Study says U.S. Twitch streamers raked in roughly $87 million in 2017

A new study study estimates that revenue-earning American Twitch streamers grew to nearly 9,800 in 2017 (a 59 percent increase from 2016) and made an estimated $87.1 million (representing a 30 percent YOY increase).

Twitch is one of the fastest growing platforms for American content creators. In terms of YOY growth in number of creators themselves, Twitch falls just behind Instagram and Youtube, and ranks second behind Instagram in YOY revenue growth for those creators. (Fun Fact: Instagram’s creator-based revenue growth grew nearly 50 percent from 2016 to 2017 to $460 million, according to the study.)

Recreate Coalition says that these numbers are very conservative based on the methodology of the study and the fact that it’s limited to the U.S.

The growth of Twitch is predicated on a few obvious trends, as well as a very nuanced relationship between a streamer and his or her respective audience.

In the case of the former, ‘live’ digital experiences continue to be a fascination for startups and consumers alike. While Twitch and YouTube have offered live broadcasts for a while, social media companies have followed along with their own live streaming products. In fact, Betaworks dedicated a season of its accelerator program to ‘live’ startups, calling the program LiveCamp.

With regards to the latter, things get more interesting. The relationship between a viewer and a streamer is similar to our relationships with other famous celebrities, artists and athletes, but puts the viewer far closer to the action.

Streamers don’t just pop up briefly in articles, TV interviews, or on Twitter or Instagram. They spend hours and hours each day just sitting there, doing whatever it is they do on stream and chatting with their viewers. You can get to know their personality, talk to them, and they talk back to you!

It’s a bizarre combination that has proven financially fruitful for these streamers, especially at a time where the gaming industry itself is growing by double digit percentages YOY for the past two years.

A tier of elite, hyper-popular streamers such as Shroud, DrDisrespect, Dakotaz and of course Ninja are leading the way for others as they continue to gain followers. In fact, Ninja just partnered with Wicked Cool Toys to introduce a line of actual toys to the market. Ninja himself made nearly $10 million in 2018.

But as the gaming world explores new genres and esports grow, there seems to be plenty of room for streamers to make a name (and a pretty penny) for themselves.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post included a few too many zeroes, stating that U.S. Twitch streamers made $87 billion instead of $87 million. It has been corrected for accuracy with my apologies.

InVision acquires design file versioning startup Trunk

InVision, the design company valued at $1.9 billion, has today announced the acquisition of Australia-based Trunk.

Trunk is focused wholly on file versioning for designers. In the world of engineering, GitHub has provided a way for developers to keep versions organized — developers can track changes, create a separate branch to experiment, and collaborate more easily with other developers by merging branches. But the same courtesy hasn’t properly been extended to designers, who usually spend plenty of time scrolling through long email chains searching for the latest version of the attachment.

The deal, the terms of which were not disclosed, came about after Trunk applied for funding from InVision’s Design Forward Fund. After taking a look at the Trunk business and getting to know the team better, InVision decided to take it a step further with a proper acquisition offer.

“We’re truly inverting the workflow,” said InVision CEO and founder Clark Valberg . “It’s gone from engineering first to design first because, in the process of building, design is the best place to have conversations across the company. Everyone can understand it and strategize. Engineers have had version control since the very early days.”

The Trunk team will be focusing their energy on Studio, InVision’s design tool, which launched about a year ago.

The launch of Studio was the first time that InVision truly showed its hand, revealing efforts to go well beyond a simple collaboration tool and become the Salesforce of the design world.

In order to do so, InVision is building bridges between itself and other design focused startups, whether its through integrations, investment, or straight-up acquisition.

“As a growing company with some 800 employees, we’re always looking for people who are passionate about each individual slice of this design pie as possible,” said Valberg. “After using Trunk’s technology, we realized that they really really really care about this slice around design file versioning.”

The InVision collaboration suite currently boasts a place at 98 percent of the Fortune 100 companies, with more than 5 million users. This means the company is shifting its focus squarely to Studio. Design collaboration software was a relatively novel idea back when InVision launched, but design software wasn’t. With Studio, InVision is taking on incumbents like Adobe and other newcomers such as Sketch.

Of course, the feature set of Studio itself is important in beating out other design tools, but InVision believes that the real deal closer is integration with the deeper back-end of InVision’s suite of tools, such as InVision collaboration and now, design file versioning.

The new Parsley Health Center in NYC doesn’t feel like a doctor’s office

Parsley Health has just opened up a new, fully redesigned space on Fifth Avenue in New York City, marking the first true Parsley Health Center.

