Twitch TV is the gameplay streaming app that has taken the gaming world by storm. It offers a way for gamers to share their experience with online audiences, helping to build a strong sense of community.
It also offers a way for gaming fans to take an interest in gaming tournaments, which is one of the elements in which Twitch is the most useful. Now, thanks to Twitch’s streaming technology, viewers can watch live action from gaming tournaments around the world.
Gaming tournaments are a big deal. The recent winners of the Call of Duty world championship bagged themselves $400,000 in prize money - that’s a cool $100,000 each.
These gaming tournaments are entered by players who have made a career out of gaming, and Twitch is only accelerating this process. It is spurring on the meteoric rise of eSports, helping competitions sell out stadiums and command hundreds of thousands of viewers online.
In fact, eSports is now such a force within the competitive professional world (can eSports gamers be referred to as ‘athletes?’), that it can even command coverage on major television networks like ESPN. One commentator who recently criticised the network’s increasing coverage of eSports, the previously prominent and well respected Colin Cowherd offended many gamers by stating watching eSports was like putting a gun into his mouth.
He really was not happy with ESPN’s decision to cover a college Heroes of the Storm competition, dubbed ‘Heroes of the Dorm’, even pledging to quit his post at the network if eSports were given any more coverage in the future, sparking a huge backlash across the web.
You know that eSports are officially sports because their fans are getting angry at something Colin Cowherd said.
— Steve Lubitz (@WickedGood) April 28, 2015
True to his word, Cowherd stepped down from his post in July.
Now we have some background on just how powerful and influential the eSports scene has become recently, let’s take a look at the tech and the app that helped the industry get to where it is today.
A Brief History of Twitch
Those of you who have been with Twitch from the very beginning will know that its rise to prominence has been rapid, but for those of you who have grabbed a slice of the game streaming goodness lately, this is how it all began.
Way back in 2007, Justin Kan had the novel idea of streaming his life online. Kitted out with a camera fitted onto a baseball back and a laptop stored in a modded backpack, Justin began to stream his life to the website justin.tv. His stream broadcast 24/7 in a The Truman Show-esque fashion. Every aspect of his life was uploaded to the internet in real time with what he was up to, what he was having for dinner, and who he was with.
This type of media broadcasting soon came to be known as ‘lifecasting’, with Justin Kan being thought to be the godfather of the niche.
Later in the same year, after Justin.tv had attracted some considerable media attention, the platform expanded to allow other users to broadcast streams. Broadcasts came from live events, other lifecasters, gamers and musicians, to name just a few.
The launch of Justin.tv gave the masses access to quick and easy streaming. Anyone could share a video feed of what they were currently doing.
In the next four years, the gaming section of Justin.tv, along with the entire site as a whole, continued to expand. In 2011, the decision was made to split the gaming section away from the rest of Justin.tv - Twitch.tv was born.
Over the duration of another four years, some big changes were seen with Twitch.tv and Justin.tv. Twitch.tv soon cannibalised Justin.tv, proving to be more popular than the platform that created it. Then, in August 2014, Justin.tv closed down to allow the team to focus solely on Twitch.tv.
In September of the same year, Twitch.tv was sold to Amazon for around $970 million.
Twitch has created a live community
An aspect of gaming that is missing from pre-recorded videos is the sense of tension that comes from being in the moment.
PC gamers are a dedicated bunch, and as highlighted by Emmett Shear, they are much more likely to stream than console gamers. This is partly down to the fact of the configurable nature of PCs, which can allow enthusiasts to get the perfect setup that allows them to stream the best content possible.
Still, he was quick to acknowledge the popularity of console games such as FIFA and Call of Duty on Twitch, which has helped the company break out towards a semi-mainstream audience, but its core user base, as it was at the start, remains with PC gamers.
However, Twitch is branching out and now covers poker, both traditional and online. In reality, Twitch is the perfect platform to broadcast poker games. It helps to bring the game to a wider audience, but also allows die hard poker fans to get their poker fix at any time of the day, even if they’re not playing themselves.
Barry Carter recently explored the relationship between Twitch and poker in Titanbet Poker’s in-depth article “Is twitch tv the next big thing in poker?”. Barry highlights how, since poker was given the green light to be included in broadcasts in November 2014, it has already become one of the most popular games on the site.
As Barry highlights, many streamers take an ‘educational approach’ with their streams, showing viewers inside tips and tricks on to how to play their game of choice. This is the beauty of the platform and is something that translates well into poker streams.
Poker is a notoriously complex game. Whilst it is easy to get a grip on the basics, it becomes much more complicated when you start drilling into the winning percentages of certain hands and analysing the playing styles of opponents. Most casual players will not know what to look for in these scenarios, but the pros do. Twitch allows more established players to explain and almost tutor others through their streams.
