Inconceivable Happenings
Photo Credit: Kienan Lafferty

Twitch: How we got where we are Today

Only a Teenage Dream

When I was just a teenager back in 2005, playing countless hours on the PS2 with GTA San Andreas, Metal Gear Solid 4, God of War and Tekken 5, I always said to myself, “Imagine if someone played video games for a living and got paid for it. What a job that would be.” Of course, back in those days, it was impossible to do so, unless you were a video game critic for G4TV like Adam Sessler or Morgan Webb or a journalist for IGN or Gamespot.

I even thought, “What if I had my own audience besides my friends, showing off what I could do on MGS3 with a Big Boss Extreme difficulty?” and “I wish I had people seeing my combos on Feng Wei on Tekken 5. I would impress a lot of people.” I even told my parents about it and they thought that is just delusional. Nobody thought during those times, especially in the decade of 2000, that video games would become a source of income—especially full-time.

Fast forward 13 years later, video games have evolved into a valid media for monetary rewards and payouts. What was once an idea stuck in everyone’s head that you could get rich playing video games and wowing a group of audience with your skills has turned into a massive reality.

With the likes of Twitch, YouTube, social media, and eSports, video games turned from a casual form of entertainment into a powerhouse culture of competitiveness, creativity, and passion. For the next generation of gamers and entertainers alike, there is a limelight waiting for you to be known to the world as a great player.

In 2011, the dream of becoming rich and famous just for playing video games desired by countless ambitious players all around the world was answered via live streaming. In that same year, Twitch was established. The idealism of being an icon for gaming became feasible.

So how was Twitch created? Let us go back in time during the innocent years of the late 2000s to early 2010s, back before the hyper-sensitive “Triggered” culture and the great times of satire, sarcasm, all of which were extremely present in video games without a care for political correctness just for the sake of not offending anyone.

From a Terrible Idea to a Global Phenomenon

It all started back in 2005 when a humble young student who was studying Physics and Psychology at Yale named Justin Kan proposed to create his (and his other colleagues) own company, Kiko Software—an online program that was designed to replicate Google’s algorithmic calendar. That project was established but ended up as a flunk. After auctioning it on eBay for $258,100, they had a ridiculous idea that was similar to Big Brother or The Truman Show; a website dedicated to what it’s like being in Justin’s life—a website they would call justin.tv, to be established in 2007.

Justin.tv had a simple goal: showcase the world how Justin copes up with life via a webcam attached to his head most of the time. The channel was dedicated purely to his life 24/7, from doing his paperwork to eating pizza to taking a bath and even watch him sleep. It was an odd choice for him to do such things, but eventually, it worked; there was a gradual build-up of an audience that can interact with him via a live comment section. Overall, it was a result of mixed reaction: while a lot of the audience loved the voyeurism, others said it was just crap—crap internet connection, crap video quality and crap story. Eventually, they wanted to have their own channel; their own live stream… but how?

At first, Justin never answered any of these questions until that one moment in the same year where he got swatted—an online prank in which the live streamer gets raided by police due to someone in the audience calling up 911 to report an urgent situation such as assault or even murder.

Immediately after the incident, he finally gave access to everyone the ability to stream themselves on the spot and even hired a video specialist to let people livestream their computers. 4 years later, after justin.tv grew a huge crowd, Kan and his team would work a solo spin-off for the website, dedicated solely for video games; hence, Twitch.tv was established on June 6, 2011. It would go on for years as the reigning website for video game live streaming as well as housing the biggest names in the eSports industry for competitive multiplayer games such as League of Legends, DotA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Starcraft II, Rocket League, Halo, Call of Duty, Rainbow Six: Siege, various fighting games included in the annual EVO like Street Fighter and Tekken and, the recent rise of battle royale games such as PUBG and Fortnite.

Not only is it a platform for these games but it also makes way for all the single player games anyone could think of, even the oldest of games.

Twitch is also an unusual live streaming broadcast for niche gaming channels such as the comments section taking full control of Pokemon in the channel Twitch Plays Pokemon—a channel that would go on to inspire numerous comment section-controlled players such as Dark Souls, and morph into its own categories called “Twitch Plays” including exclusive crowdfunded games made for competitive Twitch comments.