Since launch, the startup has been operating out of clinics in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But TechCrunch got the chance to check out Parsley’s new Fifth Ave location, which marks the company’s first space designed from the ground up as Parsley Health.

Founded by Dr. Robin Berzin, Parsley Health is a healthcare membership, where customers are offered a holistic approach to their health by a team of doctors and health coaches, complete with 24/7 unlimited messaging.

The idea stemmed from the troublesome reality that the average American spends less than 20 minutes a year with their doctor, who more often than not treat symptoms instead of the root problem.

Parsley members spend around four hours/yr with medical professionals, including five doctor visits a year and five health coach visits. Plus, Parsley offers 24/7 communication with your doctor and health coach. The hope is that Parsley doctors can better diagnose and treat their patients’ issues if they have the time to get the full story. Plus, Parsley doctors have the benefit of advanced biomarker testing alongside their focus on functional medicine, where root issues are prioritized for treatment rather than symptoms.

Part of giving the highest quality treatment is creating an open relationship between doctor and patient. That, in many ways, can be influenced by the physical space.

The new Parsley Health Center takes into account the principles of biophilic design. In other words, the space is designed specifically to make people feel healthier and better. The lighting, for example, is built to mimic natural light by using ribbed glass partition systems in the smaller rooms of the space. The space is also full of plants, as being in connection with nature reduces stress and improves mood.

The company even paid attention to the details of designing a main hallway where the halls that sprawl off of the main corridor are somewhat hidden by overhanging walls. This pattern, of visually implying a mystery waits around the corner, is supposed to provoke a strong pleasure response.

Beyond the design itself, Parsley also took into account the look and feel of the waiting room.

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Rather than a sterile room with old magazines and no light, the Parsley waiting room is more of a communal living room, with plenty of couches and a kitchen, complete with draught kombucha and healthy snacks for purchase.

The hope is that Parsley can use this room for community events around learning how to optimize health across all parts of life, including food, sleep, and behavior.

Doctor’s offices and exam rooms are rethought to ensure a more comfortable relationship between doctor and patient. There are no desks that separate patient from doctor, instead featuring a couch with a small side table to write on.

Observation tables have been redesigned to fit in with the room instead of standing out like a giant piece of ‘medical equipment’. Doctors’ instruments all fit into a small set of drawers off to the side.

Even the lab is built adjacent to a restroom where patients can pass their specimen through a small compartment in the wall instead of walking it through the hallways.

In 2017, Parsley raised $10 million led by FirstMark Capital, with participation from Amplo, Trail Mix Ventures, Combine and The Chernin Group. Individual investors such as Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine; Nat Turner, CEO of Flatiron Health; Neil Parikh, co-founder of Casper; and Dave Gilboa, co-founder of Warby Parker, also invested in the round.

Membership to Parsley costs $150/month.

Elon Musk shows off the assembled Starship test rocket

After weeks teasing renderings and production photos, Elon Musk finally showed off the finished Starship test rocket last night.

As you can well see, the Starship test rocket has a stainless steel skin, which had a few people scratching their heads. Steel is indeed quite durable, but weighs more than other materials used in rockets like carbon fiber, aluminum, and titanium. Musk argues, however, that stainless steel’s resistance to extreme temperature, especially heat, makes it a better fit for this type of rocket.

The Starship rocket, previously called the BFR, is an integral piece of the SpaceX road map. It’s meant to take the place of the Falcon and Falcon Heavy rockets as a primary launch vehicle, which means lots of re-entry (which means lots of heat).

This test model, currently at the Boca Chica, Texas launch site, is meant for suborbital VTOL tests, which will take place in March. The orbital version will be taller, with thicker skins, and a more smoothly curving nose section, with launches on the books for 2020.

Epic Games surprises players on New Year’s Eve

Happy New Year!

The folks over at Epic Games have a special treat in store for players hopping on Fortnite today. In celebration of New Year’s Eve all around the world, Fortnite is having an in-game live event where a massive, dropping disco ball descends on the map each hour, on the hour.

The virtual ball drop has the same affect on players as a boogie bomb, meaning that everyone playing Fortnite is collectively dancing each time the minutes on your clock read :00.

Obviously, the clock has already struck midnight and 2019 has officially begun in many parts of the world, but the in-game ball drop threw some players off guard.

Nick Chester, Epic’s PR spokesperson, tweeted this in response:

2018 was a huge year for Fortnite. Even beyond the turning of a new year, Epic Games has good reason to celebrate.

