Twitch is big and just getting bigger. During prime time, it has more viewers than CNN. So what is it? Why is it so big with young gamers? And, what do Parents need to know about Twitch and streaming in general? Continue reading to learn all this and more.
What is Twitch?
I kept hearing about it. Twitch.tv – Just hit the site and you can watch people play games. My first thought on hearing this was. What? My second was: Why? Then, in 2014, I read that Amazon bought Twitch for 970 million dollars. Being in the gaming industry, and seeing numbers like that, I realize that I’m clearly missing something.
So… I logged on and dove in.
I had NO idea what I was seeing.
Thankfully it didn’t take long to figure it out. Twitch is a streaming service, primarily focused on games, where gamers around the world watch others play all kinds of games across all manner of systems. As a developer, it was fascinating to watch gamers interacting with different titles. I also found it fascinating to watch real gameplay from games I hadn’t played myself.
I believe Twitch’s popularity comes from the confluence of a number of factors. You have the rise of e-sports. You have the huge swell in social media. As games themselves have expanded and grown online, the “social” aspect of gaming has grown as well. Lastly, and related to all of the above, is the growth of gaming as a culture all its own, with its own norms, language, and social aspects — All of these are driving players to reach out and to explore and enjoy the hobby in other ways.
While I, myself, do not entirely understand it. I do find it utterly fascinating. And, with it playing such a large part of gamers’ lives, it’s important that parents understand what it’s all about.
History of Twitch
Justin Kan and Emmett Seahr launched Justin.tv, a general streaming site launched in 2007. Though it provided several different content channels, it was Gaming content that quickly became the major focus. Games became so important to the service that the company spun off the gaming content into its own dedicated service – Twitch.tv, launching in June of 2011.
It didn’t take long for the service to take off. With a growing base of both streamers and viewers, it drew the attention of Amazon.com. Amazon then purchased Twitch in August of 2014. Since then, Twitch has continued to grow, adding more and more participatory features (such as cheers) and providing tie-ins to its Amazon Prime subscribers.
As the service has continued to grow and expand, it’s found larger and larger partnerships as well. One of the latest being a two-year deal with Blizzard Entertainment. Twitch now serves as the exclusive broadcaster of its e-sports events.
With the backing of Amazon and its technology. along with a rising interest in e-sports as a whole, expect Twitch to get bigger and more popular in the months and years to come.
What’s on Twitch?
So, we’ve talked quite a bit about what Twitch is and where it came from. It’s time to dive into some more critical elements. Namely — what’s even on it?
Well, as you can probably piece together, the largest volume of content available on Twitch is related to games. So, you’ll find streamers (folks playing the game) streaming out content on many many different games. In most cases they’re interacting with viewers (responding to chat comments) and providing commentary – sometimes about the game, sometimes about life in general.
There’s a tiny handful of very popular streamers – folks that will get 3000+ viewers for an individual stream. By and large, though, most streamers will have an audience of 10-20. With numbers like that the experience is more interactive and the streamer can respond to viewers in a more direct way.
Related to this, just as there are a small handful of very popular streamers, there’s also a small handful of very popular games. These are the titles that tend to draw the largest number of viewers. So, in general, you’re more likely to see hundreds of viewers watching a stream of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds than you’ll see watching a stream of Super Mario Sunshine. That said, the raw volume of streamers on the service means that chances are, if you want to see a game being played, someone is playing it.
As a parent, this is actually amazing. It gives you the opportunity to check out how a game looks, plays, and the type of content it offers. This can help you decide if and when that game is appropriate for your children. These streams are real players playing the real game – no perfectly orchestrated videos or cuts – just the game in its purest form.
Channels & Categories
Drilling down a little more, the content on twitch is divided into categories and those categories down into channels (very similar, in many ways, to what you’d find on Netflix or other TV & movie streaming sites). Gaming based categories, as you can see, make up the majority of the options. That said, there are other categories as well.
There’s Creative, which is a category of channels dedicated to watching people work on creative endeavors, so you can see song-writers working through their latest hope-to-be hit, or you can watch digital artists painting away on their computer screen. There’s cos-players, body painters, all sorts of artistic-based content
Similarly, you can find IRL – which means In Real Life. This category is home to a number of channels of JUST interaction. It’s the streamer, out in the world (or at their home computer) talking with and interacting with their viewers
Something to note: Twitch does not lock a stream to a particular category. Many – particularly streams that last multiple hours at a time – will flip between different ones. So, a stream might be flagged as IRL for thirty minutes as the streamer talks with his or her fans & viewers, then when they switch to playing a game, they’ll switch the category as well.
