5 Ways Twitch Has Transformed Gaming

Is Twitch behind, or merely a byproduct of, the eSports phenomenon? Has the streaming service changed the way we play video games?

With 45 million unique viewers per day and over 1.5 million broadcasters, Twitch.tv has come to play a pivotal role in the gaming community. As of 2014, the mega streaming channel has become the fourth largest source of internet traffic in the US.

In an age where gaming has become a spectators’ sport, developers are now integrating Twitch directly into their games, and are specifically optimizing them for large-scale competitions. Is Twitch a driving force behind, or merely a byproduct of, the eSports phenomenon? And how else has the mega streaming service changed the way we play video games?

From Regular Gamer to Superstar

Much like YouTube has allowed ordinary video bloggers to become online sensations, Twitch enables talented gamers to go from relative obscurity to international stardom. In these terms, ‘talented’ does not merely refer to a gamer’s skill and strategy, but sometimes to comedic ability and commentary. The more amusing the channel, the bigger the audience. In essence, it means that anyone has a shot of making a mark on the growing trend that is game streaming -- all they need is a webcam, mic, internet connection, and an appealing personality.

The real chance of entering into the spotlight is no doubt appealing to players who dream big of becoming gaming superstars - and many of them have succeeded. Whilst the most famous streamer of them all, Sweden’s Felix ‘Pewdiepie’ Kjellberg, rose to stardom through YouTube, others are finding Twitch an equally -- if not better -- means of finding gaming fame.

Some have become so liked for their personalities and channels that they end up forming a loyal fanbase and even receive donations from the most avid of their fans. Such is the case for Twitch user ‘ItsHafu’, whose live reactions upon receiving large donations has become something of meme. A mere five years ago, obsessive gamers were ridiculed for thinking they could build a career out of their video game passion. Nowadays, having a popular Twitch channel is helping more gamers go professional than ever before.

Sharing Techniques and Strategy

Unlike games of the past, where storylines were linear and there was only one correct way to play, modern era developers create games that are a more interactive medium of entertainment -- by incorporating variables for a more personalized and unpredictable user experience, and for the possibility for multiple playthroughs with alternative outcomes. The ability to employ different techniques and strategies is part of what has allowed Twitch to become so successful.

People are looking up alternative styles with which to play their favorite character in multiplayer games, or are searching for hints and tricks on how to undercover easter eggs. Watching expert players live stream their games has become something of an educational experience; a means of improving your own playing style.

This is true not just of mainstream video games, but in more traditional strategy games the likes of poker, where pros such as Jason Somerville and Maria Ho host popular channels where they stream and comment on their technique in online poker.

The opportunity to see experts in action has never been easier, and is particularly helpful for newbies looking to gain tips from experienced gamers. What’s more, live-streaming one’s own gaming has become something of a habit amongst players, professional or not. In a Reddit thread about how Twitch has changed people’s gaming approach, one user says:

I play poker on my stream. I don't enjoy Poker without it. I've played a few times without the stream, and I feel like I play worse! Because I take the time to discuss my thought process with the audience, I actually make better decisions for myself. Beforehand, I acted too impulsively. So now that I know Twitch has actually helped improve my game, I'm less motivated to just play on my own.

In short, one could argue that Twitch has made us more careful gamers - more conscious of our technique, and more skilled as a result.

Introducing new games

Besides seeking alternative ways to play the games we already love, Twitch brings to our attention new releases, or even older games which might not have otherwise had a revival in exposure. This is particularly good news for indie studios, should their games get picked up by high profile streamers. In the process, gamers may feel like they are making more informed purchases, as they get a better perceptive of the game play. Just like Instagram models are paid to showcase fashion products, Twitch celebrities are often compensated to live stream and effectively review games -- either by receiving free copies of the titles, or (in the case of the most popular streamers) by getting paid extortionate amounts of money for favorable reviews. Of course, failure to disclose these affiliations has led to some controversy…

Twitch has come to play a huge role in determining which games warrant attention, which puts the streaming service in a great position of power.

Besides the issue of undisclosed advertisement, Twitch has been the subject of legal disputes with regards to perceived copyright infringement. The ‘fair use and distribution’ rules are a grey area in relation to video games for numerous reasons, and there are developers concerned with the possibility that gamers might choose to not purchase a game if they feel they watching it being streamed has practically been the equivalent to playing it themselves.

Creating Discussion and Partnerships

Twitch has allowed gamers to find and build friendship with like-minded people from all around the world. Whilst the focus is perhaps less on friendship and more on ‘networking’, the streaming platform helps facilitate collaborations between streamers. Hosting another streamer on your channel or simply joining in on their multi-player games can be a great way to bring exposure to yourself. The chat option during live streams also allows for live commentary between viewers, as if you were watching the game with friends. In summary, Twitch has contributed toward the social aspects of gaming.

Establishing eSports Popularity

To what extent can the growing eSports phenomena be attributed to the success of Twitch? First, let’s consider exactly how popular eSports has become. IGN writes:

eSports has blown up in popularity in the United States over the past few years. With thousands of gamers competing and millions watching, the phenomenon has come a long way in a very short period of time. Now more than ever, players are considering pro-gaming as a valid career, especially in the U.S.” 

Currently the most popular eSports games are League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Dota 2, and Hearthstone -- the main tournaments of which are all hosted by, and primarily viewed on, Twitch. Not only does Twitch enable access to, and enjoyment of, tournaments such as ESL, The International, and League of Legends World Championship -- it also allows professional teams to establish a presence and promote themselves.

Though streaming competitors have of course emerged over the past few years, Twitch dominates the industry as the number one choice for live eSports streaming -- and its popularity will not fade anytime soon.

Twitch not only remains...

...the most convenient and efficient streaming service within gaming. The revolutionary platform has helped redefine gaming and paved the way for eSports to find global popularity. And for that, Twitch will always be known.

Published Sep. 7th 2016
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