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SHELTER AND PLAY

Twitch users have streamed 2 billion hours of video-game play during the pandemic

Daniel Wolfe
By Daniel Wolfe

Things reporter

From our Obsession

The Third Age of TV

First came broadcast, then cable, now streaming.

If you’re constantly on Zoom calls lately, maybe it feels like you might as well record your life. Well, that’s what 5 million people have done with their gaming lives on the streaming platform Twitch. According to TwitchTracker, since the end of February, the Amazon-owned service broadcasted over 2 billion hours of folks playing video games. That is around 230,000 years of footage. If you went back in time that far, you would see our very distant cousins sheltered-in-place in caves.

Since this time last year, average viewership on the service jumped from 1.1 million to 2.8 million users. Those people are watching anything from demon slaying to soccer to tropical island furnishing. Whatever the game, a typical stream offers not just an escape from reality, but the company of others.

Last year, Twitch hoped to grow its customer base by tapping into sports audiences. CEO Emmett Shear saw living-room sports commentary as the next bet for his company. In November, Shear told SportsPro: “We’ve seen success outside of gaming and we’ve done surveys of our audience, and it was clear that people watching gaming content were also interested in watching sports, so there was a clear overlap there.”

With the coronavirus shutting down nearly all professional sports worldwide, fans have sought to fill the hoop-shaped hole in their day with competitive online video games. Meanwhile, in a bizarre twist, ESPN2 has gone on to broadcast esports. And some professional athletes, either by contractual necessity or a yearning for competition, have taken to streaming themselves online.

Twitch’s core audience remains strong, though. Folks are still tuning in for the latest in video-game coverage. Riot Games—the company behind the popular League of Legends—launched a public beta of the team-based shooting game Valorant. Upon the release on April 8, Twitch saw 34 million hours of it watched on a single day, a record for one title. It went on to average over half a million viewers a day, as the most popular franchise on the platform.

Whether the appeal will hold remains to be seen. As our entertainment reporter Adam Epstein recently admitted: “Beyond serving as a fleeting distraction, gaming has literally given me a sense of control at a time when everything else feels out of my control.”

So your ennui aside, Adam, when will you start streaming?

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