When I first started watching Twitch in 2010 it was still called Justin.tv and my friends thought I was crazy for watching video games instead of just playing them. The game I watched most was Starcraft 2 (still is) and rather than go directly to Justin.tv I would go to TeamLiquid (a Starcraft website) and check the “Live Now” section of the sidebar, which would list which pros were currently streaming. The most popular streamers were: Day, Huk, Idra, WhiteRa and Destiny. Each could sometimes draw up to 10k viewers under the right conditions, and when a big event like MLG would happen there could be as many as 35k viewers. Those numbers pale in comparison to what the top streamers and biggest events draw in today, but at the time they seemed massive. Despite the huge growth, I’m still incredibly bullish on the future of eSports (definitely not alone here) but also on Twitch as a whole. I believe the Twitch acquisition by Amazon will be as big as YouTube was for Google – maybe even bigger.
I still watch a lot of Twitch – but now instead of going to TeamLiquid or even to Twitch.com, I open the app on my phone. I’d say at this point 90% of my Twitch viewing is done on my phone. Back in 2010, I was still using a Blackberry, making mobile viewing impossible so all my stream views were on my laptop. When I got an iPhone 4s in late 2011, I still mostly used my laptop – I’m not sure if Twitch even had an app by that point, but if they did, I didn’t download it and the mobile web experience left a lot to be desired. More importantly, the iPhone 4s screen size made for a less than ideal viewing experience. So for the first few years out of college, I was largely reliant on laptop viewing, but with less free time I found myself watching fewer streams. Once I upgraded to an iPhone 6 last September the larger screen size was ideal for viewing, so I downloaded the Twitch app and boom – suddenly I’m watching as much eSports as I was in college (I already know how cool I am, so no need to tell me).
I have no doubt that the growth in screen sizes over the last few years has sent Twitch’s mobile views skyrocketing. Fortunately, for them the core UI for choosing a stream – looking to see if anyone you follow is online, browsing by game or popular streamer – also lends itself incredibly well to mobile viewing due to its simplicity. In fact, I much prefer the mobile app to the desktop experience because it cuts out all the bullshit and is just so simple. That simplicity is part of why I think it’s a far better mobile experience than YouTube, where more action is required to curate streams (?) and watch for longer stretches. The frictionless ability of firing up a stream lends itself to sporadic viewing, which is ideal for a mobile world. There are also far fewer ads on Twitch as compared to YouTube, and let’s be honest, ads are the absolute worst and people are now more sensitive to them than ever. Obviously there are ad blockers, but most people don’t use these on mobile, and they don’t work in native apps (at least to my knowledge) so extended YouTube viewing can get very frustrating.
Although eSports and gaming are Twitch’s bread and butter, other genres have been recently gaining steam. The recent ‘official’ launch of Twitch Creative and simultaneous streaming of Bob Ross was absolutely massive. Since then, the ‘Creative’ category has been consistently in the top 20 for viewers and Bob Ross Monday’s continue to draw huge crowds. Gaming Talk Shows are becoming increasingly popular – that category consistently places in the top 20 as well. Other atypical genres have been gaining momentum too: Poker, Game Development, D&D, Board Games and Music have all seen huge growth over the last year?. One of the most interesting aspects of many of these growing categories are that they’re often offline events being streamed. Twitch is no longer just for streaming things from your computer, but for streaming anything. Then there is the Twitch Plays phenomenon that begin with Pokemon, whereby the Twitch chat controls the game. I could go on, but the point is the sheer number of games and categories with live streamers is staggering – and everyday it seems people are finding new things to stream and new ways to leverage the Twitch network.
YouTube’s fear of losing eSports and streaming to Twitch has become increasingly obvious, evident by their recently launched competitor: YouTube Gaming. Unfortunately, I think it’s too little too late and they will be unable to catch up to Twitch, which has built an impressive moat via network effects (just checked YT Gaming and the current top stream only has ~1k viewers). Periscope and YouNow are their only real competitor, and I think they’re both for a far different use case – one that Twitch is willing to concede. Ustream, while once relevant, is mostly an afterthought at this point and while hitbox has gained some users, they’re still far behind. In short, it appears that Twitch has already won in what I believe to be a mostly winner take all market.
Twitch is exploding because streaming is exploding, and they’ve clearly cemented themselves as the leader in the space for every category. The massive growth expected in eSports over the coming years will no doubt be Twitch’s primary growth engine, but I believe these atypical categories will play an increasingly large role in their future as well. For example, recently drone racing videos have been reaching the top of Reddit, and I’d venture a guess that within the next 1-2 years we will see that as a top 20 category on Twitch. There is no doubt in my mind that streaming as an entertainment vehicle will continue to grow across the board and if you’re serious about streaming you would be foolish to choose to build your audience anywhere other than on Twitch.