Polite Fortnite Society

My parents are approaching 60. When they were young, they hung out at diners, or drove around in their cars. My generation hung out in the parking lot after school, or at the mall. My colleague John Biggs often talks of hanging out with his nerd buddies in his basement, playing games and making crank calls.

Today, young people are hanging out on a virtual island plagued by an ever-closing fatal storm. It’s called Fortnite .

The thread above describes exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, people most certainly log on and play the game. Some play it very seriously. But many, especially young folks, hop on to Fortnite to socialize.

The phenomenon of “hanging out” on a game is not new.

Almost any popular game results in a community of players who connect not only through the common interest of the game itself, but as real friends who discuss their lives, thoughts, dreams, etc. But something else is afoot on Fortnite that may be far more effectual.

Gaming culture has long had a reputation for being highly toxic. To be clear, there is a difference between talking about someone’s skills in the game and making a personal attack:

“You are bad at this game.” = Fine by me
“You should kill yourself.” = Not fine at all

But many streamers and pro gamers make offensive jokes, talk shit about each other and rage when they lose. It’s not shocking, then, that the broader gaming community that tries to emulate them, especially the young men growing up in a world where e-sports are real, tend to do many of the same things.

A new type of community

But Fortnite doesn’t have the same type of community. Sure, as with any game, there are bad apples. But on the whole, there isn’t the same toxicity permeating every single part of the game.

For what it’s worth, I’ve played hundreds of hours of both Fortnite and Call of Duty over the past few years. The difference between the way I’m treated on Fortnite and Call of Duty, particularly once my game-matched teammates discover I’m a woman, is truly staggering. I’ve actually been legitimately scared by my interactions with people on Call of Duty. I’ve met some of my closest friends on Fortnite.

One such relationship is with a young man named Luke, who is set to graduate from college this spring.

During the course of our now year-long friendship, Luke revealed to me that he is gay and was having trouble coming out to his parents and peers at school. As an older gay, I tried to provide him with as much guidance and advice as possible. Being there for him, answering his phone calls when he was struggling and reminding him that he’s a unique, strong individual, has perhaps been one of the most rewarding parts of my life this past year.

I’ve also made friends with young men who, once they realize that I’m older and a woman and have a perspective that they might not, casually ask me for advice. They’ve asked me why the girl they like doesn’t seem to like them back — “don’t try to make her jealous, just treat her with kindness,” I advised, and then added “OK, make her a little jealous” — or vented to me about how their parents “are idiots” — “they don’t understand you, and you don’t understand them, but they’re doing their best for you and no one loves you like they do” — or expressed insecurity about who they are — “you’re great at Fortnite, why wouldn’t you be great at a bunch of other things?” and “have more confidence in yourself.”

(Though paraphrased, these are real conversations I’ve had with random players on Fortnite.)

There is perhaps no other setting where I might meet these young people, nor one where they might meet me. And even if we did meet, out in the real world, would we open up and discuss our lives? No. But we have this place in common, and as we multitask playing the game and having a conversation, suddenly our little hearts open up to one another in the safety of the island.

But that’s just me. I see this mentorship all the time in Fortnite, in both small and big ways.

Gaming culture is often seen as a vile thing, and there are a wide array of examples to support that conclusion. Though this perception is slowly changing, and not always fair, gamers are usually either perceived as lonely people bathed in the blue glow of the monitor light, or toxic brats who cuss, and throw out slurs, and degrade women.

So why is Fortnite any different from other games? Why does it seem to foster a community that, at the very least, doesn’t actively hate on one another?

One map, a million colors

First, it’s the game itself. Even though Fortnite includes weapons, it’s not a “violent” game. There is no blood or gore. When someone is eliminated, their character simply evaporates into a pile of brightly colored loot. The game feels whimsical and cartoonish and fun, full of dances and fun outfits. This musical, colorful world most certainly affects the mood of its players.

Logging on to Fortnite feels good, like hearing the opening music to the Harry Potter movies. Logging on to a game like, say, Call of Duty: WWII feels sad and scary, like watching the opening sequence to Saving Private Ryan.

Moreover, Fortnite Battle Royale takes place on a single large map. That map may change and evolve from time to time, but it’s even more “common ground” between players. Veterans of the game show noobs new spots to find loot or ways to get around. As my colleague Greg Kumparak said to me, “Every time you go in, you’re going to the same place. Maybe it’s skinned a little different or there’s suddenly a viking ship, but it’s home.”

Of course, there are other colorful, bubbly games that still have a huge toxicity problem. Overwatch is a great example. So what’s the difference?