Twitch.tv is undoubtedly one of the biggest names on the internet, with it being the pioneer of live streaming, and even pressured YouTube into creating their own live stream gaming channel as well as occupying countless gaming videos called YouTube Gaming.

A Place for a Thousand and One Personalities

If you ask, “What type of people are live streamers?” then that would be an extremely vague question. You see, if YouTube is all about different people with different topics, Twitch is pretty much the same, but with more focus on live gameplay, whether it’s an eSports broadcast or just someone playing at home.

Live streamers can go from the meekest and humblest of Hearthstone players to the most toxic and arrogant of League of Legends Diamond-tier gamers. There are also the professionals who have known everything about a particular game from top to bottom, such as anyone who is part of a pro team such as Cloud9, Team SoloMid, Team Liquid, Fnatic, Royal Never Give Up, SKTelecom and Unicorns of Love.

Think of Twitch just like any other social media but without being the usual people. Even if video games are a mainstream type of culture nowadays, it still evokes unsettling feelings from non-gamers who consider those attached to this electronic entertainment as “no-lifers” or being losers—that video games are a waste of time, video games are just about killing people, video games are only for nerds, video games are just for kids, and video games are the source of stupidity. It sucks having people view gaming like this since in reality gaming is a social gathering, a new form of creativity, a rich source of narrative, a place where anyone could be anyone. If you look at it, it’s nothing different from what non-gamers seek out for entertainment: movies, television, theater, music, books, sports, painting, and even going to a club.

At some point, gamers have always been an outcast from society—mainly because video games, even though it has reached the mainstream, is still young in culture. Remember when television was new and used to be criticized by other forms of media such as books and audio? Well, look at how embraced it is now to modern society. Video games are still at that point of acceptance from the major population. The time is near when gaming will be accepted as a fruitful, rich, and normal medium.

And within the social outcasts of video gaming comes two places where those who are passionate about video games go to — YouTube and Twitch.

While YouTube is a home for edited and premade videos, in which gaming is a huge community in, housing big names of the category such as PewDiePie, Jacksepticeye, JonTron and Markiplier as well as company-based channel like IGN, GameSpot and Kotaku; Twitch on the other hand is the haven for raw live footage of gaming on-the-spot – no edits, just pure gaming skills and live entertainment.

You’ve got the loudmouth shouty persons like Tyler1, Trick2G, and Dr. DisRespect, the people’s ever favorite calm yet exciting-to-watch Syndicate (the first Twitch streamer to ever hit 1 million followers back in 2014), an unusual scurvy character named BurkeBlack (who is having the time of his life with Sea of Thieves), the men with a few words but let their gaming skills do the talking — like Ninja, Shroud, Faker, SivHD, Imaqtpie, Gosu, Seagull, and Bjergsen, the competitive entertainers such as Summit1G and Myth, hilarious players like Magikarpusedfly, Videogamedunkey and Jacksepticeye, bubbly players (mostly recognized from YouTube) like Lilypichu, Nyanners and as well as some controversial players with the likes of Kaceytron, SSSniperwolf, BrittanyVenti and MitchJones.

Twitch is a community of different faces, different personalities, different playstyles and different purposes. It just really depends on which a viewer relates or finds someone interesting.

The Crowd: The Good and The Bad

If you have been a Twitch viewer for quite a long time, you already know how different some people can be in the community compared to other places on the internet. Unlike some of the social media platforms, Twitch engages the live streamer and the audience first-hand, improvised and connected. It is a place where people actually know how to use memes properly and are irritated at the site of “normies”—individuals who cannot understand the meme culture or is late in the meme trend.

It does have a genuine feel when you’re a part of the crowd and when you say hi to the streamer and he or she greets back. It just runs through you like you are totally part of the gang. Like you have that sense of belongingness just because of one “Hello” or the streamer answering your question.

