Livestreams and lockdowns: the 2020 Twitch boom

Written by Mark Harrison

If you had never heard of the website twitch.tv before 2020, you could be forgiven. If in 2021 you have still never heard of it, then you have somehow managed to miss one of largest user increases on an internet platform.

Twitch was first launched in 2007, by Justin Kan and Emmett Shear, as justin.tv. The site had different categories for users to stream under, with the gaming category quickly becoming the most popular. In 2011, justin.tv relaunched as twitch.tv and focused on gaming. Since then, the site has grown consistently in number of streamers and number of viewers. As the platform gained popularity, so too have the streamers themselves. Even celebrities have made guest appearances: Drake hopping on to play Fortnite with streamer Ninja in 2018 broke the single-stream viewer record at the time.

Since March 2020, as lockdowns were being introduced to stop the spread of coronavirus, Twitch’s unparalleled growth began.

Who’s watching? Who’s streaming?

This graph details the average number of people who are watching a stream on twitch at the same time.

Lockdowns have incentive people to tune in to their favourite streamers or discover something new. Severe lockdown measures force people to spend more time indoors and away from others, so streams where you watch another person while you also talk to other viewers in the chat offer a different way to get social interaction. Many people were made to work from home, meaning that they can watch streams when they otherwise could not.

Lockdown measures restrict what we can do but has given us time to pursue new hobbies and skills. This certainly applies to Twitch, with current streamers now available on more days and for longer. Additionally, new channels are being created with people starting their own communities.

This graph shows the growth in peak number of active channels on the site:

Twitch has gone from a small corner of the internet to controlling the room in regards to online culture. Some of the highlights from the past year include: Rapper T-Pain’s incredible introduction to his stream, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern helping broxh with his carvings, and Formula One driver Charles Leclerc forgetting to let his girlfriend back in their apartment.

What are they playing?

Twitch’s own sub-culture is ever changing, as reflected by the data. Almost every video game ever made is being streamed by someone at some point on twitch, but there are games which constantly remain popular, while others experience mini booms in popularity and others fade away. This chart shows the viewer share over different games in 3 different weeks:

Here, we see that classic esports titles such as “Counter-Strike” and “League of Legends” maintain consistent viewer numbers. The ‘Just Chatting’ category is consistently category with the largest view share, in this category streamers sit and talk to their chat, discuss politics and news or unbox things they have been sent. The largest trends make it easier to track the trends. April 2020 was the launch of the closed beta of “Valorant”, a new first-person-shooter made by Riot Games, makers of “League of Legends“. Riot created a ‘drop’ system for the beta, which meant if you wanted to play the game early you first had to watch a  and hope you got lucky in receiving a key for the game.

By September “Valorant was fully released and nestled in with the other esports titles. The new most popular game was “Among Us, a game where crewmates have to repair a spaceship while impostors try and sabotage them. It gained sudden popularity due to the biggest streamers playing games with each other.

Fast forward to 2021 and the “Among Us” hype has died down. While large streamers occasionally team up for a game, “Rust became the new dominant force. “Rust” is an open-world sandbox survival game which launched in 2013, but once again the largest streamers on the site all gathered in a server together in a hunger-games-style event which dominated the twitch front page for weeks.

Among us was the biggest game on twitch throughout September

A smaller streamer perspective:

One shortcoming to Twitch is that it is a very top-heavy platform, something which is getting worse as it grows. The largest streamers get the most publicity. They sit at the top of the page when you browse the streamers or an individual game and people are more likely to click on them. This makes it harder for smaller streamers to experience the boom in its entirety, but when they do it is very encouraging.

One streamer from the UK, Bryer84, is normally a freight train driver but also streams. When asked about his experience as a streamer in the pandemic he said: “I came back to it 2 months ago and went from 10 followers to 110 followers, with regulars that drop in and everything which I never had previously. Interactions happen if you engage with the audience, which I make a point of doing as its good for my mentality and I’d like to think good for those watching that they can have a chat.”

Train simulator is a niche market, even for Twitch, but Bryer has still managed to create a loyal and supportive community. People enjoy the ambience of the game which fills the void of not being able to travel on the train in person. Twitch provides an escape to the viewer and streamer from the stresses of life in lockdown.

Bryer said: “Its provided me with a mental escape from lockdown. Being able to have “friends” join me in my home and chat about the games and railway as a whole.”

Bryer streams at twitch.tv/bryer84

The heart of Twitch lies within these communities. From huge streamers like Ninja and Shroud to small ones like Bryer, the last year made these communities stronger, and made twitch a nearly unstoppable force on the internet.

 

Written by Mark Harrison

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