How would you react if 90,000 people were watching over your shoulder while you edited a spreadsheet at work? Could you handle the pressure of a crowd large enough to fill an NFL stadium watching your every move while you took a patient’s blood pressure during the night shift?
For many of the 2.2 million people who stream on Twitch.tv, this is their reality: massive digital crowds tuning in to watch them “work.” Most play video games, while others perform music, cook, host a talk show, and much more.
If you’re already asking yourself, “But why would I want to watch someone else play a video game?” don’t worry, that’s a valid question. But what started as a novelty trend has evolved into a full-blown dream job for many. With more than three billion hours of content watched in just the first quarter of 2020, it’s important to know which platform is at the forefront of the streaming world: Twitch.
The Origins of Twitch.tv
Twitch.tv was originally justin.tv, a startup founded in 2005 by Justin Kan, a Yale student who wanted to pioneer the practice of “lifecasting” — streaming around the clock in a “reality show” style for viewers to watch. Kan and Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear created the site at a time when the price of webcams and broadband were becoming more affordable.
While the response to the reality show concept following Kan’s life was mixed, the number of requests by people wanting to use the site for their own video game streams was rapidly increasing. Khan and Shear saw the potential for viewers to interact with high-level players, so they shifted their focus to gaming.
When Twitch.tv was officially launched in 2011, the site had around 3.2 million unique visitors per month. By 2012, the number grew to 20 million, and both Amazon and Google were clamoring to scoop up the platform under their umbrella. Amazon ended up the victor, purchasing the company for a whopping $970 million. Fast forward to today, where Twitch is valued at more than $3 billion, Twitch has greater concurrent viewership numbers than MSNBC and CNN, and it is the 13th most popular website in the United States.
Twitch has become the go-to site for streaming online video, but calling it simply a “streaming platform” hardly does the site justice. The platform is filled with sub-communities, has its own unique (and often bizarre) lingo, spawns huge worldwide conventions, and very easily can launch a no-name streamer’s career into the world of competitive gaming or the entertainment industry. With such a huge focus on live interaction, it’s no surprise that it’s by far the most “alive” social media platform in the world.
How to Twitch? Be a Twitcher? Am I Twitching?
The entire concept around Twitch can seem downright outlandish. At face value, it’s watching someone else do something entertaining in front of a camera for hours on end. Oh, and also add in the potential of thousands of people watching, multiple conversations happening concurrently, and large sums of money changing hands, all during the live stream.
Still confused? Don’t worry, we are too, especially when considering that when Tyler “Ninja” Blevins (arguably the most famous video game player in the world) was streaming on the site (he’s since left for another platform), he was making upwards of $100,000 per MONTH from Twitch alone, an absurd amount for the site.
Let’s break down the general concept of a Twitch stream: All across Twitch are different channels. They are the home of each individual streamer. On their channel, the streamers will “go live” at various times during the day or night and begin broadcasting their content. Die-hard fans will have notifications turned on for their phone or email, so they know when their favorite content creator flips on their stream.
In an attempt to not overwhelm you by the sheer complexity and breadth of Twitch, let’s focus on a particular streamer so as to better explain the streaming process: BeardedBlevins, aka Jonathan Blevins, Director of Evangelization and Formation at St. James Parish in Illinois. In his free time, Jon streams everything from Fortnite gameplay to a Bible study on his channel. Using software, he’s able to overlay a camera feed of his face on top of what he’s playing, so viewers can both watch him and his gameplay. During the stream, he regularly monitors his chat feed, where anyone watching can type a message, and interacts with his viewers.
Jon streams anywhere from 15 minutes while his kids take a nap to nearly four hours when he’s on a roll, contributing to the 121.4 million hours of video that were streamed on Twitch in the first quarter of 2020.
Bring on the Money
Watching anyone stream on Twitch, including Jon, is inherently free, but there are a few ways you could still end up with a charge from Twitch.tv on your bank statement. Viewers have the ability to “subscribe” to their favorite channels, which is an Amazon Prime-like subscription that’s usually $5 per month. Viewers can also send streamers monetary tips by donating either cash or “bits,” which are the unique currency on Twitch (100 bits cost $1.40). These donations are usually made as a general support of their stream, or just in an attempt to get a streamer to notice them, as most donations allow you to include a message and can trigger on-screen alerts or effects highlighting the transaction. This can lead to a dangerous game, though, of viewers throwing large sums of money at a streamer in an attempt to win their attention.
(Pro-tip for a parent of a Twitch user: Having an Amazon Prime account actually grants you one free subscription a month through your Prime account, so if you have a Prime subscription and want your child to be able to support their favorite streamer but not cost you anything extra, you can link your Amazon account to Twitch to get a subscription!)
For the overwhelming majority of people streaming on Twitch, their channel is mostly a hobby, creative expression, or side hustle; only an extremely tiny sliver of streamers “make it big” to the point where they can expect steady income as a streamer, though it’s undoubtedly the dream of thousands of young children around the world.
