Twitch, streamers, and profits: discovering the world of eSports

By Heather Prizmich

Hands over his face, he can barely look at the game playing out in front of his eyes. It is now in double overtime. Everything is too intense, so he rests his head on his desk and listens to the crowd’s reaction. He turns up the volume to the point it shakes the painting of the Millennium Falcon hanging behind him. The final shot is taken, and it’s a tournament winner. The Boston crowd goes crazy and so does Brendon McGay.

This wasn’t a Celtics or Bruins game. This was a major tournament for a video game called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The winner was an all-American team called Cloud9, which you’ve probably never heard of unless you partake in the 21st century pastime of eSports.

Millions of people worldwide were watching this international tournament, but they weren’t tuned in to ESPN or any other network. They were all sitting in front of computers watching a live stream on the website Twitch.

Twitch is a live-streaming video platform owned by a subsidiary of Amazon, and it has been active for seven years. The site primarily focuses on video game live streaming, including broadcasts of eSports competitions, in addition to creative content such as “IRL” (in real life) streams, which are like reality TV, but live and unedited.

Like many YouTubers who make a living by creating videos that are monetized, the same goes for gamers on Twitch. On Twitch, you can subscribe to a person’s channel for $4 a month or watch an ad or two during the live stream. McGay, a software engineer, live streams on Twitch almost nightly and makes enough to pay off a few smaller bills every month. It’s not enough to live on, but he said that is his dream.

“Make no mistake, I love my job and I love coding, but if I could play video games for a living I would. It’s like asking avid sports watchers if they’d like to play baseball or basketball for a living instead of their mundane nine-to-five jobs,” McGay said.

McGay is in the process of starting his own podcast on gaming in the hopes that it gains him subscribers who will watch his podcast and then explore his other content.

Twitch vs. YouTube

The only dilemma for him is deciding on which site to do the podcasts: YouTube or Twitch. Both sites pay between 10 to 30 cents per ad, but YouTube has more traffic on its page, which can increase the likelihood of people watching a video. As for Twitch, it’s where the gamer base is. Fewer people are on Twitch, but they are the people who would most likely want to watch a gaming podcast.

Other gaming companies like Rooster Teeth publish most of their content on YouTube, where there is a larger viewership, but individual employees of Rooster Teeth who have a large following stream on Twitch.

The UNC-Chapel Hill eSports club streams games and competitions on Twitch. Club member Eugene Zhang said the club loves Twitch because its format is gamer-friendly and members don’t all need to be in the same room to stream a game together.

Zhang said, “We find Twitch to be great for our club because it is great at promoting our club, because we’ll have viewers who are still in high school watch us and will want to join the club if they come to UNC. We have even seen support from people across campus who aren’t members of the club, but are gamers who watch our live streams, which makes us feel good as a group.”

The UNC-CH eSports club does have a YouTube channel where they post some videos highlighting events they have held, but the view counts are low on those videos compared to the numbers of viewers they get on Twitch.

The North Carolina State eSports club has a similar attitude when it comes to which site it prefers to use. Club member Cara Garrison said Twitch is superior to YouTube when it comes to gaming.

“I love Twitch. It’s been the better option for me when I want to watch live streams and for our club when we want to live stream,” Garrison said. “We also get to watch the live streams of teams we compete against in tournaments, which is great when preparing for competitions.”

The risk of demonetization

Another deciding factor between Twitch and YouTube is the inconsistency of their rules for videos and streams. Videos can easily lose out on ad money if the content is flagged by YouTube’s software, but the rules about which content is or isn’t advertiser-friendly is not always the same for every video. People have been especially critical of YouTube for this issue.

McGay is concerned that his videos may get flagged on YouTube, because he and his friends will more than likely use profanity on his podcast. He said that’s how they talk in everyday life, and he wouldn’t want his podcast episodes missing out on ad money because he and his friends were acting like themselves.

“I don’t want to host a PG podcast that is censored like if I were on television and needed to make everything FCC friendly. My friends and I curse like most 20-something-year-old guys,” McGay said. “The people watching my podcast will most likely be people who speak the same way my friends and I do, so this should be a non-issue.”

According to Newzoo, a market intelligence company that specializes in the eSports industry, the expected revenue of eSports by 2020 is expected to be $1.5 billion.

Leaning back in a chair with a vape pen in his hand, McGay said, “I’m excited to see the gaming industry boom. I really like those numbers, and I want a piece of that pie.”

Edited by Lily Stephens