From Pokémon to ASMR: The Rise of Live-Video Streaming Giant Twitch
Although Twitch boasts that it’s the leading streaming platform for gamers, it's so much more than that. For the unanointed, Twitch is a live-video streaming service and, these days, an Amazon subsidiary. But back in 2011, before the service hit it big, Twitch was a spin-off of the general-interest streaming service called Justin.tv. In a sense, Twitch was like a "channel," and one that focused on video game streaming, like "Let’s Plays" or walkthroughs — viewers watch gamers play through a title — and competitive eSports matches. Now, the platform features a myriad of creative content, "in real life" streams, music broadcasts and a wide range of Twitch personalities akin to YouTube stars.
Although Twitch was meant to be a niche subset of Justin.tv, it gained 45 million unique viewers by October 2013 and, by the following February, it became the fourth-largest source of peak internet traffic in the U.S., falling just behind giants Netflix, Google and Apple. And Justin.tv? It was renamed Twitch Interactive before finally shuttering in August — all of the company’s resources were being poured into Twitch, not any of the other content categories or initiatives. The same month that what was formerly known as Justin.tv ceased to exist, Amazon purchased Twitch Interactive for a staggering $970 million — and the platform became the official live-streaming platform of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the video game industry’s premier trade event. All of these big wins led to even more tremendous growth and, in a year’s time, Twitch boasted a whopping 100 million viewers per month, all of whom were watching content produced by over 1.5 million broadcasters.
By 2017, what was once a niche site eclipsed even YouTube Gaming, becoming the leading live-streaming service for video games in the U.S. Needless to say, Twitch’s rise to popularity amongst gamers and more mainstream viewers (or folks who might identify as "non-gamers") alike happened quite quickly. But why the big uptick in February 2014? We’re not saying it was all thanks to Pokémon, but…the popular franchise did help Twitch catch ‘em all, in a manner of speaking.
Twitch Plays Pokémon: How the Service Broke Into the Mainstream
Chances are you first heard about Twitch thanks to the viral sensation Twitch Plays Pokémon, a live stream that showed a crowdsourced attempt to play through Pokémon Red Version with the help of a system that translated chat commands into game controls. Back in 1998, Nintendo’s Pokémon Red Version and Pokémon Blue Version were THE portable role-playing games to have for your Game Boy (or Game Boy Color). According to the 2009 version of the Guinness Book of World Records, these first Pokémon are the best-selling RPGs of all time. Needless to say, their popularity endures, and not just because of the Pokémon craze that swept the world in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
Twitch Reshapes eSports
The growing interest in streams like Twitch Plays Pokémon, traditional walkthroughs, speed-run/challenge playthroughs and more combined with the success Twitch was seeing as a platform dedicated to broadcasting eSports as well. By the end of 2014, Twitch acquired GoodGame Agency, an organization that owns eSports teams Evil Geniuses and Alliance. In 2017, Twitch signed a two-year deal with Blizzard Entertainment to be the sole broadcaster of their eSports championship events, and, later, Twitch became the exclusive broadcaster of Overwatch League, a professional eSports league dedicated to Blizzard’s ever-popular team-based FPS Overwatch.
There’s No Such Thing as Overwatching on Twitch
While popular games, like Overwatch, Fortnite and Dota 2, have reeled in a combined total of hundreds of millions of hours watched, Twitch has also broken into broadcasting live musical performances from nightclubs and festivals. A category dubbed "Creative" is dedicated to showcasing artistic works, like Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood marathons. And the "IRL" category allows broadcasters to show off lifelogs (video blogs of their daily lives). A dedicated ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) channel allows followers to discover sounds that trigger relaxation; these types of videos are so popular that ASMR broadcaster MaryJLeeee’s videos have 10 million views. Twitch even started up a "Social eating" channel in 2016, inspired by the fact that Korean players enjoy intermissions between gaming streams.