Movie theaters might be closed and live sports put on hold for the foreseeable future, but video-game streaming is very much still in business.
Global viewership on Twitch, a streaming platform owned by Amazon, is up significantly this month as schools and office buildings around the world have closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hours streamed have increased 15% across the platform in the last three days, according to the Twitch analysis site Sully Gnome. So far in March, average daily concurrent viewers have gone up 12% from the same period last year (1.43 million viewers vs. 1.27 million)—the biggest year-over-year increase since Aug. 2019, according to Twitch Tracker:
Twitch also experienced a 3.3% jump in the number of new channels this month, the second biggest monthly increase since January 2019.
Millions of users tune into Twitch everyday to watch their favorite streamers broadcast themselves playing video games live. The service is free, but in order to access some additional features, viewers must subscribe to a streamer’s channel (usually for $5).
The platform’s most popular streamers are leading the platform’s viewership increases. Dr Disrespect, for instance, is in the midst of his third-best month ever. (The internet personality, who is a cross between a WWE wrestler and a 1980s action movie villain, started streaming on Twitch in 2016.) On March 13, views to his channel were up more than 120% compared to his average. An average of nearly 40,000 people watched Dr Disrespect play the first-person shooter Call of Duty for hours on end that day.
The viewership spikes to Dr Disrespect’s channel—and to the channels of other big streamers—started last week, when many US schools and offices shut down, and states began enforcing social distancing policies.
At least 32.5 million American kids, and many millions more around the world, are currently out of school and forced to stay home. There are no movies to go to, no sports to watch, and no playdates to be had. Watching and playing video games provides them a safe entertainment alternative.
It’s hard to know precisely how much of the increased viewership is solely because of coronavirus. Views on the platform, and on many of its competitors, like Microsoft-owned Mixer, were already increasing before the outbreaks.
Popular streamers were leveraging their loyal viewerships by signing deals worth eight figures to broadcast exclusively on these platforms. Ninja, who became famous streaming himself playing Fortnite, was paid a rumored $20 million by Microsoft to leave Twitch and join Mixer. Dr Disrespect recently signed a similar deal to stay with Twitch. Measurement firm Comscore announced last week that it will start measuring streaming activity on Twitch as the platform looks to capitalize on advertisers’ interest. Streamers primarily make money through monthly subscriptions to their channels, donations from viewers, a share of advertising revenue, and sponsorships.
Most entertainment industries, including film and TV, are facing catastrophe. But video-game streaming may come out of this global crisis stronger than how it went in.