With esports growing rapidly, the demand to watch other people play video games live has also increased. But what is live streaming and how can you get watching or even streaming yourself?
Video game streaming is one of the key areas in esports that allows fans to get closer to the action – and for pro gamers and entertainers to make some extra income.
People who make it to the top in streaming and have many concurrent viewers can make a living off of streaming alone.
So what is it? Streaming is where someone will record the game they are playing and broadcast it to streaming platforms live over the internet. They can reach a vast number of viewers right from their bedroom. Streamers will often save certain recordings or clips, and some will upload these for viewing at any time on YouTuber or another video platform.
But it isn’t just as easy as pressing record and immediately having 10,000 viewers. It takes time to build a fanbase. Streamers can add custom graphics to their stream, interact with viewers via a chat room, try to educate, and most importantly do their best to entertain the viewers.
How do streamers and platforms earn money?
Platforms such as Twitch will usually place 30-second pre-roll ads at the start of a stream.
As well as selling this advertising space, Twitch will also strike big deals with esports tournament providers, game developers and other companies, and may sell advertising space and sponsorship around those tournaments.
In terms of the streamers themselves, viewers can ‘subscribe’ to their channel by paying around $5 a month. Of this, the streamer will usually take around 50% and Twitch the other 50%. Subscribing will remove ads and give the subscriber other benefits such as unique chat emotes and the ability to type in a ‘subscriber-only’ mode.
Streamers can also make money by accepting donations mid-stream. Fans will often write a message along with the donation, which gets read out by a computerised voice during the stream, allowing them to directly communicate with their favourite streamer.
How much do streamers earn?
It varies, but the most popular streamers can earn hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.
UK League of Legends streamer Ali “Gross Gore” Larsen earnt more than £100,000 in donations in 2015.
This is on top of any sponsorship deals or other areas of revenue generation, such as YouTube ads/Google Adsense, merchandise sales and so on.
But this kind of money is usually only made by the most popular streamers who have tens of thousands of regular viewers.
What are the different streaming platforms?
Twitch is the largest video games streaming platform. It has 100 million unique visitors per month and over 38 million installations of the Twitch app on iOS and Android.
Twitch has enjoyed enormous growth in recent years. It was bought by Amazon in 2014 for around $1 billion, and allows millions of people to watch games live, chat with each other and broadcast their own stream to others.
Twitch is huge in most places in the world except Asia, where the likes of Azubu, YY.TV and AfreecaTV are popular, depending on the region.
YouTube recently added a live streaming service to its website. It works very much like Twitch but has the ability to play back while the live stream is happening. It also saves the video to the streamer’s YouTube channel.
So for users who already have an existing successful YouTube channel, streaming on YouTube is much more convenient. However, the potential for a larger live audience is still much higher on Twitch.
Azubu is more common in South Korea but it’s worth a mention as it does more than Twitch and YouTube in terms of its interactions with esports teams.
Azubu will have contract agreements with teams for their players to exclusively stream on its platform. While having deals with mostly Korean teams, there are also some teams from other regions, such as Origin (a European League of Legends team).
Hitbox is another streaming service similar to YouTube and Twitch, but less popular. One of its strengths is that Hitbox is nearer to being truly live, with an average latency of two to five seconds (Twitch’s is 12 seconds).
AfreecaTV is another streaming service, one that is another based in South Korea. Korean players that are not signed with Azubu will usually stream here or on the Chinese service YY.TV – another huge streaming platform.
Facebook has also outlined its intentions to improve its positioning in live streaming, and could be a platform to watch in the future.
The rise of interactivity
Most streaming platforms have a built-in live chat for viewers to send messages in. This lets the broadcaster see how their audience is reacting to the content that is being produced live and they can respond to individual messages in the chat. This helps to make the audience feel more involved with the stream. Even if they don’t get a response from the broadcaster, they can join in with the spammed messages in the chat.
Broadcasters can set up commands in chat to give viewers information. For example, if a viewer types ‘!schedule’, a bot will reply with the streamer’s schedule. The broadcaster can also set up giveaways, polls and much more just by using chat plugins.
The big benefit to streaming live is the way you can interact with social media. Tournament broadcasts, such as the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), have fan votes during the broadcast. For example, the fixture is Fnatic vs H2K. You can tweet using #FNCWIN or #H2KWIN. Each tweet to these hashtags will count as a vote that can be seen live during the broadcast.
The broadcaster will also encourage viewers to tweet questions or comments with hashtags, to ask questions that may be answered live on the show.
How can you start streaming?
In order to stream you will need broadcast software, such as Xsplit or OBS.
The following specs are recommended for streaming:
- Intel Core i5-4670 or AMD Equivalent
- 8GB DDR3 SDRAM
- Windows 7+
- A graphics card that supports Direct 10X and above
- 3MB+ internet upload speed
You will then need to create an account with a streaming platform. Extras such as mics and web cams will help you engage more directly with the audience.