Beyond this, you’ll find an assortment of other categories as well. There’s some dedicated to talk shows, some to watching people play board games, and others to playing tabletop role-playing games.
Important Parent Note: Regardless of Category, Not all streams are appropriate for all audiences. Some are flagged for mature content, which generally means they’re playing M rated games and/or swearing. Just as with any form of entertainment, it’s up to the parents to determine the suitability of content for their own kids.
So what do you need in order to be able to watch all this streaming content? It’s actually pretty simple. Depending on the device you’re using, you either need to go to the website (twitch.tv) or download an app. Thankfully, Twitch – now being owned by Amazon – has a something for almost any platform available. You can watch on your PC, on a game console, on a cell phone or tablet, or even a Roku or Chromecast.
Once you have a way to view the content, you can simply load up the app or site. Once there, simply browse for something interesting. Similar, in many ways, to youtube. If you (or your kiddos) want more advanced functionality or to be able to engage in chat, follow streamers, or even subscribe – you’ll need to make an account and for your kiddos. The Terms of Service stipulate an age of at least 13.
An important note – if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can actually link your Twitch account to your Amazon account and get an additional set of benefits, including ad-free viewing, one free subscription a month (We’ll talk about that shortly) and some other benefits like discounts on some games and game items. Again, this isn’t necessary (nor is even making an account) to simply view content. In fact, I’d recommend holding off on any of that until you’ve checked out the site yourself.
Now, once you’re able to actually get in and watch streams, there’s a few key features to know about. These all do require an account – and a couple require actual payments – so it’s important to understand what these are and how they work. We’ll get into the specifics here.
Following Channels or Streamers
Aside from taking the time to create an account, Following a channel is free. This puts favorite channels or streamers in an easy to access section of the Twitch app. It also sends you emails whenever the stream is going live. Once you or your kiddos have found a few favorite streamers, this is a good way to keep up-to-date when they’re on.
Subscribing to Channels or Streamers
Subscribing to a channel is one step up from simply following it. It also requires money (or, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you get one free subscription every 30 days). Usually, the subscriber gets some additional perks, including custom emotes, access to additional chat areas or other social media, and often access to actually play games with the streamer from time to time. To encourage longer-term subscriptions, many streamers will increase reward tiers. The longer someone is subscribed, the more perks or more access they unlock.
Cheering a Channel or Streamer
Cheering requires bits – a sort of currency and emote all in one. You can buy bits – which are independent of a subscription, then use them for put special emotes in chat. These will usually trigger a signal for the streamer to know they’ve been cheered and who cheered them. Most streamers will acknowledge a cheer live on the stream. Others even enable a text-to-chat feature when a cheer is done, letting the cheerer send an audible message not only the streamer, but the whole audience.
As a parent, it’s important to know that both subscribing and purchasing bits for cheers are completely and totally optional. You and/or your kiddos can watch and enjoy a stream without doing either. They’re simply a way to increase participation and engagement with the streamer.
Chat is a huge part of the Twitch experience. It’s how the viewers communicate with the streamer and with each other. In Twitch, it’s important to know that the Chat is more than the simple system you might see on any other site. It’s integral nature to the service has given it a life and culture all its own. We’ll talk about the specifics in the section on Culture and Vocabulary, but between the in-jokes, memes, and emotes, Twitch chat can be all but unreadable until you really understand what’s going on. So, if you hop on to a stream and see a chat – quite literally – filled with small pictures of strangers’ heads, there’s actually a reason behind it.
Creating and Sharing Clips
Twitch makes it easy to share moments – exciting, funny, silly, strange or just interesting. At any point during a stream, a viewer can hit the clip button – this will grab roughly the last 25 seconds of the stream and put it in a new tab or window. The viewer can then fine-tune the edit. They can go back a little farther or cut down the overall length. In the end, a clip can be anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds long. After the clip is ready, the viewer can name it and share it on a wide variety of common social networks.
Biggest Channels and Streamers
The most popular streamers and channels change pretty regularly as individual games and streamers gain or lose followers. Aside from Twitch itself, there’s a couple of other places to go to see what’s popular on the service.
You can check out the most popular channels here: https://www.twitchmetrics.net/channels/popularity
You can check out the most popular streamers here: https://socialblade.com/twitch/
Twitch Culture and Vocabulary
There’s so much culture and specialized vocabulary for Twitch that it could have its own series of articles. Generally, without any understanding, attempting to watch the chat can be an exercise in inscrutable frustration.
