Millenials are forward thinking, social media pioneers who are single-handedly revolutionizing the way we communicate, conduct business and maintain and forge relationships. Furthermore, millennials are neither passive nor dependent on social media. Rather, they are active participants in their evolution who adapt, invent and innovate in ways few outside their age group can comprehend because they often hire them to do that for them.
One of the hottest and fastest growing social media trends millennials are helping shape today is Twitch.tv, a 24/7 live streaming platform that caters to the gaming community.
Started in June 2011, Amazon-owned Twitch claims 1.5 million streamers and 100 million visitors per month (as of 2015). And they are showing no signs of slowing down.
Although I’ve known about Twitch since its inception, I never took it seriously until recently when I decided to do some research on this growing phenomenon. What I discovered, in short, was that Twitch is more than just a platform and community focused on and for gamers. Based on my observations, Twitch represents nothing less than the future of social media with the potential to ensnare us all.
While perusing a variety of user generated channels on Twitch, I discovered a dynamic community where users and viewers engage in any number of free wheeling conversations, broaching topics and discussion points that range from the mundane and silly to those earnest and profound. And perhaps most surprising of all, the interactions that took place between users and viewers in many channels often had nothing to do with video games. Discussions covered everything from humor and silly puerile concerns to ones that sought answers to questions about real-life matters with streamers offering insightful commentary and observations.
To delve more deeply into this experience, I reached out to a particular Twitch streamer who I believe exemplifies the true potential of Twitch as something extending well beyond the purview of just gaming. MrSamKim’s channel offers a spontaneous and engaging mix of comedy and therapy. Put simply, MrSamKim creates a forum where people of all ages and backgrounds can find a place to socialize, seek advice and share in some laughs.
Interview and insights about Twitch.tv
MrSamKim first learned about Twitch “while hanging at a friend’s house. At the time he had been streaming for a little over six months with a handful of people in his stream. Some days there were more than others but what immediately caught my attention was how this was something I had never seen; a person playing video games while interacting with the viewers that are in the stream.” This speaks to how commonplace this service is becoming among millenials. Twitch is increasingly becoming just another part of their digital lives. Twitch is also an international phenomenon, bringing people together from all over the world. “My friend knew people from all over the world and to be able to come to one place, every week to hang out, in my head was not only enticing but fascinating.”
In the beginning, Twitch required a fairly decent PC to fully enjoy the streaming experience, limiting Twitch’s reach to a narrower demographic of PC gamers. According to MrSamKim, this is no longer the case. “What I have noticed is that more people now are trying to stream full-time than ever before. A big part of this has to do with the current consoles. Both PS4 and Xbox One have a Twitch app built-in, so the ability to stream is a lot easier now today than it has been in the past where you would need a decent PC, a capture card (if you wanted to stream anything on a console), and basic knowledge of OBS/Xsplit.” Mobile phone apps Periscope.tv and Meerkat also offer live streaming services, proving that social media is quickly adopting this form of on-the-go, anytime, anywhere communication available to just about anyone with a smartphone.
Although Twitch is built around streaming live game-play, more and more streamers are incorporating other formats and modes of interaction beyond just gaming. “There are a lot of streamers out there, me included, who are not known for game-play, but rather known for providing entertainment. A great example of this is SourKoolAidShow whose stream is all about entertainment. He plays games, but he also incorporates comedy into his broadcast by performing stand-up or challenges such as: if I die to this boss, I have to slap myself with a handful of spray cheese.” Compare this to your traditional variety talk show host, who presents his or her comedy in a one-way, TV-to-audience format. In contrast, today’s streamers are able to interact with their audiences in ways Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon simply didn’t and do not. Twitch offers in-the-moment engagement with audiences from anywhere in the world, which is largely done through a side-bar messaging option where viewers can post comments directly to the streamer in real-time.
MrSamKim goes on to detail the two prevailing communities on Twitch as he sees it. “I would say that there are two main communities on Twitch: Communities based around competitive games (MOBAs such as League of Legends/DotA2 and shooters like CS:GO). Not all but a lot of these viewers could care less if you are entertaining. They care about the “plays”. They want to watch other competitive players who play the same games as they do and hopefully, get better at the game by studying the streamer they are watching. [There are also] communities based around building a virtual family for lack of a better word with no focus on a particular game. I like to think that my stream falls in this category. These communities are havens for people to hang out, chat, laugh together, and enjoy the company of each other and the streamer. A great example of this is “Cohhcarnage” who started as a hardcore gamer who was only focused on being great at games but later made the transition to focus his stream around building a family of like-minded people and gamers.”
I suspect that many people also share this same sentiment, and that most people are seeking alternative platforms where they can share meaningful virtual interactions beyond those offered by big social media giants like Facebook and Google. Arguably, this is also why SnapChat is so popular among high school age children. It’s an app that provides them the opportunity to exchange short bursts of their lives in the moment, even stringing them together in the form of a “story” they can later revisit and enjoy. From what I’ve seen, SnapChat (and of course, we can’t forget Instagram) sure beats that clumsy, static photo album of yesteryear that mostly just gathered dust in some tucked away bookshelf.
In the interview with MrSamKim, his choice of the phrase “virtual family” is important to take note because this is exactly the kind of experience millennials are intent on establishing and improving upon. Among their goals is the desire to create a virtual environment that not only comes as close to mimicking the real world experience of social interaction, but also enhancing this experience in a setting that’s authentic, instantaneous and limitless in its topical scope.
Twitch is also a place where discussions of extraordinary depth and variety take place, and where users share and express their deepest joys, troubles and concerns. “I was streaming “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” about three weeks ago and one of my viewers gave me what I thought was going to be a single donation. He ended up starting a donation train and by the end of the night, I made over $500 from the generosity of my viewers. I ended up breaking down and crying on stream (not something I thought would ever happen). I told them how sorry I was for not playing the game and instead crying on camera, talking like a mumbling fool. What I got in return was something that I will forever be grateful for: they all showed love to me by telling me that “you’re my favorite streamer”, “you helped me get through my breakup with my ex-girlfriend”, and “thank you for giving me the confidence to start streaming” to name a few of the things said that night. I was shocked. Speechless. In a million years I never expected to have impacted anyone’s life that much to the point where my stream helped him/her through a rough patch in his/her life. That night solidified my mission to create my own Twitch family; a group of people who I care about just as much as I do for my own friends and family and would do anything for.“
MrSamKim’s experience hints at the direction social media is headed, one that seeks to enhance social interaction in ways that strengthens and enhances the bonds of human interaction. Although digital purists lament these trends, I remain optimistic in saying our fears about the loss of direct socialization is bunk. At their best, social media services like Twitch, SnapChat and YouTube (just to list a few) ask us to participate in a dynamic interactive experience in which we are creators, innovators, viewers and participants all at once. Social media is what we make it, and streamers/millennials like MrSamKim are showing us the way.
“Streaming started off as just a hobby, something that sparked my interest but it has become a full-time obsession. I love Twitch. I almost quit streaming altogether but I’m glad I didn’t because I’ve met some of my closest friends through Twitch and to know that I can provide that escape from reality for my viewers is a mission accomplished in my book. If I can make people that I’ve never even met before in real life laugh, it is one the greatest joys to me as a person that money can’t buy.”