What is Twitch and how does it work?

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The pandemic was a major catalyst for the explosion of gaming and live streaming into the mainstream culture. Stuck inside their homes, people developed these new hobbies and flocked towards websites like Twitch to watch others play games or do it themselves. Early last year, the Amazon-owned company skyrocketed by 82 percent, clocking in at 1.8 billion in terms of hours watched. Its popularity has only continued growing, with major sports companies and politicians using the platform as a way to broadcast their content or ideas.

What is Twitch?

Twitch is essentially a streaming platform, where people can broadcast themselves live playing video games, cooking, or do pretty much anything that can be filmed via a camera. The concept behind Twitch came from Justin Kan and Emmett Shear, who in 2007 launched a website called Justin.tv, allowing people to stream themselves and chat with a live audience. Thanks to a large gaming based crowd, it was then renamed Twitch Interactive in 2014, with Amazon acquiring the company for $970 million.

Despite being centred around games, over the years, Twitch has evolved into other categories, where you can see people vlogging live, cooking, creating art, gambling, making music, singing, and much more, making the platform one of the most popular forms of online entertainment. The ‘Just Chatting’ section especially, is the one that gains the most traffic, even though, in most cases, it’s just the streamer casually sitting and talking to their viewers.

The ‘Just Chatting’ category usually has the highest amount of viewers. (Image credit: Twitch)

Esports organisations also use the platform to host tournaments, while others conduct live interviews with sports players (NBA), or even do sponsorship deals with specific streamers to boost their user base. For example, the mobile payment service, Cash App partnered with some streamers last year to give away thousands of dollars to random viewers in chat.

Twitch Subscriptions

If you happen to enjoy a streamer’s content, you can support them by donating some money, subscribing to their channel for a small monthly fee, or by donating bits, which is an in-platform currency. Earlier, these subscriptions were priced at $5 (about Rs 375), but mid last year, Twitch introduced regional pricing, taking the cost down. Subscribing to someone through the browser will now cost you Rs 110, while on a mobile device you will have to pay Rs 120.

Subscriptions also come with benefits such as ad-free viewing, a cool badge next to your name, and exclusive emotes that can be used all over the platform. You can also gift them to a specific viewer or dole them out randomly, in custom quantities to a community.

Additionally, they are available in three tiers, where the latter two grant more emotes and a standout badge, and are meant for those who feel like tipping a streamer more money. Streamers also earn the dough through sponsorships, esports tournaments, affiliate links, and advertisements – which a lot of top streamers avoid running.

Twitch subscription screen. (Image credit: Twitch)

Channel points

Watching a stream for long periods of time also benefits the viewer, as it accumulates channel points over time. These points can be used to claim rewards such as emote unlocks, play specific sounds, text-to-speech messages, send highlighted messages, or any kind of wager the streamer decides. Following someone grants 300 points, while visiting their channel every day gives you bonus points for ‘Watch Streak,’ ranging from +300 to +450 points, depending on how long you keep it going. More points you collect, the better rewards you can redeem.

The content is varied as well, with independent journalists like Hasan Piker using the platform to host and talk about the US presidential election and general politics. And if that’s not something you’re interested in, there are some casual options, such as Maya Higa, who runs a non-profit organisation named Alveus Sanctuary and educates her viewers about animal conservation.

For hardcore gamers, you have retired professional players like Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek and Brandon “aceu” Winn, who are known for their class gunplay and mastery in aiming. On the other hand, streamers like Felix “xQcOW” Lengyel and Eric “erobb221” Robbins have amassed a massive following for playing a variety of games, reacting to memes on their subreddit, and generally having a good time. People watch them mainly because they adore their personalities.

There is a range of artists as well, who not only do their commission works but also teach their audience different techniques to make drawing easy for them. Popular DC Comics artist and CEO, Jim Lee can often be seen drawing iconic characters and giving them away to random viewers, while Daphne “39daph” Wai makes it a goal to draw digital art every day for the first couple of hours before heading into gaming.

Twitch Prime / Prime Gaming

Formerly known as Twitch Prime, Prime Gaming is a premium feature that grants bonus games, in-game content, and a free Twitch subscription every month. Users who own an Amazon Prime membership can connect it to their Twitch account and redeem their free channel subscription on any broadcaster they desire. It runs out every 30 days, after which, you can resubscribe or give it to some other steamer.

Twitch Prime / Prime Gaming subscription screen. (Screenshot)

If you don’t own a Prime account, you can still sign up for a 30-day free trial, after which you can cancel or choose to continue the service. Unfortunately, this feature is only available in the United States, and should soon expand into other countries.

BTTV and FrankerFaceZ emotes

If you’re fairly new to Twitch, you might encounter some technical jargon such as BTTV and FFZ emotes. In fact, most of the popular streamers’ chats might seem impossible to understand, as you see a spam of unfamiliar words such as “OMEGALUL,” “PepeLaugh,” or “Lamonting.” These words essentially translate to emotes that can be unlocked via third-party extensions namely Better Twitch TV (BTTV) or FrankerFaceZ (FFZ).

BTTV (Better Twitch TV) top emotes menu. (Screenshot)

Not only do these extensions enhance your Twitch chat experience, but also customises the entire website based on your preference. Upon adding it to your browser, you will instantly see a range of emotes instead of those aforementioned words. Some of these are animated (GIF) emotes that can be used to convey specific emotions or you can be creative with it.

Other features include the ability to disable the home page autoplay function, tab key completion of usernames, and the ability to see messages that were deleted by any moderators. As a partnered streamer, it also lets you add desired emotes to your channel or create some on your own.

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