Why Is Everyone Talking to Ibai Llanos?

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Outside, in the hot Paris sun, the world’s news media stood on the edge of the grounds of the Parc des Princes. Producers busy messing around with cameras and boom microphones. Reporters kept chattering, dutifully filling up airtime ahead of their scheduled interview slot.

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They were subject to strict instructions and constraints: three questions, a few minutes, no more, detailing the biggest sports story of the summer, to get to the heart of a transfer that ended one era and started another. And then his time will run out, and Lionel Messi will have to move on.

Ibai Llanos’ setup was different. He was taken inside the players’ tunnel along with two of his oldest friends, Anders Cortés and Borja Nanclares. He had no sound equipment. They were filming on a phone. Yet, at the time, the Llanos had half a million people watching him.

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The 26-year-old Llanos, without really trying or particularly making sense, had grabbed every news outlet on the planet. Messi’s first interview since leaving FC Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain will not be with a television network or a major newspaper. Instead it will come out exclusively on the Llanos’ Twitch channel.

Over the years, the Llanos have interviewed some of soccer’s biggest names, from Sergio Ramos to Paulo Dybala. He now counts some stars such as Sergio Aguero as friends and others such as Gerard Pique as business partners.

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Players who don’t habitually rely on media are happy to spend a few hours talking to the Llanos on Twitch, an Amazon-owned livestreaming service. This is turning him into a breakout star of the Internet age in Spain and has, at times, invoked the wrath of journalists from more traditional outlets, who envy the access he enjoys and despise his lack of training. Huh.

The interview with Messi was, by some distance, the most high-profile moment of his relatively brief career. From a journalistic point of view also a bit unconventional. The Llanos was terrified. When he later watched the video, he noticed that he was passing a pen between his fingers without noticing during his conversation with Messi. “It was like a bit dizzy,” he said.

Acting under the same strictness as everyone else, Llanos asked Messi if he had “eaten a lot” at a farewell dinner held for some of his closest friends in Barcelona a few days ago. “Did I behave myself?” The Llanos asked. Messi assured him that he had.

Llanos asked Messi only one soccer question on the appeal to play with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and so only one soccer answer was given, which was given to monotone players that drenched whenever their game was brought up. Mostly, the whole exchange was light and cordial, its intimacy reduced only by Llanos referring to the world’s best football player as “Messi” – not Lionel, not Leo, not Seor Messi, but of his jersey. The word back, somewhere in between a respectable one and a schoolyard nickname – across.

That’s exactly what the Llanos promised. “I’m not going to ask him about Mauricio Pochettino’s strategy,” he explained on his livestream just before Messi’s arrival. Llanos is not a journalist. He doesn’t pretend to be a journalist. He is not trying to be a journalist. And that’s why he got a chance to get the exclusive every journalist wants.

Llanos has been a dreamer since before the word even existed. At the age of 15, he and some friends from his hometown of Bilbao in Spain set up a YouTube channel, filming themselves playing the video game Call of Duty. “It was growing, but watching gaming on YouTube was not so common at the time,” Llanos said.

He built up a small but impressive audience — some videos attracted 20,000 viewers, he said — and made little money. “It was 30 euros a month, something like that,” he said. “It was not money to live, just to buy a little equipment. It was a hobby, a pastime. It was no business.”

He was still deciding “what to do with my life” when he saw an advertisement for a casting call from the Liga de Videojuegos Professional (LVP), Spain’s esports league, which was looking for announcers. He and Cortés applied, and in August 2014, they got the job.

Salaries were “quite low” initially, Llanos said, but he enjoyed not only the company’s start-up energy, but the visuals as well. “There was so much love,” he said. As the league grew, so did his profile. “There were more and more events, collaborations with brands, athletes,” he said. He moved to Barcelona. He did an advertisement for the release of PlayStation 5.

But the Llanos turned into a more mainstream cultural phenomenon only last year. He left LVP just before the coronavirus pandemic — “there was a generational change, and I felt saturated” — and dedicated himself to creating content for G2 eSports, an esports team streamed on his own Twitch channel. done. Cortes, Nanclairs and many other composers joined him.

