It has barely been a month since host Jimmy Kimmel jokingly compared watching people play video games as entertainment to buying a meal only to watch it being eaten by someone else. Whether you’re in agreement with the popular late night television host or not, the notion did nothing to deter the more than 20,000 video gamers who filed into San Francisco’s Moscone West over the weekend of Sept. 25 for the first-ever TwitchCon, a celebration of livestream gaming and the communities involved.
“It’s like a giant family reunion of thousands and thousands and thousands of people coming together for the first time,” Matthew DiPietro, senior vice president of marketing for Twitch, told me. Given his position, it’s not surprising that DiPietro has an answer to the Jimmy Kimmels of the world: recalling his halcyon days watching his brother play on their Atari video game console, DiPietro says being a spectator has always been a major part of the gaming experience.
“From the very, very beginning of video gaming itself, the act of video gaming has always been a very social experience, to be done in real time with other people,” he said. “TwitchCon really scratches that same itch. It serves the same purpose; it’s just doing it in real life instead of online.”
TwitchCon was indeed an unusual convention compared to others, where video games take the front and center. Instead, the event focused on gamers themselves, as well as the communities to which they belong.
Enter any channel on Twitch.tv and you‘ll witness videos of a broadcaster making jokes, telling stories, or communicating with viewers. It’s this interactivity and feeling of shared experiences that drew Twitch fans from around the world to meet with their favorite internet personalities, while TwitchCon offered a chance for broadcasters to meet the members of the community they helped foster.
Sophia White, a gamer also known as Djarii, flew in from Scotland to meet some of the 43,000 people who follow her channel on Twitch. “Seeing people that you know online all around you is pretty amazing,” she said. “It’s definitely unlike any other event.”
Twitch is known for its video gaming content, but has recently started looking beyond. The website has been experimenting with other mediums, a fact that excites Zak Kreiter, known as Ezekiel_III to his fans.
“It’s not just video games anymore,” he said. “There’s creative (content), there are people that create art live, there are people who code live—like, create video games. There are people who do music live.”
“It’s become this huge phenomenon, and I guarantee you that any single person out there can find a stream they will like, no matter if they like video games or not,” he continued.
Twitch regulars are familiar with Kreiter’s bombastic personality, which he brought to the fore alongside many other broadcasters who participated in one of more than 40 panels at TwitchCon aimed at educating broadcasters in improving their channels. Presentations were also streamed online at Twitch.tv, drawing around 1.9 million unique viewers. The event also allowed video game developers like Capcom, Wargaming and Blizzard to strut their stuff and show off their games and products with interactive demo booths.
Twitch communities raised around $15 million last year for charities, according to DiPietro. During TwitchCon, attendees were able to visit the Charity Zone, featuring such foundations as the American Red Cross, Game Changer, and Operation Supply Drop, and learn how they can get involved.
Lanai Gara, when she isn’t crushing her foes in Call of Duty under her online name Ms_Vixen, raises money for charity using Twitch as her platform. She says her team, Team V Gaming, has spent the last several years raising more than $250,000 for multiple foundations. At TwitchCon, her goal was to meet the many people who have donated over the years.
“I get to do what I love to do every day and they are here just to support, and it’s amazing to actually be able to hang out with them,” she said.
TwitchCon highlighted both the past and future of Twitch. The event began with a keynote that featured new improvements, including video uploads and a playlist function that will roll out early next year. Capping off the show was the Twitch Hall of Fame Awards Show, where Matt McKnight, the broadcaster known as LethalFrag, was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award.
No matter what improvements are in store for Twitch, however, it ultimately comes back to the people. The gamer who calls herself Kungfufruitcup knows the importance of creating an environment of friendship and acceptance for her fans, especially those who need that warmth the most.
“There are a lot of people at home who are depressed or anxious,” she said. “A lot of times they will come into the stream and be like ‘I had a really bad day today, but I know that coming into your stream is going to make my day much better.’
“It’s an amazing opportunity to offer that to people.”
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