also more and more social events as most fans like to gather to watch programs together and share the experience—both virtual and in person.”
2022 was a huge year for live events in Europe, according to data provided to Gizmodo by Kolsquare. It featured La Velada del Año II, or “Night of the Year II,” a streamer boxing match held by Ibai in Spain with a live audience of 12,000 and 3.3 million concurrent viewers online, the current world record on Twitch. In the UK, the YouTube streamers Sidemen drew 27,000 spectators to their Charity Soccer Match and 2.6 million concurrents.
French streamers also stood out with their events, with streamer AmineMaTue’s Eleven All Stars France vs. Spain, a soccer match featuring streamers from both countries, drawing 20,000 spectators and 1.2 million concurrent viewers. In November, F4 motor racing event GP Explorer, from streamer Squeezie and others, attracted 40,000 live attendees and more than 1.1 concurrent viewers on Squeezie’s channel alone.
Furthermore, while the Kolsquare CEO maintains IRL live events have experienced a steady rise among streamers, he stated that the covid-19 pandemic led to a huge spike in events. During the lockdown, streamers and their audiences built strong relationships and friendships, Bordage explained.
“When public gatherings were made possible again, people were excited to finally come together and share the connections they have—in real life,” Bordage said.
Nazar Babenko, a product manager at Streams Charts, agreed, pointing out that streamers found new audiences during the pandemic. However, sitting at home and playing games or chatting live isn’t enough for viewers anymore. The fans want a show, Babenko told Gizmodo, and all such live events are made primarily for the viewers.
“All Influencers are media personas. Just like in pop culture or sports—meeting your idol live, to support him at an offline event brings unforgettable emotions. You listen to your favorite band on YouTube, but you’d love to go to their concert to hear them live, wouldn’t you?” Babenko said. “It’s the same with streamers.”
The Kings League is taking streamer-run live events to a new level
In just three months, Piqué has taken streamer-run live events to an entirely new level, giving them a more professional look and demonstrating that there’s enough appetite for streamer-run live events to nearly sell out Europe’s biggest soccer stadium. Camp Nou can normally hold nearly 100,000 spectators, but due to renovations and the screens being put in for Sunday’s game, the stadium’s current capacity is around 90,000, according to Kings League officials.
The former soccer player’s efforts have paid off. Sponsors have flocked to the Kings League, which has appeared to debut new sponsor logos and product placements nearly every week. On Wednesday, the Kings League announced that its official team merchandise, including t-shirts and, of course, soccer scarves, was now available at FC Barcelona’s official store at Camp Nou.
In an interview with Marca, a national Spanish sports outlet, Piqué said the Kings League had nearly as many sponsors as the Davis Cup, the world cup of tennis, which he also managed through his company, Kosmos. Even so, you can’t compare the Davis Cup to the Kings League, the ex-professional soccer player said.
“Kids in schools are no longer saying they’re for FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. Now, they talk about supporting Saiyans (TheGrefg’s team) or Porcinos (Ibai’s team),” Piqué said. “We don’t compete against basketball or soccer or any other sport. We’re something completely different, a mix of sports and entertainment, and people like it.”
Furthermore, Piqué is also proving that his Kings League can go head-to-head with traditional mainstream soccer. Back in January, officials with LaLiga, Spain’s main soccer league, scoffed when asked if they considered the new event a rival and declared it was a “circus.” The Kings League, which streams its games for free on Twitch, YouTube, and TikTok, competes with LaLiga for viewers on Sundays, which broadcasts its matches on paid TV.
“Make me that question in six months and we’ll see what we’re saying about the Kings League,” LaLiga president Javier Tebas said.
This past Thursday, the Kings League crew joked and laughed about the comments they had come across belittling and criticizing the Kings League. Ibai said he read that people would only tune in to the first game. Spursito, president of Rayo de Barcelona (Barcelona Lightning Bolt), said someone posted that only 20,000 tickets would be sold to the final. With a gleam in his eye, Piqué joined in.
“I also read and heard people say, ‘We’ll see where the Kings League is in six months,’” he said.
At this point, it’s fair to say that probably a lot farther than it is now.
Update 3/26/2023, 1:11 p.m. ET: This post has been updated to reflect the newest ticket data for the Final Four.