Twenty years ago, kids would fight over the Nintendo controller with few preferring to watch the gameplay than play themselves, but attitudes have changed. Today, video game livestreaming has become a multi-billion-dollar industry in itself, with millions of people enjoying the thrill of watching esports or their favourite gamers on Twitch.
Twitch, formerly Justin.tv, was acquired by Amazon back in August 2014 for $970 million, and the ecommerce and web services giant has slowly built the service into an integral part of modern gaming culture. YouTube could have dominated the space, but a few miss-steps left the space open for Twitch to dominate with its own cast of creators with their own highly engaged fans spread across the globe.
That streamers such as Ninja, DrDisRespect and Daequan have become wealthy celebrities outside of the gaming sphere has only served to create more interest in the platform and entice more gamers to try their luck at live streaming. However, just as with YouTube creators, only a few find fame, with thousands of wannabes never quite finding their audience.
When Twitch Plays Pokemon (TPP) generated a massive 55 million views in 2014, it was clear that live streaming had become mainstream, and Twitch was awarded a Guinness World Record for ‘most participants on a single-player online videogame’. Twitch’s VP of marketing Matthew DiPietro explained to CNN:
“This is one more example of how video games have become a platform for entertainment and creativity that extends WAY beyond the original intent of the game creator. By merging a video game, live video and a participatory experience, the broadcaster has created an entertainment hybrid custom-made for the Twitch community. This is a wonderful proof on concept [sic]that we hope to see more of in the future.”
The live collaboration of the gaming experience spearheaded by Twitch has help create the success of a number of competitive games such as Defense of the Ancients (DOTA), League of Legends, and Overwatch. Beyond the competitive edge, viral hits have also been made out of more abstract and fun twists on the games like playing Overwatch with actual bananas.
Beyond these huge successes, livestreaming has also made its way into more traditional games, with many gambling firms offering streams of roulette or Live Draw Common Blackjack online, with webcams bringing the players face-to-face with the dealer and other players. MIT’s Scratch team have even managed to bring Streetfighter to life with a browser-based webcam game, where your webcam puts you right in the heart of the action on the screen.
Despite its influence on youth culture today, livestreaming remains in its infancy. The technology dismantles geographic distances and creates virtual communities and structures, but whether the communal digital viewing of other art forms such as live music or films will prove to be similarly popular remains unclear.