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The Role of Twitch in Esports

From humble beginnings circa 2000, esports has grown into an immense field worth billions of dollars annually. All was not born in the vacuum of video game love, however, as esports owes just as much to the communication technology which opened the initial doors. Taking a look back at what has changed, we want to make the argument that Twitch has played what is an underappreciated part in making esports the juggernaut it is today.

Pre-Twitch

Before the launch of Twitch in 2011, the esports industry was a shadow of its modern form. In 2010, the total prize money available from major tournaments was measured at $6.3 million. This wasn’t even the biggest yearly pool up until that point, as 2007 and 2008 offered more in overall prizes. That is not to say that esports had no appeal, but this appeal was limited by reach.

Perhaps the most illustrative example of the benefits of greater reach up until that point came from South Korea. Far more progressive on the pro-gaming front than most, Korea was no stranger to offering live tournaments on TV. With this access came a growing environment, undoubtedly contributing to the nation’s highly successful esports representation. For the rest of the world, Twitch would play a similar part.

League of Legends World Championship Fin” (CC BY 2.0) by Richard Ye (yerich)

The Social Aspect

When Twitch first arrived, it came with two major means of boosting esports popularity. The first was as Korean TV channels managed, in that it enhanced esports visibility. The second is just as important, though far more difficult to track directly. This tied into the idea of fostering a more active and inclusive atmosphere through general game streaming.

For outsiders, the idea of game streaming was a confusing one. Why watch others play games when you could do so yourself? The answer was that it wasn’t really about just watching a game, it was about how people engaged with a title and its audience. Game streaming took what was the rapidly diminishing idea of hanging out with friends and messing about and opened it up to everyone.

Similar concepts have been popular in other forms of interactive entertainment for years, where additions to convenience can remove some human elements. Online casinos formerly had this issue, where vastly improved choice in games was sometimes offset by a necessarily impersonal nature. Just as gaming would do, online casinos would overcome this issue through a live solution, called live casino games, where a real dealer can have some interaction with players. Today, these games like live blackjack and roulette essentially offer a best-of-both-worlds approach.

From the Ashes

Around 2010, many older players were becoming disillusioned with the state of multiplayer gaming. Despite having better connections and player-bases than ever, we felt disconnected from the close human element. Twitch helped rekindle our interpersonal connections, to bring many of us back into one of gaming’s primary strengths.

The creators of Twitch couldn’t have known it at the time, but they were priming an audience in a way that would make the next level of esports possible. Each tournament streamed would bring in new viewers, and each channel running regularly would increase the platform’s viability. Today, you can’t think about esports without considering Twitch, but even then we can underestimate just how much it has done to allow the industry to thrive.

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