Leading the Twitch life

Late on a recent night, more than 600,000 people watched one of the most popular video game players, Tyler Blevins, engage in Fortnite Battle Royale with a celebrity guest: Drake.

Blevins streams his near-daily video game sessions live on Twitch, a website acquired by Amazon in 2014 for $1.1 billion. He makes more than $500,000 a month on the platform, thanks to his 250,000 paid subscribers, and some of his sessions can last 12 hours. Blevins, who plays under the name Ninja, is popular not only because of his gaming skill, which is considerable, but because of his draw as a host.

The popularity of the March 14 Drake-Ninja summit illustrated how dominant Amazon remains in the game-streaming world, despite intense competition from a roster of tech giants: Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter.

Streamlabs — a San Francisco tech company whose software allows viewers to tip streamers, giving the company insight into an opaque ecosystem — suggests that Amazon’s lead may be all but insurmountable. Its data shows that, in the last quarter, the average number of people watching Twitch’s streams at any given moment increased to 953,000, up from 788,000. Twitch’s archrival, YouTube Gaming, averaged 272,000 concurrent viewers, down from 308,000 in the previous quarter, Streamlabs reported. YouTube pushed back against the data. 

Twitch began in 2011 as an offshoot of Justin.tv, a lifecasting site founded by two Yale graduates, Emmett Shear and Justin Kan. They started the platform after they found that viewers were more interested in watching their lifecasters play video games than eat or sleep. Big tech companies came courting, and Amazon beat out Google.

In the four years since the sale, video gaming as a spectator sport has gone mainstream, and Twitch has captured the majority of those who want to watch it live.

For the dedicated fans, the live, freewheeling sessions on Twitch have the appeal of a major sporting event crossed with a talk show. The interaction between the host and viewers is one key to the site’s success, making for an involved viewing experience that is markedly different from the pre-recorded and edited videos of game sessions that have long been popular on YouTube.

On Twitch, the player’s face, when visible, typically inhabits a small part of the screen, and the world of the video game takes centre position. On the right side of the screen, endless comments from the viewers — mostly male, mostly young — appear in a continuous scroll.

Until Twitch came along, YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, was the main hub for gamers. But its focus was on recorded, edited gaming sessions, which are markedly different in tone from the long-form streams that have riveted Twitch fans. In an effort to win over the live audience, Google created YouTube Gaming a year after Amazon entered the fray.

The New York Times News Service


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