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From spin-off to 1 million streamers: How Twitch became a live streaming giant

The video game broadcasting company

TwitchTV originally launched with a very PC-centric lineup, including League of Legends, Dota 2, StarCraft and other big eSports types. It was a natural progression then for the online videogame broadcasting company to go after exclusive eSports streaming rights.

TwitchTV signed partnerships with the Electronic Sports League, Major League Gaming, and various teams on October 31, 2011. Over the years, Twitch signed more contracts with companies, including CBS Interactive and Xfire. These partnerships would eventually allow the company to set new records during eSports events with viewership in the many millions.

"The League of Legends championship series not that long ago sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and that's just on site," DiPietro said. "It generated many millions of unique viewers on that content which has an audience size that legitimately eclipses broadcast and cable size television audiences."

Twitch broke its own record again during the International Dota tournament held last August, which boasted over five million viewers in just one day. By September 30, 2013, Twitch reported that it reached a milestone of 45 million unique visitors per month.

"Those two are standout examples but the broader point is that eSports have expanded so far beyond the large marquee events," DiPietro said of the record-setting events.

"What we're seeing is where there used to be very large spikes in traffic based on a couple of huge events," he continued. "Now we're seeing that become just a 24/7, 365 day schedule of many, many different seasons of competitive gaming content that goes on all the time."

Beyond eSports, DiPietro explained that "out of those million broadcasters, the vast majority - 99-plus% - are sort of casual individual and independent gamers that are just doing this as a way to share their gameplay."

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Twitch has allowed the gaming community to take on a life of its own

In the same way some might use Facebook, Twitter or Reddit, Twitch has become a form of social media network for sharing the hobby of gaming.

It's also turned into a home for live streaming experiments. Just a few weeks ago, an anonymous Australian programmer streamed live footage of Pokemon Red in an emulator that was slowly played by thousands of spectators. It was a spectacle of technology and community involvement that drew in over 10 million viewers.

"Whereas it used to be very shaky in terms of audiences, it just this rapidly growing plateau all the time," DiPietro said with a bit of glee. "It is really exciting for us because its just goes to show the way broadcasting live gameplay online has become ubiquitous."

New platforms

At E3 2012, TwitchTV was rebranded as Twitch. At the same gaming expo, it announced Paradox Interactive's The Showdown Effect would be the first game to feature its broadcasting SDK. It would be the first in a long series of games - and later consoles - enabling gamers to start streaming their gameplay sessions by clicking on the option in-game.

Soon after a live streaming tool was also built inside PlanetSide 2, and more notably, Call of Duty: Black Ops II for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the title.

The next bump of broadcasters would come from next-gen consoles. Microsoft debuted the Xbox One at E3 2013 complete with a Twitch demonstration of Killer Instinct. Although Twitch promised broadcasting and viewing would be integrated on the console level, it's a feature users are still waiting on.

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The PS4 helped Twitch build a streaming empire

As for the PS4, Twitch functionality debuted at Gamescom in August 2013. Sony kept its promise and streaming was available from launch albeit with a required patch download and a crackdown following a few Playroom-related abuses. Within a month of the PS4's launch, Twitch counted more than 100,000 new broadcasters thanks to Sony's popular new console.

"PS4 launched with one button broadcasting functionality, now [it] represents 20% of our broadcasters every month," DiPietro said. "It's really exciting to see broadcasting become a central piece of the broad gamer experience outside of the really hardcore gamers that were the genesis of Twitch."

Xbox One Twitch integration is coming on March 11 with some newly implemented console-side community interaction and new achievements. It seems the video game broadcasting company has nowhere to go but up from here.

Twitch, once just an offshoot of the young Justin.tv, is now the umbrella name for the entire company. On February 10, the live streaming site announced its two sites would now be under the Twitch Interactive moniker with Justin.tv carrying on as a "mature product."

"Early on we were very ambitious, we knew we had something people wanted to use and we knew there was a business model there [with] an audience and user base," DiPietro recalled. "I think that the success we've seen over the few years has really floored even the most ambitious of folks that created the concept of Twitch originally.

"We're now built into the PS4 and Xbox One ... and we have these kind of viewers and over a million broadcasters is just amazing. [It's] something that just suprises all of us."

  • You can Twitch live stream on both the Xbox One and PS4, but which is the better console? Find out in our reviews!