The community as a whole is very supportive of the streamer. Many members would send monetary donations as a way to support their Twitch icons—a form of income that the majority of the streamers earn. They love to be part of the activity of the person they are watching—to be involved in the events that fold in for the live streamer. Who wouldn’t want such partaking, right? Your favorite streamer playing your favorite video game, whilst entertaining you; it’s that simple. I’d toss a dollar their way.

Some are even thoughtful enough to help the live streamer in the games: suggesting powerful builds for a certain champion, exposing exploitable areas of the map in an arena shooter game, telling secret routes in a story-driven single-player campaign or just simply some good morale boost.

If it’s not the crowd helping the Twitch streamer, it’s vice versa for some people—such as Ninja giving out real advice for players who want to be extremely good at Fortnite, strategies brought out by Vertigal for the Ahri mains in LoL, Shroud sharing his secrets on lose-proof strategies for Counter-Strike, OnlyAfro showboating his Dark Souls character build while telling the viewers what to do or simply let the viewers just take notes of what the pro players and hardened competitors do to become better at a game.

This sort of adoration creates a fandom, of course—which is both a good thing and a bad thing; good for the live streamer because he or she has loyal people and bad because they always have the potential to ruin another personality on Twitch. Yes, there have been numerous cases of drama on Twitch. However, it doesn’t matter if it’s Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit or even DeviantArt—as long as fanbases exist, people will stir shit up.

One thing is for sure—if you do impressive work in what you do in the live stream, and people enjoy it, you are already in the right spot. Just be sure you’re a good influence.

The Twitch Success Factor Revealed

Sure, you may say that watching other people play video games is a boring idea (because why would you if you can just play by yourself, right?), but truth be told, there is just one explanation to how the website grew into a multi-billion-dollar company: engagement.

YouTube is designed like television to cater to all walks of life. Twitch, where it really connects the streamer to the people via live interactions—talking on the chat, playing online simultaneously and sharing each other’s interest. It’s that “You-and-I” kind of feeling that members experience, as well as the live streamer too—that’s why they love to broadcast. Like going to your friend’s house so you can watch him finish Resident Evil 4 on the hardest difficulty and cheer together as he beats the game. Twitch caters exactly to that—a bond you get like going to your peer’s home to spectate… but online. People love it. The crowd relates to the feelings the live streamer has. It’s that power of friendship and brotherhood/sisterhood that you get from video games.

Twitch members have a unique culture—they have their own norms, their own dialect, their own memes that nobody beyond the website understands. Have you overheard someone saying “Kappa”? No doubt he’s been on Twitch and is a proud member too. “Normies” will never understand that. Think anyone beyond Twitch will know what LUL, Pogchamp, MingLee, Kreygasm or PJSalt means? No.

And I Almost Forgot… eSports

Twitch is the pioneer and forefront live caster for all things electronic competition—you got the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), Electronic Sports League (ESL) that always hosts Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and DotA 2, Evolution Championship Series (EVO)—one of the oldest eSports events that broadcasts all the meta competitive fighting games into categories, Call of Duty World League, Overwatch World Cup and even actual sports within eSports such as Madden NFL, FIFA and NBA 2K. These eSports events alone generate up many thousands of viewers in a single broadcast.

Of course, with that many viewers, advertisers and product marketers seek to capitalize on the exposure and engagement.

Money-Making Opportunities

Twitch is one of the top grossing websites in America, rivaling the likes of YouTube and Netflix. With that number of viewers, advertisers take note. You have ads everywhere, sponsorships seen all over just so their names pop-up during commercial breaks in competitive leagues, and home-based Twitch streamers becoming major endorsers. It is a very lucrative business and for the individuals who seek out to use Twitch as a full-time income, it is totally a possibility.

To start off, those who profit from Twitch are usually getting income from donations, which can vary from cents to respectable moolah. Others sell merchandise to their loyal fanbase such as shirts, jackets, shoes, headwear, accessories, any other apparel and even also custom artwork, hardware, gadgets, mods and gaming chairs (especially you, PewDiePie. Yes yes, it’s only $399). Some streamers also have Patreon for monthly goods for their fans such as the ones previously mentioned as well as small perks such as shout-outs and even opportunities for one-on-one time.

