On July 17th, 1999, the UK’s Channel 4 debuted Late Night Poker with an under the table camera that showed a player’s face down cards during the game (No Limit Texas Hold’Em for you aficionados). While this may not seem like a radical innovation, it fundamentally transformed poker from a purely participatory game into a spectator sport. For the first time, audiences could actually watch the whole game rather than just the betting. Commentary and statistics engines quickly followed, giving spectators more information about the game state, and popularity soared. When Chris Moneymaker won the first nationally televised season of the World Series of Poker in the U.S. after qualifying via a $39 online tournament, it exploded.
The “hole cam” first used on that night in July became what is perhaps the most transformational gaming innovation of the last 15 years. The subsequent exponential growth of online poker laid the groundwork for social games, where initial models quickly evolved
and migrated to mobile
. This combination of technology, distribution, and latent audience that brought Texas Hold’Em to the masses has remained key to contemporary innovation in gaming from the integration with social platforms to the adoption of app stores. We believe history is repeating itself, and that Twitch
has the capacity to transform all games.
Despite launching just over a year ago, 20 million gamers gather on Twitch every month to broadcast, watch, and chat about the games they play. Twitch’s live and on-demand video platform has formed the backbone of a revolution in gaming culture by turning gameplay into an immersive social video experience.
While most PC and console games are not created with the social concepts of sharing and following in mind, many have taken a first step by offering “spectator” or “theater” modes so that non-participants can view all aspects of the game from a free floating camera. These special viewing modes have acted as contemporary hole cams, transforming video games into spectator sports that can easily be viewed through Twitch and shared socially. Twitch’s streaming video infrastructure, which has been under development for the last 5 years at Justin.tv, combined with nearly ubiquitous broadband have acted as catalysts for the creation and distribution of these broadcasts.
Even though the idea that it’s entertaining to watch people play video games is not necessarily an intuitive one, consider for a moment that the 30 million people in Call of Duty’s community outnumber U.S. residents who played football, basketball, baseball, tennis, or golf in the past year. The fact that a single hardcore gaming franchise directly engages more participants than the most popular and commercialized US sports excites us at Bessemer, and Twitch’s breakout year is further evidence that latent demand exists for viewing live game content (just as real demand exists for viewing live sports).
By allowing anyone to share their gaming experiences live and online, Twitch has enabled thousands of individuals to develop large followings and generate subscription, pay-per-view, and even brand advertising income from their broadcasts. While Twitch shares in this revenue for providing the platform, much of it goes directly to broadcasters as incremental income. After all, the primary reason for purchasing and playing a game is to have fun, and Twitch allows gamers to recoup a portion of that purchase – and in some cases earn orders of magnitude more – by simply sharing their gameplay online. So while many Twitch users primarily enjoy the sharing elements that have led to the growth of social platforms
more broadly, for some this income represents the opportunity to become a professional gamer.
Professional gaming, known as eSports, is a gaining ground in the US and has already become mainstream in other countries. In fact, professional leagues and game publishers are already offering millions of dollars in prizes
for top tournament performances and Twitch has begun sponsoring a scholarship
for outstanding student gamers. As the leading distribution partner for the majority of eSports content, Twitch is now seeing television-like audiences for major tournaments. This should come as no surprise when you consider that StarCraft II is a staple of South Korean cable television.
More than simply supporting the growth of eSports, Twitch is transforming all games into true social media experiences. We are thrilled to be their partners and to support Twitch as they deliver even greater value to broadcasters, viewers, and game publishers in the years to come.