The popularity of esports have skyrocketed in recent years and it is largely down to vast improvements in the technology that underpins gaming. Competitive gaming could only begin in earnest when high-speed broadband was rolled out across the globe and the rise of social media has turned leading players into superstars. Yet the most important development for esports was the advent of streaming platforms, a field dominated by Twitch and YouTube. We now live in a world where fans pack into stadiums to watch CS:GO, Dota 2 and LoL tournaments unfold, but streaming has helped esports reach a global audience of more than 300 million people and that has turned it into a juggernaut.
Esports without YouTube and Twitch would be like gin without tonic or Tom without Jerry. Some people enjoy drinking neat gin, but it would have niche appeal without the ubiquitous mixer. A few people might watch Tom going about his daily business, but the masses want to see a psychotic mouse terrorising him with all manner of sharp household objects. Esports owes a great deal of its appeal to Twitch and YouTube, but those platforms have done extremely well on the back of competitive gaming too, so it is very much a mutually beneficial relationship.
Twitch was only launched in 2011 but it coincided perfectly with esports’ rise to prominence. It quickly became the world’s leading live streaming platform for gamers allowing millions of fans from across the globe to interact and share in a mutual passion for gaming. Professional sports stars are the cream of the crop in this respect and their exploits have formed some of the most popular streams. Yet there are also plenty of streamers, like Ninja, that have thrived through sheer force of personality as much as any actual gaming ability.
Its success inspired the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, to snap it up in a $970 million deal back in 2014. That is now looking like an inspired piece of business from Jeff Bezos’ firm, as Twitch is currently valued at around $4 billion and that figure is constantly climbing. Users racked up more than 10 billion viewing hours over the past 12 months and that is up by more than a third on a year-on-year basis. Gamers love watching fellow enthusiasts in action, and Twitch’s popularity is understandable, but the rise of competitive, organized gaming tournaments has clearly helped it grow.
For example, more than 200 million people streamed the 2018 League of Legends World Championship final, as Chinese team Fnatic beat Invictus to seize glory. Betting on esports tournaments is now a huge, multibillion industry in its own right – if you check out the esports odds then you will see just how many markets are offered on a huge range of games, from CS:GO to Tekken – and these bettors enjoy watching the action unfold live from the comfort of their own homes. This has all helped fuel the growth of esports and of Twitch.
However, it has certainly not had everything its own way. YouTube was clearly an established site well before competitive gaming took off, but it has done a good job. of muscling in and carving out a strong share of the market for itself. It is interesting to note that they are owned by two of the world’s biggest tech giants in Amazon and Google. Yet Amazon is principally a retailer, this is more of Google’s field of expertise, so it is easy to see why YouTube is catching up on Twitch.
Gaming is actually the one area of online video in which YouTube is not the market leader, but YouTube Gaming is rapidly catching up on the more established Twitch. Many people prefer Twitch as it is a specialist gaming platform that takes the industry very seriously, but others argue that YouTube’s algorithm is more effective and the site is easier to use. The potential audience reach is also a lot larger on YouTube, although it is not necessarily populated by dedicated gaming aficionados.
Yet they both remain strong platforms for streaming live gaming and the esports sector has massively benefited from the arms race between the pair of them. YouTube and Twitch now compete for streaming rights at big tournaments, and this allows organizers like FACEIT to command higher prices for the content they create. This filters down to franchises and players, making the overall pursuit of esports a lot more lucrative. Wagering rises, more sponsorship deals are tied up and it becomes a cycle of boom thanks to the competition between YouTube and Twitch.
Esports surely would not be the global phenomenon that it is without these platforms. However, they are driven by viewer demand, and if they did not exist something else would have sprung up instead. In fact, several rivals to Twitch and YouTube are emerging – Mixer is just one example of a new breed of streaming sites that bring gamers together – and that all points to a very healthy future for the esports scene.