Managing expectations

Battle Royale has introduced a brand new dynamic to the world of gaming. Instead of facing off in a one-versus-one or a five-versus-five scenario as with Starcraft or Overwatch respectively, Battle Royale is either 1 versus 99, 2 versus 98 or 4 versus 96.

“It isn’t as binary as winning or losing,” said Rod “Slasher” Breslau, longtime gaming and e-sports journalist formerly of ESPN and CBS Interactive’s GameSpot. “You could place fifth and still feel satisfied about how you played.”

Breslau played Overwatch at the highest levels for a few seasons and said that it was the most frustrating game he’s ever played in 20 years of gaming. It may be colorful and bubbly, but it is built in a way that gives an individual player a very limited ability to sway the outcome of the game.

“You have all the normal problems of playing in a team, relying on your teammates to play their best and communicate and to simply have the skill to compete, but multiply that because of the way the game works,” said Breslau. “It’s very reliant on heroes, the meta is pretty stale because it’s a relatively new game, and the meta has been figured out.”

All that, combined with the fact that success in Overwatch is based on teamwork, make it easy to get frustrated and unleash on teammates.

With Fortnite, a number of factors relieve that stress. In an ideal scenario, you match up with three other players in a Squads match and they are all cooperative. Everyone lands together, they share shield potions and weapons, communicate about nearby enemies and literally pick each other up when one gets knocked down. This type of teamwork, even among randos, fosters kindness.

In a worst-case scenario, you are matched up with players who aren’t cooperative, who use toxic language, who steal your loot or simply run off and die, leaving you alone to fight off teams of four. Even in the latter scenario, there are ways to play more cautiously — play passive and hide, or third-party fights that are underway and pick players off, or lure teams intro trapped up houses.

Sure, it’s helpful to have skilled, communicative teammates, but being matched with not-so-great teammates doesn’t send most people into a blind rage.

And because the odds are against you — 1 versus 99 in Solos or 4 versus 96 in Squads — the high of winning is nearly euphoric.

“The lows are the problem,” says Breslau. “Winning a close game of Overwatch, when the team is working together and communicating, feels great. But when you’re depending on your team to win, the lows are so low. The lows aren’t like that in Fortnite.”

The more the merrier

The popularity of Fortnite as a cultural phenomenon, not just a game, means that plenty of non-gamers have found their way onto the island. Young people, a brand new generation of gamers, are obsessed with the game. But folks who might have fallen away from gaming as they got older are still downloading it on their phone, or installing it on the Nintendo Switch, and giving Battle Royale a try. Outsiders, who haven’t been steeped in the all-too-common hatred found in the usual gaming community, are bringing a sense of perspective to Fortnite. There is simply more diversity that comes with a larger pool of players, and diversity fosters understanding.

Plus, Fortnite has solid age distribution among players. The majority (63 percent) of players on Fortnite are between the ages of 18 and 24, according to Verto Analytics. Twenty-three percent of players are ages 24 to 35, and thirteen percent are 35 to 44 years old. However, this data doesn’t take into account players under the age of 18, which represent 28 percent of overall gamers, according to Verto. One way Fortnite is like other games is that 70 percent of players are male.

There aren’t many scenarios where four people, from different backgrounds and age groups, join up under a common goal in the type of mood-lifting setting that Fortnite provides. More often than not, the youngest little guy tries to make some sort of offensive joke to find his social place in the group. But surprisingly, for a shoot and loot game played by a lot of people, that’s rarely tolerated by the older members of a Fortnite squad.

All eyes on Fortnite

The popularity of the game also means that more eyes are on Fortnite than any other game. Super-popular streamer Ninja’s live stream with Drake had more than 600,000 concurrent viewers, setting a record. The more people watching, the more streamers are forced to watch their behavior.

Fortnite streamers are setting a new example for gamers everywhere.

One such streamer is Nick “NickMercs” Kolcheff. Nick has been streaming Fortnite since it first came out and has a huge community of mostly male viewers. I consider myself a part of, albeit a minority in, that community — I’ve subscribed to his channel and cheered for him with bits and participated in the chat. In short, I’ve spent plenty of time watching Nick and have seen him offer a place of support and friendship for his viewers.

I’ve seen Nick’s audience ask him, in so many words, how to lose weight (Nick’s a big fitness guy), or share that they’re dealing with an illness in the family, or share that they’re heartbroken because their girlfriend cheated on them.

In large part, Nick says he learned how to be a mentor from his own dad.

