Twitch, despite being a relatively new platform, has at the forefront of live broadcasting ever since it was launched in 2011. What started out as a site where you could watch and re-watch people play videogames is now also the home of eSports and tournaments such as the World Series of Poker, watching celebrities try their hand at card tricks between interviews and games. The question is, how exactly did Twitch make the leap from console gaming to online gambling?
The massive popularity of online streaming is the main factor behind this leap. Twitch now stands as the fourth largest source of internet traffic in the US during peak times, after Netflix, Google and Apple. Twitch has always been popular in the gaming industry, but if you were to ask the average gamer what it is that sparked this mass popularity, the answer would, of course, be Twitch Plays Pokémon. This event, back in February 2014, truly showcased how Twitch offers genuine interactivity between the real world and the online community. In Twitch Plays Pokémon, viewers watching the live stream could all control how the game played by writing comments in the live chat feed, leading to a frantic mess in place of a game. While this was a social experiment more than an actual fun gaming experience, it was a fascinating thing to watch. This was the moment the world at large sat up and took notice of how impressive Twitch was, offering a chance to livestream content while providing all of the instant messenger functions that could influence what was happening in real time.
While YouTube has tried its hand at this kind of livestreaming, it has never managed to do so with the same level of success as Twitch. Once the popularity of online streaming was established, the platform rapidly moved towards eSports, where gamers could come together and compete, while fans watched what was happening live on screen. The chat functionality was still there, though players were naturally unable to respond during the games. During post-game interviews however, Twitch offered direct access for the community looking to talk to their favourite players, with interviewers asking questions from the live feed in the same way that questions have been posed over Twitter in the past.
From here, the natural extension of Twitch live was to move away from digital games and onto gaming tournaments which were filmed live. This has been seen in everything from Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour to the World Series or Poker. Bringing celebrities from their card games into the public eye, whether that’s MTG’s Luis Scott-Vargas or poker’s Jason Somerville, has not only helped these games grow in popularity, but it has helped revive sponsorship during these massive tournaments too. Thanks to live streams of all the high profile gaming tournaments, whether that’s in the video game, card game or gambling industry, viewership of these tournaments has risen dramatically in recent years. With increased viewership comes increased sponsorship, which in turn leads to more focus on Twitch as a platform.
The only problem that many people predicted with livestreaming games which are played for millions of dollars, such as the World Series of Poker, is that a world of possibilities are opened to people looking to cheat. In order to play around this, many broadcasters on Twitch have started implementing a delay on their streams. While Twitch hasn’t brought this in themselves as a standard feature, there are many ways you can do this manually. While this doesn’t help streamers looking to show off their skills on a video game, the four minute delay during the World Series of Poker is enough that there is no way a player can use the live stream to see other players’ cards during a game.
Now that Twitch has made the leap to online gaming, the question is this – where can Twitch go from here? The logical next step would be into the world of virtual reality. We have already seen YouTube bring 360 degree videos to their platform, and if Twitch can manage this with a live stream (admittedly with a substantial delay using today’s post-production technology), it would offer a huge step forward in what the platform can offer. Whether or not this would be able to move a step further, letting viewers walk around inside a live stream, remains to be seen.