The husband-and-wife team and their 50 employees plan to make Oni Studios an efficient content pipeline for creators who will split the profits on things like live events, Fortnite streaming and corporate sponsorships.
When Ali “SypherPK” Hassan goes live to his 6.3 million Twitch followers, viewers expect to see two things: Hassan sitting alone behind a monitor, and an avatar of his likeness blasting its way through another Fortnite battle royale. What they may not realize is that behind every stream, YouTube video, social media post or brand deal is a company with more than 50 employees working on his behalf.
A years-long dream to get those people under one roof is slated to be realized with the debut of the Oni Studios headquarters, a 30,000-square-foot facility opening its doors Wednesday in Austin, Texas. Based on its sheer size, Oni HQ dwarfs any existing esports organization facility across the country. It features workstations, podcast studios, streaming setups, conference rooms, a photography studio and a 30-foot-high swing space capable of housing physical sets, available for use by the company or rented to external productions.
The building, and the entire company, are entirely self-funded by Hassan’s content fortune. It’s a massive, multimillion-dollar bet by Hassan and Daniela Ali, his wife, manager and CEO of Oni Studios, that an efficient content pipeline can be just as valuable as the talent in front of the camera.
“We might as well try to think big and try to invest in our prime years to try to make something last beyond the hype of Fortnite or SypherPK,” Hassan tells Forbes. “Instead of having the money sit around and just collect dust, we invest it into the company and try to do bigger things.”
“We think of ourselves as true entrepreneurs,” Ali says. “What we’re making, we’re reinvesting back into a larger vision that we have. It’s all interconnected for us at this moment.”
For now, SypherPK is the cash cow, accounting for most of the company’s $12 million in 2022 revenue. A team of this size, almost certainly the largest of any gaming creator, gave Hassan enough video editors, graphics designers, social media experts and marketing people to take on 52 unique sponsorship campaigns last year, partnering with the likes of State Farm, Samsung and Honda.
But Hassan and Ali, recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Games list at ages 26 and 28 respectively, have ambitions of putting this production team to work for other creators. One of Oni’s first initiatives is an incubator program, bringing on under-the-radar content creators and using the full weight of the team to boost their careers, splitting the profits along the way.
Oni signed its first creator in the fall, a Fortnite creator known as “Reckz.” Within two weeks, Reckz’s channel grew from 240 subscribers and 1,000 total lifetime views to 30,000 subscribers and 100,000 views. He signed his first sponsorship deal with State Farm, and as of this week his YouTube channel has more than 64,000 subscribers. Oni plans to add more creators to its incubator program in 2023.
Hassan and Ali are careful to differentiate Oni from traditional esports organizations, several of which have faced significant financial doubt in recent months. The pair say they want Oni to be nimble, able to pivot resources into any new venture that proves successful, whether it’s live event production or the company’s five-person Fortnite Creative mapmaking team. Rather than signing a roster of talent in service of the organization’s brand, Oni wants creators to think of their services as a “toolkit.”
“We don’t need Oni Studios to have a million followers,” Hassan says, “because Oni’s just the tool that we’re going to give to creators like myself, like Reckz, future signees, and then also just establish creators who want to actually partner up with us on their own projects to make content.”
If that strategy sounds surprisingly altruistic, it’s due to Hassan, who made his name creating instructional videos that helped improve viewers’ gaming or content skills. Oni is an extension of the same approach. The question is simply about profit, and whether any of Oni’s ventures can one day excel without subsidy from Hassan’s streaming earnings. “Worst-case scenario,” he says, “this is my big building that I stream out of and create content from.”
In the short term, the pressure is off, as Hassan expects to continue producing seven figures in revenue per year to fill Oni’s coffers. Yet the day will come when SypherPK will phase out of streaming, Hassan says, maybe in as little as five years. Running a company gives him far more energy than firing up another Twitch stream to play endless hours of Fortnite. The challenge only makes it more enticing.
“The chase is always more exciting than the destination,” Hassan says. “Once you’ve established yourself [as a streamer] there’s very little to keep climbing for, which is why you see people do things like buy buildings and create Oni Studios. You’re trying to move the goalposts to keep improving.”