“I remember being in those kinds of positions, but I have a great father that always sat me down and let me vent and then shared his opinion, and reminded me that it isn’t supposed to be easy,” said Kolcheff. “It feels good to bounce things off other people and hard things always feel much easier when you know you’re not alone, and I can relate to my chat the way my dad relates to me.”

Nick always has something positive to say. He reminds his audience that even if they feel alone IRL, they have a community right there in his Twitch channel to talk to. He sets an example in the way he talks about his girlfriend Emu, and the way he treats her on screen. When Nick loses a game and his chat explodes with anger, he reminds them to be cool and to not talk shit about other players.

And it’s easy to see his example followed in the chat, where young people are treating each other with respect and answering each other’s questions.

Nick wasn’t always like this. In fact, the first time that NickMercs and Ninja played together on stream, they brought up the time that Nick challenged Ninja to a fight at a LAN tournament years ago. But both Nick and Ninja have matured into something that you rarely find in online gaming: a role model — and it’s had an effect.

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, far and away the most successful Twitch streamer ever, decided to stop swearing and using degrading language as his influence in the community and his viewership grew. When his audience said they missed the old Ninja, he had this to say:

I’m the same person, you guys. 2018 can’t handle old Ninja and… guess what, I can’t handle old Ninja because the words that I used to say and the gaming terms I used to say… they weren’t ok, alright? I’ve matured.

Jack “Courage” Dunlop is another Fortnite streamer who uses his influence in the community to mentor young people. He has befriended a young fellow named Connor. Courage helped Connor get his first win and has since continued playing with him and talking to him.

Not only is he being kind to Connor, but he’s setting an example for his viewers.

“In comparison to games like Call of Duty and Gears of War and Halo, the top content creators like Ninja, Sypher PK, Timthetatman, are a little older now,” said Kolcheff. “They’ve come from other games where they already had a following. If you look at me five or six years ago, or any of us, we’ve all chilled out. We were more combative and crazy and had a lot more words to say, but I think we just grew up, and it bleeds through to the community.”

These guys are the exception in the wider world of gaming and streaming. But they represent the future of gaming in general. As e-sports explode with growth, pro players will undoubtedly be held to the same behavioral standards as pro players in traditional sports. That’s not to say that pro athletes are angels, and that’s not to say that bad actors won’t have a following. Just look at PewDiePie.

A matter of time

The e-sports world is realizing that they can’t let their professionals run their mouth without consequences. As the industry grows, highly dependent on advertisers and brand endorsements, with a young audience hanging on every word, it will become increasingly important for leagues, e-sports organizations and game makers to start paying closer attention to the behavior of their top players.

We’re already seeing this type of policing happening on Overwatch, both for pro players and amateurs alike.

There is plenty more work to do. But the problem of removing toxicity from any platform is incredibly difficult. Just ask Facebook and Twitter. Still, it’s only a matter of time before e-sports decision-makers raise the stakes on what they’ll allow from their representatives, which are pro players and streamers.

Toxic behavior is being rejected in most polite society anywhere (except Twitter, because Twitter), and it surely can’t be tolerated much longer in the gaming world. But Fortnite maker Epic Games hasn’t had to put too much effort forth to steer clear of toxic behavior. The community seems to be doing a pretty good job holding itself accountable.

Winning where it counts

Believe you me, Fortnite is not some magical place filled with unicorns and rainbows. There are still players on the game who behave badly, cheat, use toxic language and are downright mean. But compared to other shooters, Fortnite is a breath of fresh air.

No one thing makes Fortnite less toxic. A beautiful, mood-lifting game can’t make much of a difference on its own. A huge, relatively diverse player base certainly makes a dent. And yes, the game limits frustration by simply managing expectations. But with leaders that have prioritized their position as role models, and all the other factors above working in harmony, Fortnite is not only the most popular game in the world, but perhaps one of the most polite.

We reached out to Epic Games, Courage and Ninja for this story, but didn’t hear back at the time of publication.

Juul Labs gets $12.8 billion investment from Marlboro maker Altria Group

After a long year fighting underage use of its products, Juul Labs has today struck a deal with Altria Group, the owners of Philip Morris USA and makers of Marlboro cigarettes.

The deal values Juul at $38 billion, according to Bloomberg, and injects the company with a fresh $12.8 billion in exchange for a 35 percent stake in Juul Labs.

Here’s what Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns had to say in a prepared statement:

We understand the controversy and skepticism that comes with an affiliation and partnership with the largest tobacco company in the US. We were skeptical as well. But over the course of the last several months we were convinced by actions, not words, that in fact this partnership could help accelerate our success switching adult smokers. We understand the doubt. We doubted as well.

