Confession time. I've been a gamer as far back as I can remember, starting with the Sega Genesis 16-bit era and continuing on today. I've spent more time than any grown-ass man should admit fumbling through various genres, series and consoles to get my gaming fix. But despite all the hours my ass as spent in front of a screen with the aim of squandering my youthful potential, there are many games I'm just not that good at.
But being terrible at something doesn't necessarily mean I want to be left out of the loop.
For as shitty as I am at every iteration of "Mortal Kombat," I'll still go on YouTube and look up videos of all the fatalities from time to time. And for every time I've made a bad call during a game of "League of Legends" and end up blowing the whole damn thing for my team, I've had the desire to find out how someone better than me would have played it.
I'm not the only one. The industry of watching other people play games got a boost last week as Amazon inked a deal to acquire Twitch, the most popular place on the web to watch live streams of video games, for $970 million. A February poll placed Twitch fourth in peak internet traffic by company in the United States, behind only Netflix, Google and Apple.
So who uses Twitch, and why do gamers and Amazon have such a raging hard-on for it? Viewership primarily comes from the esports community, driven by so-called multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs), the most popular two being "League of Legends" and "Dota 2." Over Labor Day weekend, the Twitch channel streaming the North American Regional Finals for "League of Legends" had upwards of 430,000 concurrent viewers at points, with total views of more than 565 million. That's a lot of nerds.
However, as competitive tournaments aren't always going on, they're not where Twitch really shines. Regular streamers who climb the viewership ranks to be placed at the top of the site's browse feature can make a name for themselves — and a legitimate living — from running ads and being tipped by viewers during their shows. What ends up happening is an intense focus on streamers as well as the actual games. Streamers cultivate personalities, developing in-jokes and a direct banter-filled dialog with those on the other side of the screen.
Twitch can also lend itself to some interesting social experiments, as seen in the Twitch Plays Pokemon channel. Started in February of this year, TPP was a emulation of the original "Pokemon Red" version, with a script that would read chat inputs from viewers and convert them into inputs in the game, essentially letting a mob of viewers play through the game one-button press at a time. Take a bunch of random button inputs and multiply it by a few thousand, and the results onscreen are hilariously schizophrenic.
I think Twitch does have a ways to go in terms of breaking through to mainstream entertainment levels, mainly due to the level of immaturity that exists among the streaming community. Check the chat for any given popular streamer and you'll be subject to an onslaught of ASCII cock art and incessant racism and sexism. It remains to be seen if the Amazon acquisition will try to address this in any way (as it seems to be a problem of community more than moderation), but regardless, Twitch has the traffic numbers to keep it — and gaming in general — from being ignored.