Direct Your Attention: Twitch’s resilient surge

By Owen Mason-Hill

None, perhaps other than TikTok, have seen quite the influx of viewership and mainstream attention as Twitch, a platform where users can watch live-streams from their favorite creators. COURTESY PHOTO

While many industries have been crippled by the pandemic, none has surged quite as much as online entertainment. Internet platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram have seen greatly increased interactions and have seen their user-bases grow exponentially. None, perhaps other than TikTok, have seen quite the influx of viewership and mainstream attention as Twitch, a platform where users can watch live-streams from their favorite creators. 

When you log into Twitch, you are immediately inundated with a smorgasbord of channels arranged by category. Within the vastness of Twitch’s creator base, viewers can find categories and channels that serve their most minute interests. Though Twitch started as a site where fans of video games could come together, its largest category has quickly become the “Just Chatting” section, wherein you can find streamers discussing politics, watching live sports games, cooking or — as the name would suggest — simply sitting in their rooms talking. Instead of Twitch relying on a recommendation algorithm like its peer sites, it lets its viewers to curate their own streamers based on their interests. 

The real allure of Twitch is the ability of viewers to write messages in chat, allowing them to speak to the streamers in real time. In a time where human interaction has become increasingly sparse, the ability to be in a community as intimate as 60 viewers to one as massive as 60,000 people has become a real source of camaraderie for me and many others.

Cartoon by PIA CONTRERAS BALBUENA

In the past nine months, I have spent more time in my room than ever before and have found it to be overwhelmingly quiet. Early on, I tried watching seasons of television, but, in practice, it’s much less entertaining than I would’ve thought. After stumbling across Twitch, I discovered it to be a perfect remedy. I’ve uncovered a rotation of around five streamers that go live at various times, allowing me to keep my room full of energy and community whenever I need. Often, streamers would be live for 10 hours at a time, so I could have them play on my TV all day, drowning out the quietness of my rural home. 

Being able to escape into a pixelated world during these months at home and on campus has been a worthwhile remedy to the mental lulls. In watching Twitch, I have rediscovered old games that brought me so much joy as a kid. Whether it be a reinvigorated interest in the Pokemon cards that I used to purchase with earnings from my lawn-mowing ventures or in the endlessly competitive sports games like NBA 2K and FIFA that I used to play with my brother, Twitch always seems to target those specific nerves that remind me of my childhood. And while I acknowledge how silly and often adolescent these games are, there is beauty and comfort in their simplicity. It provides me with a certain comfort in its dependability, a certainty in this year of marked uncertainty. 

It’s all too easy to get wrapped into a detrimental routine day after day that saps you of your productivity, and while Twitch is very often just a time vacuum, it has provided me with the most profound human interaction I’ve had since the pandemic broke out. I encourage you to watch Twitch not for the games (though they are certainly a gateway in) but rather for the personalities. Many of my favorite streamers, such as Ludwig Ahgren, play games I’ve never played nor even heard of. These variety streamers, as they’re termed, maintain consistency in their persona rather than in their subject. It’s like watching a movie to see your favorite actor grace the screen regardless of what the film is about. And, while I’m a critic at heart, having essentially spent the better part of my college career overanalyzing art, I find these lean-back streams to be thoroughly cathartic, offering me greater happiness than most other endeavors. 

As with all my recommendations in this column, it is not a foolproof one that works wonders for everyone just as it did for me. Twitch happened to enter my life in a time when I acutely needed it. For people who did not grow up in households where videogames left a large impression, you may find that the “Just Chatting” section provides you with ample interesting content. I’ve spent hours watching people cook, draw, play music or just converse with their chat. I implore you to find avenues of human connection in this year when they can be fleeting and sparse. At the very least, tune in to Twitch and just let it roll for hours, seeing where your interests guide you, and you may just stumble upon something to fill this upcoming winter break with a little more warmth.