Poker streams are evidence of this ‘educational approach’ in action. It’s not uncommon to see the chat feature full of questions, with prospective new players finding out the ins and outs of the game from battle-hardened veterans. In this aspect, Barry’s view is on the money - this is primarily how poker streams on the Twitch.tv service are currently being used.
For example, Dutch Boyd’s channel has been one of the breakout successes since poker broadcasting was allowed on Twitch. Boyd is a professional poker player who has three World Series of Poker bracelets to his name.
Those who regularly catch his streams are treated to expert tips as he plays in real time. It’s entertaining and educating, and is a real treat for any poker fan.
This level of togetherness would previously have not been possible. Poker is somewhat of a ‘me against the world’ game, so it can be difficult to conjure up a sense of community during gameplay, especially with online poker.
However, Twitch remedies this and allows players to connect, whilst also giving them a peek behind the scenes to how the pros work.
Broadcasting poker over Twitch has been met with difficulties, though. There is a five-minute delay of any poker broadcast to prevent players from being able to see the cards of whoever is broadcasting. For the whole, this has been a sensible decision.
Twitch’s core user base remains with video gamers
Video game broadcasts still make up of the bulk of the millions of broadcasts a month on Twitch. But there’s more to Twitch’s users than just being video game fans.
Data made available from Quantcast breaks down Twitch’s demographic. It makes for interesting reading.
Twitch’s user base is heavily male dominated, with only around 10% of users being female.
In addition to this, Twitch is a service that young people identify with more than the older generation. Users are predominantly 18-24 years old, but there’s also a large chunk of users who are under 18.
One of the great things about Twitch is how it allows an overview of a game’s popularity to be given. The Twitch blog features a monthly round-up of the most popular game streams. For example, in June 2015, we can see that League of Legends is the most popular title featured on the streaming service, followed by Counter Strike: Global Offensive, with Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft place in third.
It’s important to note that all of the top three games on the platform are PC and not console games. This is a good indication of how PC streaming dominates on Twitch.
Streaming from a PC gives streamers many more customisation and flexibility options, but it also requires more tech and horsepower. Ultimately, console versions of Twitch are for casual streamers, whereas more die hard streamers will be opting for the PC route as this will allow them to fine tune their stream, enabling them to deliver optimum results.
With enough dedication, it’s possible to make a living from Twitch
Due to the way Twitch is structured, it is, in theory, relatively easy to monetise a stream. There are numerous ways in which streamers can earn cash for their efforts:
- Subscriptions - If you apply to be a Twitch partner and are accepted, this opens the possibility for fans to subscribe to your channel for $4.99 a month. Of this, a streamer will receive $2.50.
- Advertising - A streamer receives a cut of any advertisement fees that their channel generates. This payment is tied to the overall amount of non-subscribers viewing the channel, so the more views a channel gets, the higher the payment will be.
- Donations - This is a novel idea. Viewers can reward streamers for their efforts and show them their appreciation by giving them money in real time. Check out the video below to see crazy amount of money that people have received in the past.
The trouble with this platform is, although technically anyone can do it, it takes a lot of time and effort. A lot of successful streamers stream for hours every single day. Once a healthy following has been gained, it is important that a streamer keeps them engaged with regular, entertaining broadcasts.
But there are plenty of people on Twitch who, although perhaps not making enough money for gaming to be their entire livelihood, still make a modest amount for their efforts.
Internet stars, such as Pewdiepie, who shot to internet stardom thanks to his Youtube channel where he shares gaming and humour videos, have also made the move to Twitch.
Social gaming is a force to be taken seriously
The amount of money that has been poured into Twitch, eSports, and social gaming in general is astounding. Regardless of whether you believe eSports have a place on ESPN (they have poker, so why not eSports?), there’s no denying the social and cultural impact that video games now have.
The recent surge in popularity has brought e-Sports onto the periphery of the mainstream - close enough that it can demand national media coverage, but distant enough that a huge swathe of people are still relatively clueless.
However, this shows just how powerful the gaming community really is.
Twitch has changed the way in which gamers meet, discuss and build relationships. For some, it even offers them a salary. It has grown significantly in the four years since its initial launch, and it will certainly continue to expand into its Amazon-owned future. It will be interesting to see what's in store for the streaming platform. It has already bucked the trend by offering poker streams, and there is an expanding music catalogue that is available for streamers to use in their videos.
With big money coming in from the recent buyout, as well as healthy advertising revenue, the platform will no doubt continue to grow and be the de facto platform for major eSports events.
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