These are unprecedented times. It’s fun to joke about the apocalypse — gallows humor being the incredible coping mechanism that it is — but it’s way less fun when that particular societal realignment is happening outside your door. Not that you should really be going outside much. We are in the early days of something so big that it’s really impossible to conceptualize how it’s going to change the world. Even so, there are some things we can measure now, like Twitch.
According to the streaming software company StreamElements — which conducts regular surveys of the streaming landscape with its analytics partner Arsenal.gg — viewership on Twitch is up. By a lot. Over the last week, it’s increased by a full 10 percent. As StreamElements CEO Doron Nir wrote in an email, that reflects “the popularity of the livestreaming medium now that people are consuming higher volumes of entertainment at home.” Translation: because we all have to stay inside now to flatten the coronavirus’s infection curve, everyone is watching streams. Nir writes that he expects those numbers to increase with the number of stay-at-home mandates issued by governments around the world.
You can see the effect locally, too. StreamElements found that in Italy, live-stream viewership (in terms of minutes watched) grew more than 66 percent since the first week of February and when the quarantine there began. Nir again: “In addition to individual channels growing in size, we have … seen the amount of channels being watched almost double.” Apparently, Nir says, according to reports from Telecom Italia, there has been an increase of more than 70 percent of internet traffic over their landline network — traffic they attribute to gaming.
While other platforms have also seen growth — YouTube Gaming viewership was up by a full 15 percent over the last week, for example — this moment has been particularly good for Twitch. It’s the marquee name in live-streaming, and now that people are stuck inside and thinking about what to do with all the time they’re not spending with other people, it’s become the place people go. I’ve personally seen an increase in viewership on my own channel; I’ve also gotten a ton of inquiries from friends who are interested in starting to stream and aren’t quite sure about how to configure OBS, the open-source software that’s behind a lot of your favorite streams. (Friends who are interested in joining Twitch: try Twitch Studio.)
What’s really cool about all this is the flourishing creativity I’ve seen in the new streams that are happening on Twitch right now. A New York Times columnist I know has started doing cooking streams with her husband; a programmer I’m pals with has started hosting daily yoga classes; my friends at the podcast Reply All have joined, too, and they’ve started streaming live call-in shows. And these are just the people I know — there are undoubtedly thousands more streams like them happening right now. It’s the best time on Twitch that I can remember.
I think that this is live-streaming’s moment. The tools are easier to access than ever, and the bar for entry is much, much lower. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a technical and fiddly pursuit. But streaming is fun because it captures some of the chaos of everyday life and packages it accessibly. All you really need to do is try.