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An official Kick computer generated render shows stylish screens and recording equipment scattered around Image: Kick

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Kick was the ghost that haunted TwitchCon

The spotlight was on Twitch this weekend. Mostly.

TwitchCon was a bit diminished this year compared to last. Gone were headliners Megan Thee Stallion, Travis Scott, and Kim Petras. Instead, we got a lineup of DJs and smaller artists in an immersive venue that included roller coaster rides and an escape room inside what was ostensibly a grocery store.

The shadow that loomed over TwitchCon this weekend, though, was the number of other events that were happening in Las Vegas simultaneously, including the When We Were Young music festival and the off-campus presence from rival creator platform Kick.

Though content creators flocked to Vegas for Amazon’s platform, which took over exhibit halls and sound systems, Kick made its own appearance at a nearby casino, where it sponsored a gaming lounge and Ultimate Fighting Championship live screening. Nickmercs and other streamers were in attendance. The space was also sponsored by Meta’s Threads and FaZe Clan.

Polygon is celebrating TwitchCon 2023 with a package of stories covering streaming trends and news from the show. Check it out!

Kick promises streamers they can keep 95% of their revenue, only giving up 5% in fees. Last week, Kick signed Twitch streamer Nick “Nickmercs” Kolcheff in a nonexclusive one-year deal for an undisclosed amount. Forbes reported Kolcheff was offered $10 million. It’s only the latest in a series of deals with prominent streamers, which include Twitch’s most popular female streamer, Kaitlyn “Amouranth” Siragusa, and former Overwatch pro gamer Félix “xQc” Lengyel, who has nearly 12 million followers on Twitch and a $100 million deal with Kick. The sizes of these deals and the names being signed have drawn massive attention to the newcomer platform.

“Money talks and as long as the investors of Kick see a return in some fashion, they’ll continue to be seen as a viable competitor to Twitch,” said Alyssa Sweetman, community advisor at creator platform LiveSpace and a former Twitch employee. “Kick wants to be seen as a disruptor and a platform of the people.”

Twitch’s recent changes may also facilitate more Kick deals. On Friday, Twitch announced during its keynote speech that it would allow streamers to broadcast simultaneously to more platforms. The new rules allow streamers to broadcast to Twitch at the same time as they stream to YouTube and Kick, for example, which will help creators who sign nonexclusive deals with Kick. Twitch said it made this new change after listening to community feedback.

“Twitch is not bleeding talent,” Twitch told Polygon on Sunday evening. “The streamers who are signing Kick deals are signing non-exclusive contracts and they’re actually onsite at TwitchCon. If you look at the TwitchCon schedule, a lot of the names you see signing the deals are the same as the ones performing on the main stage. Signing with Kick doesn’t mean you won’t sign with Twitch.”

Kick’s presence at TwitchCon was like that of a ghost. It was talked about, but representatives did not make it out to Las Vegas to grant interviews.

These deals might be giving deja vu from 2019 and 2020, when platforms like Facebook and Microsoft’s Mixer signed multimillion-dollar exclusive deals with creators in a bid to challenge the livestreaming dominance of YouTube and Twitch. But talent agency representatives say the lack of exclusivity puts these latest signings in a different category.

“Kick has the best shot out of all of [the new platforms] to have some lasting impact,” said Vinny Fiacco, Evolved Talent Agency’s director of talent, who helped oversee Lengyel’s $100 million deal with Kick. “Mixer was throwing a lot of money around. Facebook was always throwing a lot of money. As an agency, we saw those and went, ‘Great, that’s a great bag. If you want to retire, go take that bag, but that’s the death of your career.’”

Fiacco said that Kick listened to creators and has been actively improving its platform according to feedback. He admitted that the 95-5 revenue split doesn’t leave the platform a lot of flexibility in the future, as it could face backlash if it ever changed the split to charge creators higher fees.

“I think they’ve painted themselves into a corner a little bit,” Fiacco said. “If they can pull it off, that’s amazing. But I do think, if you’re the head of this platform, you can’t go, ‘Oh, we just realized we’re not making the money we need to do 90-10.’ So in that sense, I really hope it works out.”

“We’re confident both Kick and our competitors could achieve profitability at 95-5,” said Bijan Tehrani, a Kick co-founder. “People grossly overestimate what percent of revenue for streaming services is a result of sub split.”

Per Kick’s deal with Lengyel, the streamer has certain quotas he has to hit. The deal pays up to $100 million over two years, and about $30 million is incentive and performance-based.

Several streamers told Polygon that Kick, in its current form, does not look like an appealing platform to sign with. They cited various reasons, including that one of the platform’s investors is the co-founder of crypto gambling website Stake, that Kick has poorly moderated live chat, and that some of the streamers attached to the platform have a reputation for attracting controversy.

“Kick is the Wild West, which is fine for some people, for maybe the kind of content they do and want to create, and that’s fine,” said Twitch streamer Ryann Weller on Saturday. “But for me, I want to create a safe place for my community. I want to create a place where people can call it a home, essentially, when it comes to entertainment. There’s a certain bar of a safe space. Kick, man, it does not have the regulations that give me any sense of security of trying it at all. Once again, money cannot be the end-all be-all for moving platforms.”

“We do have to understand there are some creators who need to see that the platform has up to a certain level of maturity before they’re willing to make the jump for their fans’ sake of course, but also even for their mental well-being,” said Sebastien Delvaux, Evolved’s co-founder and chief operating officer. “So I fully understand that different creators have different comfort levels with that and Kick is making progress towards that.”

Nineteen-year-old Minecraft streamer Toby “Tubbo” Smith was blunt. “I’d rather kill myself than join Kick,” he told Polygon on Sunday. “It’s a platform for bigotry and hate speech.”

“We’re seeing a very different trend occur among creators’ attitudes towards Kick after recent improvements to our moderation tools and a detailed revamp of our community guidelines,” Tehrani, the Kick co-founder, said. “A landslide of creators [has made its] way to Kick as a result of this. Our service is still very new. We won’t always get it right but we will always listen to our community and keep improving month over month.”