He goes on to explain the strict criteria Juul Labs had for a potential investor, particularly one from the Big Tobacco space. For one, Altria entered into a standstill agreement that limits the company’s ownership in Juul to 35 percent. Altria must also use its database and its distribution network to get the message of Juul out to current smokers.

For the past year, many have seen Juul as a dangerous toy for teenagers. In November, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced new measures for the e-cig industry meant to keep the products out of the hands of teens. One of those measures includes restricting the sale of flavored non-combustible tobacco products beyond the usual cigarette flavors of tobacco and menthol.

But after nearly a year of playing defense, this new deal marks a bit of an offensive push from Juul Labs. The company has always stressed that its main goal is to give smokers a meaningful alternative to combustible cigarettes. Partnering with Big Tobacco may not seem like the best way to do that, optically speaking. But Altria has agreed to a few measures that would get information about Juul into the hands of actual smokers, including:

  • providing Juul with access to its retail shelf space, meaning that Juul’s tobacco and menthol products will be merchandized right alongside Altria combustible cigarettes
  • Altria will include direct communications about Juul to adult smokers through cigarette pack inserts and mailings via Altria companies’ databases
  • Altria will support Juul via its logistics and distribution networks, as well as its sales team which works with more than 230,000 retail locations

In the release, Altria said that part of the reason for the investment is simply that the organization understands change is coming to the tobacco industry.

Howard Willard, Altria’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, had this to say in a prepared statement:

We are taking significant action to prepare for a future where adult smokers overwhelmingly choose non-combustible products over cigarettes by investing $12.8 billion in JUUL, a world leader in switching adult smokers. We have long said that providing adult smokers with superior, satisfying products with the potential to reduce harm is the best way to achieve tobacco harm reduction. Through JUUL, we are making the biggest investment in our history to achieve that goal. We strongly believe that working with JUUL to accelerate its mission will have long-term benefits for adult smokers and our shareholders.

Altria has made a few big moves lately, including acquiring a 45 percent stake in cannabis company Cronos earlier this month. The company also announced this month that it would discontinue its own e-cig products, including all MarkTen and Green Smoke e-vapor products, and VERVE oral nicotine products.

“This decision is based upon the current and expected financial performance of these products, coupled with regulatory restrictions that burden Altria’s ability to quickly improve these products,” read the press release. “The company will refocus its resources on more compelling reduced-risk tobacco product opportunities.”

Now we know that those opportunities look like an extra-long thumb drive called Juul.

InVision, valued at $1.9 billion, picks up $115 million Series F

“The screen is becoming the most important place in the world,” says InVision CEO and founder Clark Valberg . In fact, it’s hard to get through a conversation with him without hearing it. And, considering that his company has grown to $100 million in annual recurring revenue, he has reason to believe his own affirmation.

InVision, the startup looking to be the Salesforce of design, has officially achieved unicorn status with the close of a $115 million Series F round, bringing the company’s total funding to $350 million. This deal values InVision at $1.9 billion, which is nearly double its valuation as of mid-2017 on the heels of its $100 million Series E financing.

Spark Capital led the round with participation from Goldman Sachs, as well as existing investors Battery Ventures, ICONIQ Capital, Tiger Global Management, FirstMark and Geodesic Capital. Atlassian also participated in the round. Earlier this year, Atlassian and InVision built out much deeper integrations, allowing Jira, Confluence and Trello users to instantly collaborate via InVision.

As part of the deal, Spark Capital’s Megan Quinn will be joining the board alongside existing board members, Amish Jani, Vas Natarajan, Simon Nebel, Lee Fixel, and Mark Hastings.

InVision started out back in 2011 as a simple prototyping tool. It let designers build out their experience without asking the engineering/dev team to actually build it, to then send to the engineering and product and marketing and executive teams for collaboration and/or approval.

Over the years, the company has stretched its efforts both up and downstream in the process, building out a full collaboration suite called InVision Cloud (so that every member of the organization can be involved in the design process), Studio, a design platform meant to take on the likes of Adobe and Sketch, and InVision Design System Manager, where design teams can manage their assets and best practices from one place.

But perhaps more impressive than InVision’s ability to build design products for designers is its ability to attract users that aren’t designers.

“Originally, I don’t think we appreciated how much the freemium model acted as a fly wheel internally within an organization,” said Megan Quinn. “Those designers weren’t just inviting designers from their own team or other teams, but PMs and Marketing and Customer Service and executives to collaborate and approve the designs. From the outside, InVision looks like a design company. But really, they start with the designer as a core customer and spread virally within an organization to serve a multitude.”