The big-league streamers get major sponsors. Take for example Ninja—besides the merchandise he sells and the donations he receives, he earns $500,000 per month via his sponsors. Living the dream, am I right?

Just like any other money-making opportunities, Twitch is as difficult to be a source of income as any full-time job a person would like to be in, with a high chance of failure—especially knowing that there are tons of people who want to exploit their video game hobbies for fiscal purposes; that means tough competition. You need to be at par or beyond other players in the field—quality video, monstrous gaming set-ups, unique personalities, remarkable gaming skills, spot-on display interface and a welcoming home channel. Yes, physical looks are also a plus, but not required by any means.

However, that alone is not enough to be a successful Twitch streamer—if you desire to be one, you need to have grit, consistency, endurance, and passion. Do not just quit your job and drop out of school in pursuit of that live streaming dream. You need to make sure you’re still stable while you’re at it. In the beginning, you surely will not earn even a cent.

Let your efforts grow a community just from that simple mindset of determination. Always believe there will always be a group of people who will support you through thick and thin.

Ninja did not earn that success without struggles, of course. It took him 7 years of streaming before he reached his current level. If you are willing to go beyond, not discouraged by the thought of waiting years to reach your dream, you might have a shot.

Twitch vs YouTube: The Real Differences

Youtube is more like a cinema/television, compiling edited clips, tv show-like videos, homemade series, pleasing the general crowd in whichever category from makeup, fashion, traveling, health, food, to video games, commentaries, and even meme shitposts. It houses personalities who used to be regular joes just talking in front of a 240p webcam into the biggest influencers on the internet today—names like PewDiePie or Felix Kjellberg who is known for his ridiculous antics of overreacting on horror games and crying on drama-filled video games but has transitioned into a channel for video commentaries, Superwoman aka Lilly Singh, a YouTube personality who is famous for her vlogs and general comedy, Smosh, a channel created by the dynamic duo Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla (now retired from the channel) that showcases over-the-top relatable comedy, iJustine or Justine Ezarik for her general vlogs, NigaHiga aka Ryan Higa who is known for his hilarious and sometimes thoughtful content, Markiplier also known as Mark Edward Fischbach, popular in his video gaming content along with Jacksepticeye aka Sean William McLoughlin, and so many others through varied niches.

Twitch is a live stream nirvana that only features raw and uncut broadcasts for the audience, mainly for the video game enthusiasts. Just as I have previously said, it is a website that involves first-hand engagement with everyone including the main person who is hosting the live stream. It is the place to be mostly for competitive gaming and those who are interested in finding out how others play their video games—one may be playing Overwatch with Hanzo on Attack and actually carry the team to a huge Victory, impressing the live crowd whilst another person may be playing Dark Souls with just a Rock Band controller.

People love being in Twitch because they do not feel alienated by the hosts. They have a sense of trust with the streamer, an impression that can only be redeemed through actual gameplay and not pre-recorded footages that one may say is the real deal.

Fans will consider Twitch as more of a home for “dank memes” rather than YouTube itself since a lot of the “normie” YouTubers claim they know memes really well.

Twitch Nowadays

As the website keeps on consistently growing, what used to be a ground for all things video games has turned into a live broadcasting stage for other various categories now—IRL; for the live streamers who just want to showcase their lives, just like what Justin Kan did in the beginning, Creative; which includes arts like painting and drawing (which by the way the likes of Shadbase and Sakimichan live stream in), music, game development, cooking and sculpting, and Casino; live streams of Texas hold em’ championship series, virtual slot machines and other online gambling.

At this point, Twitch may as well be hosting physical sports too like the NBA, FIFA World Cup, F1 or World Cricket League. It’s THAT huge now. But of course, the older members would like to keep the website as it is.

Nowadays, when you say “live stream”, many will directly associate the term to Twitch. If it wasn’t for Justin Kan’s terrible idea of sticking a webcam on his head, broadcasting crappy resolutions and having really no sense of his purpose, Twitch might never have existed.

It was because of Twitch that Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube started their own live streaming features. However, they cannot compete with Twitch’s first mover advantage and authentic culture.