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BENGALURU (Reuters) – What are a few hours playing videogames and a handful of tweets worth? $ 1 million if you are Tyler Blevins, known to millions as “Ninja,” the world’s most-followed computer gamer.
FILE PHOTO: An Electronic Arts (EA) video game logo is seen at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
Blevins was one of a few select professionals with huge followings pulled in by videogame giant Electronic Arts Inc to play and promote its latest title, “Apex Legends,” in the first hours of the launch last month, generating a buzz that notched 10 million signups in the first three days.
The 27-year-old, famous for his hair color changes – currently a bright, turquoise hue – tweeted about the free-to-play game early on Feb. 5 and streamed the action to his more than 13 million followers on game-streaming site Twitch. For this he was paid around $ 1 million, a source told Reuters.
The amount underlines the increasingly cut-throat fight for dominance of the free-to-play battle royale genre that, through Epic Games’ global smash hit “Fortnite”, has pushed major publishers like Electronic Arts to change how they do business.
Representatives for EA and Ninja declined to comment on how much he had been paid, but the amount named by the source is more than twice media reports of Ninja’s monthly earnings from streaming his regular appearances on Fortnite and way above what was speculated on a number of internet discussion boards.
EA also paid popular Polish-Canadian streamer “Shroud,” who has nearly six million Twitch followers, to play Apex Legends but declined to disclose the terms of the deal.
“They did a fairly comprehensive job at pulling together all of the relevant game influencers in this genre,” said Kevin Knocke, a vice president at esports infrastructure firm ReKTGlobal.
“This was a really well coordinated poaching of the top influencers the likes of which has not been seen so far in esports,” he said, suggesting that EA had also roped in streamers better-known for playing other blockbusters like “Call of Duty” or “PUBG”.
The Ninja deal also points to the growing possibilities for teenagers who grow up hooked in their bedrooms on the industry’s big titles, as well as a shift in promotional strategy, with the use of popular gamers replacing expensive TV ad campaigns.
EA’s stock price and market value rose 16 percent, or $ 4 billion, in the three days after Apex Legends launched and a month later the game has 50 million users, a quarter of Fortnite’s 200 million.
“We really wanted to create a day where you couldn’t escape Apex if you cared about games and we wanted it to feel like an event was happening everywhere around the globe on that day,” Drew McCoy, lead producer at the EA studio that created Apex Legends, said in an interview.
“We had streamers from all over Europe, LatAm, North America, Korea, Japan so that we could get our message out there and people would see the game,” he said.
Joost van Dreunen, co-founder of Nielsen-owned gaming research firm SuperData, estimated that in 2018 Fortnite raked in $ 2.4 billion in revenue, more than any other single title.
If each user registered so far bought the most basic Apex Coin package, with which kids and teenagers can buy character skins and other upgrades, EA would take in $ 500 million. Analysts’ estimates hover around that figure in revenue annually.
Ninja, who reportedly plays Fortnite for 12 hours a day from his basement studio outside Chicago, has been one of many to benefit from its massive success.
He has streamed himself playing alongside major celebrities like rappers Drake and Travis Scott, has sponsorship deals with Red Bull and Uber Eats, and often appears on Instagram and Twitter alongside soccer players Neymar Jr and Harry Kane.
Reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru and additional reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar
But, as in years past, there’s a good chance things will get away from us as the year goes on. We get busy, our agendas become crowded and the time required to plan and prepare wholesome, healthy meals is condensed into just the few minutes required to grab some fast food.
It’s a scenario any entrepreneur, employee or just about any human can relate to.
Our desire to compromise neither our time nor our health spawned the rise of a few new startups offering solutions like Soylent, Ka’chava and Huel. All three began by offering powdered smoothie mixes that claim to provide all the nutrition needed to substitute for a full meal. Soylent also introduced ready-to-drink meals in a bottle in several flavors for when even mixing water and powder is just too much time or trouble.
You may want to read sarcasm into that last line, but this bottled Soylent subscriber of two-plus years is enthusiastically earnest about the advantages of slamming a proportioned dose of carbs, fat, protein and a whole suite of nutrients before or after a workout or while powering through an all-consuming post for Inc.
Now, after years of being the main name in the bottled meal game, Soylent has some fresh competition from Huel, which just introduced its own ready-to-drink meal in a bottle last week.
The people at Huel were kind enough to ship me one sample each of their two ready-to-drink flavors, Vanilla and Berry, to see how they stack up to Soylent.
Before diving in, I think it’s worth mentioning that I don’t really believe it’s a good idea to base your regular diet around either of these products. With its original powdered product, Huel encourages trying smoothies based on its product for breakfast and lunch followed by a “traditional” dinner.
That’s just way more powdered pea protein and other processed ingredients than I’m comfortable consuming on a regular basis. I still want to strive to include as many whole, healthy foods in my diet as possible. I see the meals in a bottle rather as a preferable alternative to fast food, microwaved meals and other less-than-ideal quick options when life gets in the way of my dietary ambitions.
