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In recent years, tuning in to live gaming streams on platforms such as Twitch and Mixer has become increasingly popular. To many people, watching others play has replaced TV as their preferred means of entertainment. Even more than television, streams can provide a sense of belonging and community through the element of interactivity. We want to know: why do people stream? And why do others enjoy watching them?
Little did the creators of Justin.tv know that their website would become one of the most important parts of the gaming industry, when they launched it in 2007. Their lifecasting website provided users with a platform on which they could stream their everyday lives online and in real-time. Especially video game categories took off and become so popular that the people behind Justin.tv created a spin-off website, dedicated to streaming video games only in 2011: Twitch.
As of today, Twitch is the biggest streaming platform for video games on the planet, with millions of users, both creating and watching content. However, the streaming website has long transcended the limits of gaming. Categories such as “Social Eating”, “In Real Life” (IRL), and talkshows indicate that Twitch is not just about games anymore. People spend much time socialising and enjoying the company of like-minded people on the internet.
Why we stream
MIT professor T.L. Taylor has studied online video games for 20 years. In her latest book, Watch Me Play, she gives enlightening insights into live streaming culture. One of the topics discussed in her book is the motivation for people to expose themselves online playing games and of those who watch them.
People who broadcast may have different motivations to do so. However, the social aspect is one of the most important reasons for streamers and their community. In fact, many streamers begin their career because they want to interact with their friends and share their experience. The streamers who talked to Taylor explained that they also enjoy entertaining their viewers with their performance. Their channel is their creative outlet, in which they can determine the rules, assume different roles, create alternate personas, and, as a result, get praise for what they do.
For some streamers, their hobby has turned into a profession. These people have professional aspirations and earn their living with their channel. Ninja and Shroud are examples of streamers who not only have become famous but also extremely rich. In addition to that, professional gamers that play on esports teams are sometimes required by contract to stream their sessions. This makes for an excellent opportunity to engage with the fanbase, give them a glimpse behind the scenes, and increase the reach of players and teams.
G2 Esports’ streamers (from left to right) Jakub “Lothar” Szygulski, Joel “Orb” Kumlin, and Thijs “Thijs” Molendijk.
“For me it's not anymore about the game itself (even I enjoy it), it's about the people. I know every day I make people happy. Sometimes they have a rough day and even I can't help them I can give them a place to relax and chill,” says G2 Esports streamer Thijs “Thjis” Molendijk in an interview with AOC. This view is also supported by his team-mate Joel “Orb” Kumlin: “I love my job and it's a real blessing to be able to wake up every day and play videogames.” Orb reports, that he’s got a huge confidence boost from streaming and it contributed to his growth as a person.
However, excessive streaming can come costly. Hearthstone streamer Jakub “Lothar” Szygulski had learn this lesson the hard way. He neglected his sleep and overworked himself which triggered an epileptic seizure live on stream. As a result, he had to withdraw from streaming for two years. He was lucky enough to recover fully and was able to stage a comeback.
A sense of belonging
The viewers, meanwhile, may look for tips on how to become better at their favourite games, a sense of community, or merely entertainment. Others look for inspiration, i.e. which games to play, or what to achieve in those they already know, getting a whole different spin from what the streamer does. Each factor, suggests Taylor, may intersect with another, and “wax and wane in any given viewing session”. This makes streaming a highly individual experience for both viewers and content creators.
While the reasons for engaging with a live streaming community are highly individual, the sense of belonging is probably the most important one. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by big gaming organisations such as AOC’s partners at G2 Esports.
Having a common experience, discussing what’s shown on-stream, and making new friends – this is what live streaming is all about. In general, playing computer and video games is not about just passing time anymore. Today, it is one of the most significant tools to interact with one another, build relationships, and find your place in the world. As such, live streaming has drastically altered the way we view, play, and experience games, and consequently how we spend our leisure time.