Gaming as a Spectator Sport

Mark Stephens

Can you ever imagine being so good at a game that people will pay to watch you play it? That’s essentially what’s happening at Twitch, where the world’s elite gamers have given up their day jobs to live off the advertising revenue generated by millions of fellow gamers watching them do what they love...


The Rise of Twitch

If you think Twitch may just be a fad, think again; the video-game streaming site is already the fourth highest traffic generating site in the world in its peak hours; what’s more, Amazon just bought the company, though few people outside the (admittedly growing) gaming community is even aware of its existence.

The site is essentially like those sports streaming sites where you can tune into almost any sports event on the planet and pick up a stream for free (or for a subscription), providing you have the bandwidth and some viewing software. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as the “ESPN of gaming”.

On Twitch, the best players around the world congregate and play thousands of different games watched by their followers. They challenge each other, enter tournaments, try to beat their high score, or pass on tips to the gaming community. This currently attracts over 55 million users who follow over a million gamers – certainly no passing fad.

Some of the world’s best players have become professional ‘superstars’ and are able to command large salaries with a fanbase of hundreds of thousands of followers. The revenue is paid by Twitch for players allowing advertisements to be run on their channel. Even by investing a few hours per day at the right times, and building a following of a few thousand, many gamers are finding that a supplemental income can be generated.

There is also substantial prize money on offer. A recent League of Legends tournament, for instance, awarded $2 million in prizes to its winners.

As well as the tournaments, challenges, and ‘speedruns’, professional gamers offer Q&A sessions, workshops, and tips for other gamers, with chat sessions and feedback often welcomed. Twitch crosses the bridge from entertainment into education.

Amazon and beyond

The sale to Amazon for almost $1 billion may represent a watershed moment when game streaming is brought into the general consciousness of gamers around the world.

Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos had this to say:

“Broadcasting and watching gameplay is a global phenomenon and Twitch has built a platform that brings together tens of millions of people who watch billions of minutes of games each month – from The International, to breaking the world record for Mario, to gaming conferences like E3,”

The main drawback for many is the bandwidth requirement which, while adequate in most modern urban communities, is not yet available outside of these areas. As more bandwidth is slowly pushed out across Europe, we can expect the Twitch phenomenon to continue to grow into new areas.

Perhaps the concept will start attracting not just hardcore gamers and their PC or console-based games but social gamers and others for whom the world of gaming has been opened up by the latest mobile devices.

Instead of millions of people tuning in to watch League of Legends, Dota 2 or Call of Duty perhaps we will soon see mums and their kids tuning in for tips on Farmville, Dragon City or even BoardRush with Friends!