Written by Cheryl Cottrell-Smith
Twitch.tv: if you’ve never heard of it, you might find it difficult to understand why people would spend time watching other people play video games. If you’re not a gamer yourself, you might find it a complete waste of time. Even many gamers ridicule the platform, expressing no desire to take part in what they consider a passive form of backseat gaming.
And yet, Twitch is massively popular in the gaming community. Launched only four years ago in 2011, the live-streaming video game website reached an average of 43 million viewers per month in 2013. Last year, it was considered the fourth largest source of peak Internet traffic in the United States and sold to Amazon.com for $970 million in September 2014.
The website offers people the chance to live-stream the games they’re playing, at no cost to the streamer or the viewer, although viewers can subscribe to their favourite channels for a small monthly fee. People across the world are able to visit the website and watch other people play all kinds of video games—if the streamer has a webcam and microphone, they can even appear on the screen as they’re gaming, giving the audience a look at the person behind the screen.
So, why is Twitch so popular? Because, like many things in pop culture, the scene is changing. The days of playing games completely secluded from the world are dying. Many people play games just for themselves, but even more are jumping on board for the feeling of community online gaming and live-streaming platforms like Twitch bring to the table.
Twitch is, first and foremost, a community. It’s more than people sitting in front of their monitors and TVs watching other people play games. The chatroom allows viewers to chat amongst one another about the game or how it’s being played—it also allows them to communicate directly with the streamer. The best Twitch streamers are entertainers—they don’t sit there quietly and play the game. They make it fun for the viewer, as if you were watching a friend play a game while sitting next to them on the couch. They engage their audiences. They make you laugh. (Which is why we feature UnsanityLive in our sidebar.)
It’s also a great way to do a test run on games you aren’t sure if you’ll enjoy and it’s the perfect place to watch someone else play a game you really enjoyed—will they make the same choices? Will they interpret things differently? Twitch is the place to go if you’re looking for something new—you name it, someone’s streaming it.
As gaming and pop culture grows in popularity, there are an increasing number of ways for people with similar passions and interests to engage with one another. Comic conventions, anime meet-ups, LAN parties, and so on. Twitch is just another form of these communities, except held entirely online and thus opening up gaming to an even wider global audience. Twitch streamers and their audiences engage with one another to the point where people even meet each other at conventions like PAX and, most likely, the soon-to-be-launched TwitchCon (September 2015).
But it’s not just the community. Watching some of Twitch’s greatest streamers play games is just fun. That’s all there is to it. If a game is good, you don’t have to be playing it personally to enjoy it. And if a game is really bad, it’s nice to be able to enjoy it with people who take the same degree of amusement from it.
After all, if you ‘have to play to enjoy,’ why do so many people spend millions of dollars watching hockey games and attending football matches? Why do they make a point to watch sports on television from the comfort of their own homes? Why not invest that time and money in actually playing the sport, if playing is more fun?
Electronic sports are no different. And there’s really nothing quite like watching a Twitch streamer do something amazing and participating in a chat going wild with comments, laughing along with hundreds or thousands of other viewers. To my mind, that can be just as entertaining as sitting home alone in sweatpants and playing through a game to fulfill your own personal sense of achievement and entertainment.
Do you watch Twitch? Why or why not? Comment below to share your thoughts.
— ChickenFarmer (@ChickenFarmer11) February 22, 2015
— breakjarsgethearts (@CandidGamera) February 22, 2015