Whether your child is a Twitch viewer or streamer, it’s important to have a healthy understanding of money in terms of its role and capabilities on the site, as it can very quickly, and easily, change hands.
The Dangers of Twitch
It’s no surprise that a site built around your child being digitally transported into the life of their favorite streamer can come with a few dangers. Some of these are related to the site itself, while others are attributed to the effects of getting too deep into Twitch, but the main focuses are Twitch vocabulary, communication, and content.
- Twitch Vocabulary. The unique jargon and lingo on the site is an entirely different language. Every channel’s chat has emojis that represent a variety of slogans or phrases, and if you’ve ever heard your teens use terms such as “Kappa,” “Jebaited,” “Monka-S,” or “PogChamp,” it’s likely they’re fluent in Twitch-speak. Don’t feel like you need to memorize the entire catalog of Twitch emotes and their meanings, but don’t get discouraged when it sounds like your teen is speaking another language.
- Communication on Twitch. As previously stated, every channel has a chat function, where nearly anyone can chime in. Furthermore, there is a “whisper” feature, where users can send direct messages to each other. There are settings that can be enabled to block “whispers” from strangers, but the setting is off by default. The website Net-Aware rates the risk of violence and hatred being viewed on the site as “high” and it’s almost undoubtedly due to Twitch chat, which can often be referred to as “toxic” and is often filled with derogatory messages towards the streamer. The good news is there is the ability to hide the chat on screen, so it’s not visible at all. This is recommended for most streams.
(Important Note: Twitch says you must be at least 13 to create an account, but to do so requires no actual verification that you are 13, or even that you are who you say you are.)
- Content on Twitch. The terms of service on the site prevent anything pornographic, violent, or otherwise inappropriate, but there’s plenty of loopholes to work with and plenty of vulgar language galore.
Of the top 20 content categories that are being streamed at the time of this writing, 18 of them are video games. The other two are “Just Chatting,” (e.g., a streamer taking questions, hosting a podcast, or some other sort of conversational content) and “Music and Performing Arts.” If “Just Chatting” sounds a little vague, that’s because it is — with some potentially inappropriate consequences.
One of the more popular activities on “Just Chatting” is body painting, where streamers will start their stream nearly naked (with certain body parts covered or pre-painted) and spend their time attempting to paint on an “outfit.” Twitch guidelines allow for activities such as body painting in streams that are “focused on actively creating content.” But, with many body painters receiving unexpected bans from body painting despite attempting to follow the guidelines, it’s clear that this is an art-form that your children probably shouldn’t watch (and just shouldn’t be streamed live on the internet in general).
- Explicit Language on Twitch. Along with questionable content, the loudest complaint among parents regarding Twitch is the language used by the streamers. If you tune into any of the top video game streamers in the heat of a tough battle, you’d be hard pressed to find one not cursing like a sailor. Streamers are also not exempt from hate speech: A 15-year-old professional Fortnite player was suspended from his gaming organization after a video surfaced of him using a racial slur while playing with friends that he didn’t know were actively streaming. More recently, Kyle Larson, a professional NASCAR driver, was kicked out of the driver’s seat after using a racial slur during a race simulator stream. He was dropped from his racing organization the next day.
The most important factor regarding the use of Twitch is the constant reminder that what you say and do online can have very real and tangible consequences. We are constantly reminded in the news that many middle and high school teens still don’t understand this concept. At the end of the day, if your child wants to stream creative content, participate in a Twitch chat on their favorite streamer’s channel, or do anything on this mega-platform, it needs to be done in a moderated capacity. Statistics also show that the average viewer on Twitch tunes in for an average of 95 minutes per day. Becoming too invested in a channel or streamer can also be harmful, in the same way that stan culture can impact your teen.
Twitch is daunting. Live streaming is a trendy idea that has become a way of life, and, in today’s society, there is a desire for everything to be broadcasted. It’s like if your favorite actress or athlete decided to sit down in front of a camera and start candidly acting out a scene or shooting some free throws for you to watch — who wouldn’t tune in to that?
That isn’t to say that there aren’t bright spots amid the crowded airwaves. There are a good number of streams that focus on positive content, that can be uplifting, educational, and inspiring. Jonathan Blevins regularly hosts prominent Catholic speakers, musicians, and even priests to game alongside him and answer questions about faith that his viewers might have.
On streaming to Twitch, Jon said, “We are called to bring light to the darkness. The internet can often be a dark place and Twitch is no exception if you watch the wrong streams. However, it is an incredible tool to reach people and bring them to Jesus. The Gospel belongs on Twitch and I am humbled to be a small part of sharing that.”
The world of Twitch is a stream more akin to a white-water rapid than a peaceful river current. If you’re going to dive into the candor and chaos, be prepared!