Over the past few years, on average I drink one bottle of Soylent every two to three days.
So, on to the important question: which is the best to start stocking your fridge with?
I’ve had a box of ready-to-drink Soylent shipped to me each month for nearly two and a half years now and rotated through most of the different flavors over that period, with strawberry being my favorite.
On the face of it, Soylent and Huel ready-to-drink are very similar – it’s kind of a Coke and Pepsi sort of deal where the differences are relatively subtle or in the details. Both are vegan and more palatable than their more grainy powdered mix siblings. Each provide 400 calories per bottle, which is somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the calories the average person needs per day.
While Soylent uses soy protein, maltodextrin, sugars, sunflower and canola oils for its base along with a mix of vitamins and minerals, Huel relies on pea protein, tapioca starch, gluten-free oat powder, some brown rice flour, canola and coconut-based oils with added flax, chicory root, vitamins and minerals.
I’m no dietitian, but I find myself drawn to Huel’s ingredient list as an “almost vegetarian” with plenty of soy already in my diet. I’m also not crazy about maltodextrin and who doesn’t like added flax and chicory root?
You can easily go down the rabbit hole of comparing myriad studies on the benefits and drawbacks of the different ingredients in each product. But the most substantive, real-life difference I’ve found after trying both Huel’s powdered and ready-to-drink products is that it seems to be more filling than Soylent and actually feels a bit more like a complete meal in my stomach.
While I have no scientific basis to back this up, it feels to me that the oat powder might be the difference here. Or it could be that Huel delivers its 400 calories in a slightly larger volume of liquid (500 mL to Soylent’s 414 mL). What’s interesting, though, is that the consistency of Huel is slightly thicker than Soylent, which is counter-intuitive given the above ratio of calories to mL. Again, I think this has something to do with the oats.
Regardless of the math, Huel feels just a little bit more like a complete meal.
On taste, it’s a bit of push. I prefer Soylent’s strawberry to Huel’s berry flavor, but Huel’s vanilla is preferable to Soylent’s.
As to price, a subscription through Soylent is around 15 percent less per box of 12 bottles than Huel, but Huel’s bottles are bigger as I mentioned so it’s nearly a push again.
Forced to choose between the two, I give a slight edge to Huel because it seems to do a better job of achieving the goal of actually replacing a meal. Plus: Flax!
So Happy New Year and here’s one last piece of advice for 2019 that might be needed right around now: I’ve found a bottle of Huel or Soylent also come in handy for a hangover.
Raquel Loreto is a zombie hunter, and a good one. But traipsing through dried leaves in a hot forest in Sanda, at the southern end of Japan, she needed a guide. Just a few months before, she’d been on the internet and come across the work of artist Shigeo Ootak, whose fantastical images depict humans with curious protrusions erupting from their heads. She got in touch, and he invited her to Japan for a hike to find his inspiration.
Ootak knew precisely where to look: six feet off the ground. And there in a sparse forest, that’s where they found it: the zombie ant, an entrancing species with two long hooks coming out of its back. By now you may have heard its famous tale. A parasitic fungus, known as Ophiocordyceps, invades an ant’s body, growing through its tissues and soaking up nutrients. Then it somehow orders its host to march out of the nest and up a tree above the colony’s trails. The fungus commands the ant to bite onto the vein of a leaf, then kills the thing and grows as a stalk out of the back of its head, turning it into a showerhead raining spores onto victims down below.
That’s how it all goes down in South American forests, where Loreto had already spent plenty of time. But the zombie she found on her hike in Japan was different. First of all, the fungus had driven it higher up a tree. And two, it hadn’t bitten onto a leaf, but had wrapped itself around a twig, hanging upside down.
See, in the tropics, leaves stay on trees all year—but in Japan, they wither and fall. Same goes for zombie ants in the southern United States. By ordering the ant to lock onto a twig, the fungus helps ensure it can stay perched long enough to mature and rain death on more ants. In a study out today in the journal Evolution, Loreto and her colleagues show that divergence between leaf-biting and twig-biting seems to have been a consequence of ancient climate change. So who knows, modern climate change may also do interesting things to the evolution of the parasite.
Come back in time with me 47 million years to an unrecognizable Germany. It’s much hotter and wetter. As such, evergreen forests grow not only up through Europe, but all the way up to the arctic circle. One day, a zombie ant wanders up a tree and bites onto the vein of a leaf, which conveniently enough gets fossilized. Time goes on. The climate cools, and Germany’s wet forests turn temperate.
Almost a decade ago, Penn State entomologist David Hughes looked at that fossil leaf and noticed the tell-tale bite marks of a zombie ant. “Given the fossil evidence in Germany, we know leaf biting occurred then,” say Hughes, a coauthor on the paper. “We suspect that it was also present in North America, and as those populations responded to climate change and the cooling temperature, we see a shift from biting leaves to dying on twigs.”
