Ibai Llanos’ Journey

The world’s news media lined up on the edge of the field at the Parc des Princes. The producers were fiddling with the cameras and microphones. Reporters talked incessantly, frantically filling airtime before their scheduled interviews.

They were given strict instructions and time limits: three questions each, a few minutes maximum, to sift through the details of the summer’s biggest sports story. Their time would come to an end, and Lionel Messi would have to move on.

A 26-year old Spanish streamer Ibai Llanos had a unique setup. Along with two of his oldest friends, Ander Cortés and Borja Nanclares, he had been ushered into the players’ tunnel. They didn’t have any audio equipment. They were filming on their phones at the time.

He had overthrown every news outlet on the planet without even trying or intending to. Llanos has interviewed a slew of soccer’s biggest names in the last few years, from Sergio Ramos to Paulo Dybala. Some stars, such as Sergio Agüero, are now friends, and others, such as Gerard Piqué, are business partners.

By far the most high-profile moment of Messi’s relatively brief career was his interview with him. Llanos was tense. He realized later that he had been threading a pen between his fingers throughout his conversation with Messi without realizing it when he watched the video. He said it was a little vertigo.

Llanos, following the same rules as everyone else, asked Messi if he had “eaten a lot” at the farewell dinner he had hosted for some of his closest friends in Barcelona a few days before. “Did I keep my cool?” Llanos had inquired. Messi stated emphatically that he had.

Llanos asked Messi only one soccer question, about the appeal of playing alongside Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, and Messi only gave one soccer answer, delivered in that drab monotone that players adopt whenever their sport is mentioned. Throughout, Llanos referred to the world’s best soccer player as Messi not Lionel, not Leo, not Senior Messi, but the word on the back of his jersey, somewhere between an honorific and a schoolyard nickname.

Llanos has always been a streamer, even before the term was coined. He said that there was a lot of love. His profile grew as the league grew. He did a commercial for the PlayStation 5’s release.

But it was only last year that Llanos became a more mainstream cultural phenomenon. He had left the L.V.P. shortly before the coronavirus pandemic. He said that there was a bit of a generational shift and devoted himself to creating content for G2 eSports, an esports team that he streamed on his own Twitch channel. He was joined by Cortés, Nanclares, and a number of other creators.

Llanos’ Twitch channel now has 7.8 million followers, making him one of the top ten most followed creators on the platform, as Spain went into lockdown.

After announcing plans for a virtual version of La Liga to fill the void left by the suspended league, it was revealed that a number of high-profile players, including Sergio Reguilón of Tottenham Hotspur, Borja Iglesias of Real Betis, and Messi’s new teammate at P.S.G., Achraf Hakimi was already among his fans.

Aymeric Laporte, the Manchester City and Spain defender, may have been the most notable visitor. He said that Laporte was already on his tail, they agreed to play Fortnite and stream it, and while we were playing, Laporte informed him that he messaged Sergio Aguero and invited him to join them, and asked him if it’s okay. That was his first Twitch experience.

Llanos launched Charlando Tranquilamente, or Chatting Quietly, a weekly longform interview segment on his channel earlier this year. Guests have included Juventus forward Paulo Dybala, former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, and Agüero himself. The fact that he could attract such big names drew ire from more traditional news outlets.

But, to Llanos, that’s kind of the point. He said of the player that he is the type of person that they like. He makes no attempt to ask them probing questions about what is, for them, often just their job. Instead, he tries to talk to them as casually as possible while doing something they enjoy, such as playing video games.

It is undeniable, however, that soccer’s biggest stars find it more appealing than a more formal interview. There was no camera, no sound equipment, no question-and-answer format, and no clearly defined structure. The players feel comfortable speaking with someone who appears to be a friend.

In the end it has been the key to his success. Llanos was invited to Messi’s presentation in Paris, as well as a world exclusive, as a result of the encounter.

Telecinco, a Spanish broadcast network, also aired the match. Approximately 6.7 million people tuned in to watch at least a portion of the game on television; Llanos drew about 2 million viewers.

According to Aquilina, this is an approach that may become more common. That day in Paris, Llanos said, he wasn’t thinking about it. However, he and the revolution he represents are not going away. He’ll grow accustomed to his new height.

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