Nov 28, 2016

Video Takes Esports Fans Out to the Game Through Live Streaming

Reporting Texas

Cheers flooded Room 101 of Waggener Hall on a recent Thursday. Dozens of students screamed at the projector screen at the front of the room at the University of Texas at Austin.

Armed with a massive golden hammer, a warrior charged at another wielding a futuristic laser gun. She slammed her hammer into the ground, popping the second character into the air before bringing the hammer down once more to kill her opponent. “First blood!” said the announcer.

Gasps filled the room. For the next 20 seconds, until their hero reanimated, they held their breath.

The students from the Longhorn Gaming Club watched the quarterfinals of the 2016 League of Legends World Championships on live streaming site called Twitch. The last North American team, Cloud9, faced off against a South Korean team called Samsung Galaxy in Game 3 of a best-of-five series.

Sites like Twitch are changing the esports industry, giving it an enormous audience it couldn’t have otherwise.

In League of Legends alone, the game’s first world championship tournament in 2009 reeled in just under 2 million views, with 210,00 people watching the final, according to the League of Legends esports site. Last year, the number of views jumped to 334 million in total over the month-long period, with 36 million watching the championship series. The 2015 World Series featuring the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets, by comparison, averaged 17.2 million viewers per game.

Twitch is owned by Amazon Gaming Studios and is dedicated to the live streaming of games on all the latest platforms. Gamers, professional and amateur alike, can stream games from a PC, an Xbox or a PlayStation.

These streaming sites attract fans by providing direct access to esports players. Many of them, when they aren’t playing in major tournaments, stream individually for a fan base.

David Willis, a semi-professional League of Legends player and member of the Longhorn Gaming Club, said the interaction between esports participants and their viewers – called subscribers on YouTube and followers on Twitch – is essential.

“You get to see the minutia of what’s going on in their head as they play the game,” Willis said. “You can see everything going on from his perspective, and it gives you a lot of insight.”

The esports competitors gain viewers from streaming content at high levels of play. Their streams and edited videos not only get people excited about playing whatever game they are in, but they help players learn and improve at playing the game.

They become known by their in-game account names and champion communities of players and fans, just as athletes such as Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lebron James have done for the NFL and the NBA. They give viewers something to strive for, something to become immersed in and someone to look up to.

“These players turn into celebrities to us,” said Chase Bowers, a member of the Longhorn Gaming Club.

Yiliang Peter Peng, better known by his alias Doublelift, is a 19-year-old professional League of Legends player from Viejo, California, and plays for Team SoloMid. He streams his practice games to his more than 780,000 followers on Twitch, interacting with them on chats and social media.

About 20,000 people at a time will watch him play. He jokes and talks with them as though he has known them for years. He answers questions about how to play the game better and to play certain characters.

For example, on Oct. 27, he streamed for just about 19,000 viewers and talked with them about playing an assassin in League of Legends. “It looks like [a player on the opposite team] bought more armor. I should have responded to that,” he said on stream after failing to eradicate a member of the opposing team. Hundreds of comments flowed in, supporting his analysis.

“You’re a lot more connected with them than you would, say, your favorite TV show, because you interact with them,” said gaming club member Erik Jeremiassen.

The League of Legends World Championship Finals series in Los Angeles took place on Oct. 29. Although viewer counts have not yet been released, the projections are that they will top last year’s, as 700,000 viewers tuned in before the first day of the tournament concluded.

Jared Wynne, the director of revenue for an esports news site called GAMURS, said Twitch and other streaming sites will only to improve the interaction between fans and players.

Twitch, for instance, recently announced an exclusive in-site currency called Stream+, which viewers can earn by watching streams and supporting their favorite esports competitors. The currency will be usable in polls and wagers, adding another method of interaction.

“They won’t and don’t need to change too much in terms of technology,” Wynne said. “Twitch will focus on making money off of their audience and growing their audience.”