To start, you need to understand that a large part of the appeal of Twitch is its interactivity. That interactivity is driven through chat. In chat, particularly in Twitch chat, a large part of the dialogue is handled through “emotes” – basically custom emojis. Twitch has provided a large variety of custom emotes. Many of these have taken on a life and meaning of their own within the Twitch community. The number of custom emotes grows daily. There’s some degree of just “rolling with it” as the internal understanding and usage of those emotes shifts over time.
That said, there’s a few core and mostly “stable” emotes that are used frequently in chat – and their meaning tends to cross channels. We’ll go over those here.
Kappa – The Kappa emote is actually a black and white image of the head of one of Twitch’s early engineers. When you see it, it’s basically denoting sarcasm. For example, if a streamer is playing a game and loses badly, someone might post in chat, “Wow, you did awesome. Kappa.”
PJSalt – If you’ve got a kiddo over 10 and had to raise your voice and discipline them (which, lets face it, if you have a kiddo over 10 is pretty much a guarantee) chances are you’ve heard them ask why you’re so “salty”. Basically, as you can probably tell from the context, it means you see angry, frustrated, or snarky. It has the same meaning on Twitch, with the viewers hitting the PJSalt emote in chat if and when the Streamer gets frustrated and angry at something in the stream or on the game they’re playing — Sometime accompanied by some variant of “gitgud” — meaning, “Get Good” or “You need to get better”.
PogChamp – In the somewhat crazy (and occasionally amusingly mean-spirited) world of Twitch Chat, PogChamp is generally called in as a legitimate means of congratulations or praise. The history of this emote goes back to earlier esports and fighting games, but has since grown to generally mean “good job” or “awesome play”. Basically, if and when the Streamer does something awesome (particularly if they’re playing competitive multiplayer games) their viewers will flood them with PogChamps.
Jebaited – Another Twitch “in-crowd” call back to earlier days and fighting games, in particular. Basically, Jebaited is the “in” or Twitch way to say baited. It’s a way to call out that the Streamer (or an opponent) fell for a trap or strategy.
CopyPasta – Not an emote exactly, but an activity. In some streams, if you watch the chat, you’ll see the same text spamming over and over. This is usually a giant block of text and emotes. It’s basically mob mentality at work. A particularly good, colorful, profane, or otherwise interesting block of text will get copied and pasted (copypasta) by a sub-group on the chat as fast as possible. Eventually, the mod system in the chat will clean up the mess. It will usually also give the offending folks a timeout. Until it does, though, the chat can be nearly unreadable as folks try and put in legitimate chat in between the ferocious spamming of text blocks.
Since new emotes and memes crop up daily, and the overall culture shifts frequently as the community gravitates towards specific ways of expression, the best course of action really is to watch and listen, see what you can figure out from context then ask your kiddos. It’s a good way to gauge what you think something means with how they interpret it.
Why Your Kiddos Loves Twitch
Participation and engagement. Your kiddos have grown up with social media. It’s part of who they are and how they interact. Twitch is an extension of that, letting them share, participate, and engage with others in one of their favorite hobbies. Sometimes, they may enjoy a streamer for the games they play. They may enjoy them because of the skill they have. Other times, they may simply enjoy the streamers content and personality. Related to all of the above, they may enjoy and mesh with a streamers fan base. And that is the real driver. Community. Twitch gives your kiddos a community of like-minded others with common interests to share.
Talking To Your Kiddos About Twitch
When talking to your kiddos about Twitch, there’s a couple of major areas to use to start conversations. First off, you can ask them who their favorite streamers are and what games they tend to play. You can ask them to tell you a story about something funny or crazy that happened on a stream. You can ask them if they have any friends or favorites that they often talk to in chat. Another idea is to ask them what they like most about the streams they watch. And, don’t forget, you can ask them to walk you through the craziness of the chat and culture, bringing you up to speed on the latest emotes and memes going around the community and service.
Twitch is going to be around for a good long while. It’s starting to sign exclusivity deals with content creators and game publishers. The number of streamers on the service grows every day, but the number of people getting online to watch the streamers is growing even faster. Have you had a chance to check it out yet? Is your kiddo into Twitch and had a great story to tell? Maybe they are a streamer and just starting to build their fan base. Leave a comment below telling me about how you’ve used the service or if you have more questions about Twitch itself. I’d love to hear from you all.