If you aren’t a gamer, it’s wholly possible that either you don’t “get” Twitch or you’ve never even heard of it. But that won't last for long.
Twitch is a website and community where gamers watch gameplay videos uploaded and streamed by other gamers. It’s kind of like a huge virtual couch—one that can seat a million onlookers at once. On a random friday, a live stream of League of Legends, a cartoony-yet-deep online multiplayer strategy game, boasted a quarter of a million simultaneous viewers.
How fast is Twitch growing? Really fast. According to new statistics from the last year, Twitch users watched 12 billion minutes of gaming on average each month in 2013. Twitch boasted 45 million unique viewers per month, which was more than double number of viewers tuning into Twitch on a monthly basis in the year prior. What's more impressive: More than half of all users (58%) spend more than 20 hours a week on Twitch, while the average user watches an average of 106 minutes a day.
Twitch.tv is currently dominated by PC gaming, but with Twitch support built into the PlayStation 4 and coming soon to the Xbox One, those numbers won’t be slowing down any time soon.
Twitch Is Big Business—And Small Business Too
Like YouTube, Twitch offers a partner program that allows popular users to get a cut of the ad revenue they generate. Of its 900,000 monthly broadcasters, 5,100 are partners.
Like YouTube, Twitch has its rockstars—often legendary, crazy-good gamers who undertake epic challenges or offer a creative twist on the business of playing games. Partners broadcast to Twitch on a regular schedule, some even daily, with several of them raking in enough dough in shared revenue to quit their day jobs. One partner, the father/son pair behind the handle “FatherSonGaming,” broadcasts gameplay from titles like Call of Duty: Ghosts seven days a week to 98,000 followers.
Of course, it’s not all about the little guy. Beyond individual channels, Twitch teams up with companies like Riot Games, publisher of the wildly popular League of Legends, to host epic international gaming championships that feel like a cross between flashy, big-budget boxing matches and the "Magic: The Gathering" tournaments in the back of your local comic book store. These competitions, or “eSports,” have high stakes just like their athletically-inclined peers: The League of Legends tournaments, for instance, dole out $2 million in prizes to its winners.
The explosive growth of gaming videos online is powered by obsessive subcommunities and fascinating viral phenomena. Like anything with a social layer, these videos have their own language and customs. According to Twitch's new report, “speedruns,” in which the goal is to finish a game as fast as humanly possible (often employing every cheat and workaround in the book) continue to soar in viral popularity and could even evolve into their own live, organized eSport.
Twitch is a platform on which feats of gaming skill and viral oddities flourish in equal parts. Want to watch someone play the entirety of retro classic Super Mario 64 in a breezy five hours? Maybe you’d rather tune in with half a million gamers the world over for a live stream of a StarCraft match, complete with big budget ESPN-style commentary and analysis. All signs suggest that 2014 will be a banner year for Twitch’s massive "niche" gaming community.
Playground mouse image via Flickr user bfishadow, CC 2.0