Twitch, and TwitchCon: A Brief Primer

I spent this past weekend in San Diego attending TwitchCon 2016…for those of you who know about neither Twitch nor TwitchCon, here’s a brief primer.

I talked to my father on Saturday; it was the day after my birthday, and he wanted to know how I was. I told him TwitchCon was going well; I’d never been to TwitchCon or the San Diego Convention Center before, so there was a lot of learning for me to do. “Oh, that’s cool,” he said. “So…what is Twitch?” I think many of the people keeping an eye on my Facebook or Twitter feeds were asking the same question. So, let’s talk Twitch.

Twitch.tv is a livestreaming service where people broadcast themselves doing things. Along the side of the broadcast, a live chat feed lets viewers talk amongst themselves or to the broadcasters. The broadcasters generally have the chat open in a separate window, and can see and respond to the audience. This creates community feeling stronger than following a comments thread on a YouTube video or Facebook Live post.

Twitch started as Justin.tv, a streaming service devoted to video games, but the site’s stretched beyond that. Now you can watch anything from glass blowing to crocheting, improv piano playing to “social eating,” all in one place… one place that Amazon purchased for almost $1 billion in 2014.

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Fast forward to September 30, 2016. In addition to Intelligame’s birthday, the second annual TwitchCon is hosted in San Diego, California. Relocated from its San Francisco birthplace, streamers and fans converge to celebrate Twitch and the culture. For a newcomer like myself, the “Twitch culture” is hard to put a finger on. Just based on three days of convention, it feels amazing and wonderful and toxic and ugly and always absolutely fascinating.

Twitch is a space where virtually anyone can be a sort of celebrity, whether they have 50 followers or 50,000. And amidst all this is money, tons and tons of money: companies looking to get their games and hardware in the hands of these “influencers” who have the attention of tens of thousands of eyes. The business of marketing games is changing rapidly, and everyone wants to be on the forefront.

Twitch is more than that, though. Twitch Creative specializes in non-gaming content, showcasing cosplayers and painters and artists of all kinds. Physical tabletop games hold a large presence on the site, as does poker, surprisingly. But aside from the topics, the most interesting part about Twitch is the collective viewer community. Twitch Chat has its own series of emoji-like emotes that reference video games, specific broadcasters, or even just moments or characters of importance for the Twitch community.

Getting started in Twitch chat feels like a large, crazy mystery at first, scrolling threads of random pictures and shouting. Sometimes that shouting is positive energy, a group of viewers cheering on their favorite casters. Sometimes it’s not shouting at all, but instead reasoned discussion or commentary, or suggestions on how the streamer should progress. Sometimes it’s shouting, and it’s negative: racism, homophobia, sexism…this is the internet, after all.

The next few Intelligame articles will focus on Twitch and TwitchCon. I’ll talk about what I learned over the three days of the show, as well as the people I met, and the ways TwitchCon will influence the site moving forward. There’s a lot of room for both Twitch and its annual event to grow, but they’ve managed to create tons of success stories in a short amount of time…either way, it’s worth talking about.

Here’s to the Wild West that is livestreaming.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Intelligame. Lover of story-centric games of all kinds, arcade games, and mobile titles. Mac and Cheese connoisseur.

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