Everything changed with the pandemic. As Spain went into lockdown, with its population locked at home, Llanos saw his viewership explode: his Twitch channel currently orders 7.8 million followers, making him one of the 10 most followed creators on the platform. Their youtube account Attracts the same audience.

When he announced plans for a virtual version of La Liga – filling the void left by the suspended league – it emerged that several high-profile players were already among his fans, including Sergio Reguilon, the Tottenham defender; Borja Iglesias, now of Real Betis; and Achraf Hakimi, Messi’s new teammate at PSG.

“There are a lot of players who play video games in their spare time,” Llanos said. “And because they couldn’t go out, because they didn’t have training or play in the first lockdown, they had more time to dedicate to it.”

However, the most important guests could be Manchester City and Spain defender Aymeric Laporte. “Laporte was already following me,” said Llanos. “We agreed to play Fortnite and stream it, and while we were playing he told me he had messaged Sergio Aguero and invited him to play, and asked if it would be okay if he could play with us. Let’s join together. It was his first time on Twitch.”

Others have followed. Earlier this year, the Llanos launched a weekly, long-running interview segment on their channel: Charlando Tranquilamente, or Chatting Quietly. choice of dybalajuventus forward, ramos, former Real Madrid captain, and aguero himself All have appeared as guests.

That 26-year-old streamer could attract names of the magnitude that drew criticism from more traditional news media outlets.

“Who is Ibai? I called Aguero for an interview, but Ibai beat me, and if Ibai beat me, I’d have to retire,” said Argentine announcer Gustavo López. “They talk to powerful people, and ignore those of us who are paid in pesos.” Others ridiculed Llanos as a “entertainer” rather than a journalist.

For the Llanos, though, it’s kind of a thing. “Maybe I’m the kind of person they like,” he said of the players. “Slightly different.” He does not try to peep into her personal life. He doesn’t try to ask them challenging questions about what works for him often. Instead, he tries to talk to them as informally as possible, while doing something – playing video games – that they enjoy.

“They come because they like it,” he said. “They don’t get paid. They come because they want to.”

Players’ motivations are probably a little more calculative than that. “Twitch is a Generation Z platform,” said Julian Aquilina, a broadcast specialist at media research firm Anders Analysis. “It’s very young and quite male. It’s a vastly different audience to traditional broadcasters.” Llanos offers an invaluable passage into that audience: for example, his interview with Dybala saw more than 100,000 live, massive Attracted teenage audience.

Football’s biggest stars find this a more appealing prospect than a formal interview, though, no doubt about it. “Twitch has a lot of a community vibe,” Aquilina said. “It’s a lot more interactive.” For at least one of the Llanos’ guests, the allure was that talking to the Llanos didn’t feel like an interview at all. There was no camera, no sound equipment, no call-and-response, no defined structure. Players feel safe talking to someone who seems like a friend.

After all, this has been the secret of his success. He and Aguero have become so close that the striker has secretly invited the Llanos to Messi’s farewell dinner in Barcelona. The encounter invites the Llanos to Paris, in particular to Messi’s presentation, and to his world.

Also at the table that night, there was another player who now stood firmly in the Llanos’ class: Gerard Pique. Barcelona defender was the first guest on his talk show Section; He is now, in fact, a business partner of Llanos.

In August, two men bought an e-sports team. This was after Picky’s investment vehicle, Cosmos, bought the Spanish streaming rights to this summer’s Copa America, and aired it on the Llanos’ Twitch channel. It did the same for Messi’s first game as a PSG player last month.

That match was also shown on Telecinco, a Spanish broadcast network. About 6.7 million people watched at least one game on television; The Llanos attracted around 2 million viewers (although they also have large followers in Latin America, so the figures are not immediately comparable).

It’s an approach, Aquilina said, that may be more common. “Twitch is becoming a broadcaster,” he said. “Amazon has done this with some NFL games, putting them on Twitch as well as Prime. If you have the rights to something, you want it to be distributed across all platforms: You sell the broadcast rights. but still have an online presence.

Llanos wasn’t thinking about that, he said, in Paris that day. Instead, he was simultaneously dealing with nerves from “the most pressure I’ve felt”, and was a little surprised at “being able to do this with two of my best friends.” This combination was enough to give him a dizzy spell. However, he and the revolution he represents are not going anywhere. He will get used to the height.

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