InVision has simply dominated prototyping and collaboration, today announcing it has surpassed 5 million users. What’s more, InVision has a wide variety of customers. The startup has a long and impressive list of digital first customers — including Netflix, Uber, Airbnb and Twitter — but also serves 97 percent of the Fortune 100, with customers like Adidas, General Electric, NASA, IKEA, Starbucks, and Toyota.

Part of that can be attributed to the quality of the products, but the fundamental shift to digital (as predicted by Valberg) is most certainly under way. Whether brands like it or not, customers are interacting with them more and more from behind a screen, and digital customer experience is becoming more and more important to all companies.

In fact, a McKinsey study showed that companies that are in the top quartile scores of the McKinsey Design Index outperformed their counterparts in both revenues and total returns to shareholders by as much as a factor of two.

But as with any transition, some folks are adverse to change. Valberg identifies industry education and evangelism as two big challenges for InVision.

“Organizations are not quick to change on things like design, which is why we’ve built out a Design Transformation Team,” said Valberg. “The team goes in and gets hands on with brands to help them with new practices and to achieve design maturity within the organization.”

With a fresh $115 million and 5 million users, InVision has just about everything it needs to step into a new tier of competition. Even amongst behemoths like Adobe, which pulled in $2.29 billion in revenue in Q3 alone, InVision has provided products that can both compliment and compete.

But Quinn believes that the future of InVision rests on execution.

“As with most companies, the biggest challenge will be continued excellence in execution,” said Quinn. “InVision has all the right tail winds with the right team, a great product, and excellent customers. It’s all about building and executing ahead of where the pack is going.”

Gift Guide: So your [friend, partner, kid, parent] wants to be a Twitch streamer…

Though many people still scratch their head at the idea of watching people play video games, Twitch and its content creators have proven that the platform is attractive (even beloved) to tens of millions of people.

Got a friend or loved one who believes they have the skill, personality and wide open schedule to be successful on Twitch? The right gift might get the ball rolling.

(Note: It should go without saying that there is one piece of gear that a Twitch streamer truly needs, and that’s a computer or console to play the game on. Generally, this will either be a gaming PC, a Playstation 4, or an Xbox One. Chances are if someone wants to stream games, they’ve already got a platform of choice, so we’re not going to go into detail on what type of PC or console to buy.)

Microphones

Blue Yeti Pro microphoneThe best place to start when investing in a streaming set up is the mic. Yes, webcams are important (and we’ll get to that) but it’s really taxing to listen to poor audio for any lengthy amount of time, and most gaming headphones just won’t cut it.

Our top choice for a reasonably priced, high quality mic is the Blue Yeti Pro ($250). It’s a relatively simple plug-and-play product that sounds great. It supports both USB and XLR, giving users plenty of flexibility if they want to use it for multiple purposes (like, say, podcasting) or across various audio interfaces.

It’s not cheap — the Blue Yeti Pro costs $250 on Amazon — so folks looking for a less flexible mic that will simply work with a PC or console, the stepped-down Blue Mics Yeti ($130) should get the job done.

Webcams

Logitech C922 HD Pro StreamWhile the point of streaming is arguably to watch the game, and not the gamer, there is something special about seeing someone’s reactions to the game or to the Twitch chat on a stream.

General consensus among the community points to the Logitech C922 HD Pro Stream ($99). It captures 1080p/30fps or 720p/60fps video and offers a 78-degree field of view, with particularly good low-light capabilities and solid autofocus. Oddly, streaming under the blue light of the monitor in complete darkness is pretty common, and this webcam can handle just that. As a bonus, the C922 offers background replacement, letting users green screen out everything behind the streamer to show even more of the game. The lower-cost alternative is the Logitech HD Pro C920 ($79), which doesn’t offer background replacement or some other bonus features like 720p/60fps capture, or autofocus.

The C922 also comes with a three-month free trial of XSplit (broadcasting software that will likely be necessary for PC gamers/streamers, but is less necessary for console streamers.)

Monitors

ASUS VG245H 24” Full HD 1080p gaming monitorMost people think of a couch and a TV when they think of playing video games, but that is most certainly not ideal for a streamer. For one, where does the webcam go? Secondly, your vision just isn’t as good from 10 feet away on a 40-inch+ screen. Many pros tend to use a 24- to 27-inch monitor roughly two feet away from the face — so sitting at a desk is often preferred.

