Given the right circumstances, there’s nothing funnier than watching a good friend get crushed on the sporting field. That right circumstance today is on the e-sports field, and the crushing in question bruises nothing but the ego.
While the sheer scale of the world of online gaming gets all the press, and the numbers are staggering, what’s lost in the talk is that these games are connecting real people all over the world in a social activity.
Millions, perhaps soon even a billion people across the globe are drawn together by the chance to compete at every level, from noob to well-paid professional, or to just watch from afar on their favorite internet-connected device.
Those are numbers that rival the largest social media outlets on the planet, and it is only a matter of time before e-sports and online gaming begins to build a social network that can rival Facebook and Twitter.
E-Sports Are More Popular than the World Series
Twitch is the largest common venue for the everyday gamer and his or her audience. Its 45 million unique monthly users stream more than 300 million hours of content across 27 countries. Its broadcasts of major e-sports events, such as the regular League of Legends championships, attract more viewers than the World Series or the NBA Finals.
Now, in its sixth year of broadcasting, the Amazon subsidiary is starting to realize the power it has at its disposal with so many people gathering in its online hangouts.
Beginning this spring, Twitch will start selling video games direct from its streaming sites, operating on a consignment basis that will see it take a 5% cut from every sale game developers net through its many gaming channels.
More fittingly, given the sheer numbers of people who log on each month, Twitch has announced it is taking its first formal steps toward acknowledging there’s more going on within its digital walls than just games.
Twitch and Social Networking
In the middle of 2016, Twitch launched a Beta version of its own chat app, “Friends”, which allowed users to connect with and follow other users through their online gaming exploits.
Just prior to Christmas the company took the social angle even further by introducing video calling and screen sharing to its arsenal of methods to keep users hanging around longer. Initially restricted to desktop use, with a promise of mobile to come, the service lets up to five people see and hear each other in real-time as they play online.
What Twitch’s foray into video calling offers, however, is unique built-in content that those other services can’t match. While platforms like Twitter pay millions to stream live video content such as NFL games, Twitch is sitting on content more popular than the exploits of Steph Curry and LeBron James. That fact could give Twitch the launch pad to create a new kind of online social hangout.
Come for the E-sports, Stay for the Social Network
Twitch began its private messaging service by handing out invites to select gamers only, and then allowing those select gamers to invite others. When those friends of friends start inviting their own friends, the social aspect of e-sports inevitably becomes more prominent.
If the same pattern is allowed to flourish with the video calling function, Twitch could soon become a social hangout to rival the emerging HouseParty app, which focuses on intimate gatherings and a relaxed social atmosphere of ‘live chilling’, rather than the one-to-many broadcast structure of Facebook or Twitter.
Those same friends of friends of friends who get pulled through the door by their peers’ love of video games will find there’s plenty more to do once inside. The fourth and fifth generation of invitees may not be gamers at all, and may treat the site the way a coterie of Super Bowl party attendees has for decades–as an excuse to get together and socialize.
The service already performs well in comparison with more obviously social apps such as Spotify, iTunes, and Netflix, and has begun diversifying its streaming content to include cooking, computer science, and art.
In an age where live streamed video is becoming more and more valuable, Twitch–and its video calling chat rooms streaming the hottest live media around–could become the seminal visual-first large-scale social media network.
Though video calling may be available all over the social media landscape, adding it to Twitch’s already bountiful community of gamers–and throwing video chat into the mix–sets the platform up as a very real threat to the major social networks.