T.L. Taylor is a professor of Comparative Media Studies and co-founder of Research for AnyKey, an organization designed to lead the charge for fair and inclusive eSports. As a qualitative sociologist, Taylor has analyzed internet and game studies for more than 20 years. Her vast knowledge and expertise led her to authoring a book that could inspire the next generation of authors on burgeoning technologies. Taylor provides fascinating insight into the revolution of in-game live streaming and the broadcasting of the fast-emerging eSports industry.
It is clear that Taylor is passionate about Twitch and the concept of live streaming, which makes her book hugely engaging It is the world’s first in-depth review of the online phenomenon of Twitch—a platform that thousands of gamers use daily to broadcast their online gaming to over 100 million unique viewers each month. Taylor’s book, Watch Me Play, analyzes the ramifications of in-game live streaming and the pros and cons of the mass convergence of user-generated content.
From “cam culture” to creating online personalities
Arguably the number-one reason why live streaming of online games has become so popular is the rapid advancements in technology. Taylor’s book examines the early “cam culture” of the 1990s, when individuals engaged with one another using pixelated streams over dial-up modems. It then compares this scene with today’s high-definition live streaming that has created hugely engaging, immersive broadcasts that have taken eSports to the next level, turning streamers into genuine broadcasters and performers and giving viewers access to digital content that can help take their own gameplay to the next level.
Watch Me Play touches upon the emotional and social complexities of being a Twitch broadcaster and a Twitch viewer. But it isn’t just Twitch where live streaming of gaming has become such a global phenomenon. The clarity and reliability of HD live streaming today has seen a new age of live casino gameplay in the iGaming industry, where professionally-trained dealers and croupiers manage online games played on physical tables in a studio. There are iGaming platforms that now offer a live casino page full of live-streamed table games such as blackjack and roulette. These are streamed in high definition to make players feel truly part of the live action, creating a hugely social and immersive experience that’s as close to playing in a land-based casino as possible. Twitch offers the very same immersive experience for its eSports viewers—taking them into the thick of the action, feeling like they are sharing in the experiences of the broadcasters themselves. Taylor also touches upon the fact that Twitch broadcasters like to live stream their gameplay because they enjoy the thrill of entertaining and see it as part of a performance. Some Twitch broadcasters have become online influencers that have become recognized around the world, generating huge sums in online revenue, both for Twitch and their streamers. These personalities are proof that some industries would not be able to thrive on robots and artificial intelligence, requiring a human element that all viewers can relate to.
Taylor interviewed a prominent Twitch streamer as part of her analysis and found that they see themselves as “an entertainer.” They see it as their responsibility to “keep things relevant,” with “cool” conversation and “interesting” gameplay to boot. In essence, Twitch broadcasters not only see it as their duty to educate their viewers, but they want to make them laugh and “stay attentive to them,” as well.
The social side effects of the live streaming culture
The book also deals with the negative social aspects of in-game live streaming, such as harassment from rogue viewers. Taylor does not duck the issue but does give them the short shrift they deserve. The eSports and iGaming industries are taking a very dim view of abuse of streamers. The moderation of Twitch streams is becoming continually important, while iGaming operators are coming down hard on iGamers that abuse their human dealers and croupiers via the real-time live chat function offered in their live dealer casino games.
In 2019, some 91 billion minutes of live streaming action have been watched on Twitch, up more than 20% at this stage last year. According to TwitchTracker, there are already 56,500 live channels concurrently operational—on average, up from 41,100 in 2018. Given that we are only in the first quarter of 2019, these are very encouraging figures, suggesting that the live game streaming phenomenon is fast becoming part of mainstream popular culture.