Super high-performance gaming monitors are very expensive, and there are very real trade-offs each time the price comes down. But the ASUS VG245H ($190) is a solid contender at a reasonable price point, managing to pack a punch where it counts.

The 24-inch monitor comes with a TN type panel (which can wash out colors more than ISP) but has a 144Hz refresh rate at a 1920×1080 resolution. At $190 on Amazon, this monitor is a bargain.


Beyond strictly streaming equipment, there are plenty of gadgets that can take a skilled gamer to the next level. Here are a few suggestions:

Inputs

A gamer that dominates the competition with entry-level inputs (be it a mouse or controller) will absolutely crush it with a gaming-specific mouse or controller.

Finalmouse Ultralight Pro gaming mouseThere are many schools of thought when it comes to PC gaming mice — some think customization is king, while others are drawn to RGB lighting or wireless functionality. At the end of the day, personal preference plays a huge role. For folks switching over from a standard mouse, the best option might be the Finalmouse Ultralight Pro ($70).

It acts and feels like a standard mouse, but happens to be just 67 grams, with the Pixart pmw3360 eSports sensor, integrated illumination, enhanced tracking and a higher framerate. And as a bonus, this is the same mouse that streaming star Ninja uses. If it’s good enough for him, it’s probably good enough for your dear recipient.

For console gamers, there is a clear favorite if you’re looking to upgrade beyond the standard Xbox or Playstation controller. Scuf Gaming controllers (starting at $150) allow players to use paddles on the underside of the controller. This means that gamers can use their middle and ring fingers instead of multitasking with their thumbs, meaning their thumbs never leave the joysticks.

Headset

Stealth 700 Headset - PS4Switching from standard headphones to high-quality gaming headphones feels like cheating. Suddenly, you can hear everything around you. I’ve personally played with a wide variety of headphones, and my favorite by a mile is the Astro A50 wireless headset with base station ($300). Tech specs aside, these are some of the most comfortable headphones out there, perfect for those hours-long streaming sessions.

For folks looking for something more affordable, Turtle Beach also has a nice selection of wireless headphones including the Stealth 700 ($150).

Smaller Stuff

Once they’re streaming, then what? The best thing you can do for your new favorite streamer is interact with their new channel. Subscribe. Watch the broadcast and chat in the stream. And if you have a little extra cash to spare, gift subs to the channel so folks who show up and want to subscribe have no barrier to entry when they get there.

2 Milly files a lawsuit against Fortnite maker Epic Games over dance move

Rapper 2 Milly is suing Epic Games over Fortnite’s use of his dance move, the Milly Rock.

The lawsuit claims direct infringement of copyright, contributory infringement of copyright and violation of the Right of Publicity under California Common Law, among other things.

From the filing:

Defendants capitalized on the Milly Rock’s popularity, particularly with its younger fans, by selling the Milly Rock dance as an in-game purchase in Fortnite under the name “Swipe It,” which players can buy to customize their avatars for use in the game. This dance was immediately recognized by players and media worldwide as the Milly Rock. Although identical to the dance created, popularized, and demonstrated by Ferguson, Epic did not credit Ferguson nor seek his consent to use, display, reproduce, sell, or create a derivative work based upon Ferguson’s Milly Rock dance or likeness.

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen the Milly Rock. Rock dwellers can check it out below:

On Fortnite, the dance is called the Swipe It, and it looks like this:

Back in July, around the time that Fortnite unveiled the Swipe It dance, Chance the Rapper pointed out that Epic Games tends to use in the game dance moves popularized by famous artists. These emotes cost money, and heavily contribute to the hundreds of millions in revenue that Epic Games pulls in on a monthly basis via its free-to-play game.

Moreover, the default emote on Fortnite is the relatively famous little routine from actor Donald Faison on the show Scrubs.

This lawsuit is particularly complicated considering that it’s over a dance move, which is difficult to lock down with copyright. The Verge reported that this lawsuit is the first of its kind, in that it challenges the gaming industry’s use of pop culture as for-profit virtual items. NPR reports that the U.S. Copyright Office “can’t register short dance routines consisting of only a few movements or steps with minor linear or spatial variations, even if a routine is novel or distinctive.”

That doesn’t mean there is no way to protect choreographic works. Those works, however, must be defined as “a series of dance movements or patterns organized into an integrated, coherent, and expressive compositional whole,” according to NPR.

Concluding the 22-page filing is a request for injunctive relief, which would bar Epic Games from using 2 Milly’s likeness in the game, as well as financial compensation for the use of the Milly Rock dance.

We reached out to Epic Games and will update the story if/when we hear back.