As vegetation changed from evergreen to deciduous, the fungus found itself in a pickle. But evolution loves a pickle. Ophio adapted independently in Japan and North America to order the ant to seek out twigs, which provided a more reliable, longer-term perch. The fungus grows much slower.
Loreto and Hughes know this thanks to the work of Kim Fleming, a citizen scientist who discovered zombie ant graveyards on her property in South Carolina. She’s been collecting meticulous data for the researchers, scouring the forest for the zombies and marking them with colored tape. “I made a map for myself so I wouldn’t get lost and leave some out,” says Fleming. (For her efforts, she’s now got a species of her very own: Ophiocordyceps kimflemingiae.)
What Fleming helped discover is that while in the tropics the fungus reaches full maturity in one or two months, in temperate climes like hers, the fungus sets up its zombie ant on a twig in June, but doesn’t reach maturity until the next year. In fact, the fungi may actually freeze over the winter. If it were attached to a leaf, it’d tumble to the ground in the fall.
“So it’s almost as if they’ve decided that nothing is going to happen this year, I’m just going to have to sit around because I don’t have time to mature and get spores out,” says Hughes. Plus, the ants hibernate in the winter anyway. Even if the fungus shot spores, there’d be no ants to infect—they’ll all chilling underground in their nest.
Opting for twigs does come with a downside, though: It’s really tough to get good purchase. Until, that is, the fungus initiates a second behavior, ordering the ant to wrap its limbs around the twig, sometimes crossing the legs on the other side of the twig for extra strength. “The hyphae of the fungus growing out of the legs works as glue on the twig as well,” says Loreto. “Sometimes they would even slide down the twig, but they wouldn’t fall.”
It’s hard to imagine how a fungus with no brain could figure this all out, but that’s the power of evolution. And it goes further: In June in temperate climes, the forest is still full of both twigs and leaves, yet the fungus directs zombie ants to lock onto twigs exclusively. And in the Amazon, where it’s lush all year round, they only ever lock onto leaves. “How in the name of … whoever … does the fungus inside the body know what the difference between the leaf and the twig is?” Hughes asks. It always has both options, yet only ever “chooses” one—the best strategy for its particular surroundings.
And so a parasitic manipulation that already defied human credulity grows ever more incredible, far beyond any work of zombie fiction. Your move, Hollywood.
More Great WIRED Stories
With nearly 30,000 runners faring through the wind and rain, the Boston Marathon is officially complete and Desiree Linden was crowned the first American woman to win since 1985, which is an incredible feat. Known as one of the most exclusive marathon’s in the world, to say the competition is ‘fierce’ would be an understatement. However, if you haven’t yet heard of Linden’s unfathomable display of sportsmanship, prepared to be humbled.
One of the clear favorites to win was American, Shalane Flanagan, who is the defending champion of the 2017 New York City Marathon (back in November). However, one hour in, Flanagan had to take an unexpected 13-second break to use the restroom (or “portable facility” as announcers call it).
Shalane Flanagan’s detour to the port-a-potty. pic.twitter.com/lLLCyLhVYz
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) April 16, 2018
The Epic Sportsmanship Gesture
In an unusual and surprising move, fellow American Desiree Linden decided to wait back with Flanagan for those 13-seconds. Let’s put that into perspective for a moment. In 2017, here were the times of the top 3 finishes on the Women’s side:
Take note that there were less than 2 minutes that separate first and third place, and merely 9 seconds separating second and third. Linden risked 13, critical seconds.
An Unparalleled Lesson in Respect
Where there’s speculation that the move was strategic on Linden’s part, it was an extremely risky decision — one that can only exemplify an unparalleled level of respect for a peer. The fact that Linden was still able to pull ahead and win is even more incredible.
All in all, I’m humbled. To see sportsmanship displayed at such an elite, competitive level is simply humbling.
Everyone loves to win — winning against the odds and with dignity? Now that is powerful.
I’m by no means a hardcore gamer—whatever that even means in the growing world of esports and Let’s Plays. I’m not traveling to competitive tournaments or staying up nights, bloodshot and caffeinated, playing the latest and greatest RPG or MMO. Yet I do log a considerable amount of Steam hours, and in my amateur pursuits of gaming glory, I’ve mostly stuck with keyboards included on gaming laptops (small New York apartments abhor gaming rigs). I’ve used plenty of mechanical keyboards before, but for my gaming needs, nothing ever felt substantially better than what was already attached to my laptop. But after two weeks of toying with Razer’s new Blackwidow X Chroma, I’m starting to rethink my position.
Although he recalls briefly driving a taxi to earn money, he gravitated to showbiz early, starring in a South African soap opera at age 18, hosting a youth-oriented radio program, and trying his hand at gossip and game shows on local television a …