Following Leo Messi’s move from Barcelona to Parc Des Princes, there was a significant signal change in the sports broadcasting world. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner’s first interview, the kind of prestigious event that would usually be sold to the highest bidder, gifted to a prestigious news channel, or used as a form of sponsorship collateral, was instead streamed on Twitch by Ibai Llanos, a Spanish gaming personality, as more than 300,000 people watched on.
Llanos has accumulated over 7 million Twitch followers since he started out streaming himself playing video games with his friends at his home in Bilbao. He even attended Messi’s leaving dinner in Barcelona, following an invitation to attend by the Argentinian’s close friend and former teammate, Sergio Agüero. However, it was only last year that Llanos turned into a mainstream cultural phenomenon.
After leaving his job as an announcer at Liga de Videojuegos Profesional, Spain’s esports league, he dedicated himself to creating content via his own Twitch channel for a professional esports team called G2 Esports. Then, as Spain went into lockdown, he announced plans to host a virtual version of LaLiga – and it emerged that several high-profile footballers already ranked amongst his fans.
Jumping at the opportunity, Llanos invited players such as Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte, to play video games with him live on his channel. It was during a game of Fortnite with Laporte that Llanos was introduced to Sergio Aguero, who later appeared as a guest on his weekly long-form interview segment named Chatting Quietly. Other guests include Gerard Piqué, Paulo Dybala, and Sergio Ramos.
The fact that Llanos, a 26-year-old streamer, was (and continues to be) able to attract names of such magnitude has not gone down well with some traditional sports journalists like Gustavo Lopez from ESPN. Lopez has rallied against the ease with which Llanos has quickly become major competition for the traditional media, asking, “Why are the players talking to Ibai? This makes me nervous.”
Lopez is right to be nervous. Sports viewing is shifting steadily onto streaming platforms, and even overtaking traditional broadcast TV in regions such as the Asia Pacific. With this, we are also seeing a shift from journalist-presenters to personality-presenters – perfectly personified by Llanos.
For too long, the interactions that occur between a player and traditional sports journalist during a press conference has been highly manufactured and an altogether unengaging exchange. Instead, personalities like Llanos provide players with an opportunity to partake in a conversation that is far more personable. They also facilitate that exchange in an environment with which the player is comfortable (such as playing a video game) – which allows them to genuinely open up and showcase their personality.
This model is being replicated elsewhere, too. The Overlap, a YouTube channel created by Sky Sports pundit, Gary Neville, is a wonderful example of the shift that is both required and recognised by traditional sports broadcasters. Neville also demonstrates the adaptability needed by those currently working in sports media if they wish to remain relevant in the future media landscape.
In fact, Neville himself got one of the interviews of the summer as Harry Kane talked about his future at Tottenham Hotspur while playing golf with the former Manchester United player on The Overlap. This change in power dynamic from institution to individual is only going to get greater. Therefore, there has never been a more important time for rights-holders and media companies to empower their creators, whether they are players, fans, or journalists.