One word has appeared more and more often in nerd circles lately: Twitch, a place where people can stream content for anyone on the internet to watch and interact with others in real time. This streaming platform found many flocking to it during the insanity of the past year, but what is it anyway? What should we do with it?
Twitch started in 2005 as a livestreaming startup called “justin.tv,” which later split off its gaming-focused portion with “twitch.tv” in 2011. Twitch was purchased in 2014 by Amazon and remains its subsidiary today. Twitch has changed over the years to add new features, but its focus remains on giving streamers a place to share their content with viewers worldwide through the magic of the internet.
So, what is this “livestreaming” thing? Put simply, it’s sharing some sort of content in real time, much like live TV broadcasts, but the difference lies in the audience providing content, and not the other way around. From cooking shows to video game playthroughs to podcast recording sessions, Twitch allows people to stream their passions to a worldwide audience so long as they have any sort of camera and/or microphone, meaning that there are seemingly limitless user-created streams being broadcast 24/7.
With all of this in mind, why would someone want to stream on Twitch? Why do streamers pick this platform? What makes Twitch stand out?
A streamer’s audience can choose to “follow” them (like following someone on Twitter or Instagram) to get notifications whenever they go live. Viewers can also redeem “channel points” (sometimes given fun names by certain streamers) to have streamers do things like dab or drink water. Earning these points is easy: just watch a stream (or leave it open in a browser tab in the background) and you’ll earn points automatically. Viewers can also “subscribe” to monetarily support a streamer and unlock some extra chat flair, such as stream-specific emotes and a fancy icon next to their name in chat. Viewers can even use “bits” to show even more love to their favorite streamers, though bits have to be purchased with real money.
The more people watching and following a stream, the more features the streamer unlocks due to the Twitch Affiliate and Partner programs. A streamer will automatically become a Twitch Affiliate once they meet the eligibility requirements, including an average of 3 viewers per stream and 50 followers on their channel. Affiliate status is needed to earn money from Twitch since a streamer has to become an Affiliate before they unlock bits, channel points, emotes, and subscriptions for their stream. Anyone can stream to Twitch, but until a streamer unlocks Affiliate, they have limited access to Twitch’s features. To be eligible for Twitch Partner, a streamer has to have an average of 75 viewers and apply for the program, but Partners unlock extra benefits like increased earnings from Twitch and more custom emotes. Depending on how large and supportive a streamer’s audience is, they could earn enough money to make a living off Twitch, but this is not the norm. For many, though, Twitch can still provide a small side income once they reach Affiliate status.
Unlike live TV, Twitch has a chat feature that allows the audience to directly interact with the person streaming. Chat can be restricted to followers only or subscribers only, but regardless of restrictions, the chat box opens up a channel of communication between audience and streamer; viewers can have an active role in what happens with a stream instead of just passively observing. For example, on the channel TwitchPlaysPokemon, chat has complete control over what happens next in a game of Pokémon. Streamers gain popularity not solely based on what they stream, but how they interact with their community as well. Twitch describes itself as a platform “where millions of people come together live every day to chat, interact, and make their own entertainment together.”Due to the unique circumstances of the pandemic pushing so many things virtual, Twitch fills a more important niche than ever. Through Twitch, people can do things together while separated by physical distance.
OK, so what is it like for someone new to Twitch?
I created my Twitch account back in March 2020. I wanted to watch a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament at my university. I was very overwhelmed at first after joining because people in chat kept using unfamiliar words, and I was worried that I would break some social rule that I didn’t understand. However, my fears quickly faded away. The commentators for the tournament and the others in chat made me feel welcome. It was a fun way to hang out with people and bond over watching something together.
A few months later, Love Thy Nerd started streaming on Twitch instead of YouTube. I pulled back out my Twitch account and jumped right in. Linking my Amazon Prime account to my Twitch gave me a free subscription that I could use to support any Twitch streamer, and I gave that subscription to Love Thy Nerd soon after I joined their Twitch community. In the months since then, I have spent a lot of time engaging with people in the chat boxes of other Twitch streamers, and I wanted to support other people who found themselves on Twitch for the first time. By being actively friendly and welcoming, I helped communities grow and thrive.
So what? Why should you care? Due to the unique circumstances of the pandemic pushing so many things virtual, Twitch fills a more important niche than ever. Through Twitch, people can do things together while separated by physical distance. A youth group can play trivia games with one person broadcasting the questions and the rest giving their answers in chat; a nerd convention (like LTN Con 2020) can showcase keynote speakers in front of a large audience. Unlike a Zoom call, Twitch allows anyone to join the conversation from anywhere simply by typing on their phone, tablet, or computer.
Want to try out this Twitch thing for yourself? If you need streamers to watch, or just want to hang out with some lovely folks, Love Thy Nerd and LTN Radio both stream on Twitch during the week. (If you want to watch me die a lot in a game, tune in to LTN Radio on Tuesday evenings for Among Us.) If you want to stream and need help getting started, reach out in the LTN Discord or the LTN Facebook Community. Lots of people there stream regularly and would be happy to lend a hand!