Many people wouldn’t consider watching other people play video games as the most entertaining thing to do with their free time. Yet across the world, there are millions of people that tune in each day to watch their favorite gamers comment while playing video games online.
The streaming giant known as Twitch attracts an unimaginable number of people each day with an extremely simple formula. Professional or amateur streamers simply broadcast their gameplay on the website and comment on their experiences while they play. Some of the more famous streamers charge a subscription fee for their streams, while others make a revenue off of basic advertising. The most famous streamers have millions of “followers” on the website alone. The games they play are mostly first person shooters, MOBAs (or “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena”), or strategy games.
Many many consider this sort of online entertainment to be nothing more than a niche that is irrelevant in the big scheme of the entertainment world. Yet major companies in the US are taking notice. Twitch was reportedly bought for a whopping $970 million dollars by Amazon in 2014. The website’s popularity has still continued to increase and according to Business Insider, Twitch made up for over 40% of all online streaming traffic on the internet in 2014. It’s clearly a force to be reckoned with considering the evolving nature of media and entertainment. NPR had a segment about Twitch tv in 2014 that talks about it’s unprecedented success.
But why do Twitch’s users spend an average of 100 minutes a day watching these live streams? What draws people into this sort of entertainment when there are so many other things competing for their attention? The answer is probably different for each individual person, but there a few main attractions that draw people in.
The main reason many people watch these streams is the sense of community that they promote. Twitch is not unlike many other social media websites that dominate the web. It allows users to directly communicate with one another and even with the live streamer. They can ask for gaming tips, find out opinions, learn new strategies, and many other things while participating in an online social environment. The streamers will often answer any questions that his or her viewers may have while they take breaks in between sessions. Here’s an example of a standard (minus the marijuana talk) twitch session where the streamer answers questions about himself and other things. (Warning: explicit language)
Another attraction is the personality cults that are formed by the eSports community. Professional gamers at the top of the competition often garner a huge following. A prime example of this is Lee “Faker” Sang-Hyeok. His success in multiple League of Legends tournaments have made him a superstar in the gaming world. Much like other sports there are several prominent stars that have advertising deals with companies. Many of these stars broadcast their games while they aren’t competing in tournaments as well.
There are many specific reasons that people watch these streams but most fans essentially are just in it for the simple entertainment. They can unwind and relax after a day of work or classes and enjoy the experience. A common criticism of online video game streaming is the argument that anyone can play video games. Some believe that its better to play the video game itself rather than watch others play it. But with that logic, why do people watch people play golf, cook, or run races, when they could simply do those things themselves? I talked with my hallmate Alex, an avid Twitch.tv user.
I think online streaming has become so popular because traditional media like television and radio does not associate with the gaming world. ESPN does broadcast a few major tournaments each year, but its exposure is limited. These gamers that are interested in this sort of entertainment have no other media source to turn to. It’s important to analyze this topic like you would analyze fans of the Golf Channel. Perhaps we’ll never understand why people like the things we like, but video game streaming isn’t anywhere anytime soon.