The latest spectator sport making headlines probably isn’t what you’d expect. The arena is a digital one, and the athletes spend a great deal of their time sitting down. I’m talking, of course, about the world of competitive gaming, and the site which is making it more accessible to global audiences, Twitch.
“It’s kind of like a huge virtual couch,” says writer Taylor Hatmaker, albeit “one that can seat millions of onlookers at once.” On a typical Friday night, Twitch can attract a viewership of about a quarter of a million individuals, all of them keen to watch the action unfold in live multiplayer games like League Of Legends.
Ian Sherr at The Wall Street Journal profiled Twitch back in November, describing the site as “the social centre of the video game world” and predicting that “the trend could soon kick into a higher gear.” And he was right; in 2013, Twitch gained over 45 million unique viewers per month. That’s “more than double the number of viewers tuning into Twitch on a monthly basis in the year prior,” says Hatmaker. “What’s more impressive: More than half of all users (58%) spend more than 20 hours a week on Twitch, while the average user watches an average of 106 minutes a day.”
PC gaming is currently the leading platform in this rapidly growing space, but Twitch support is now integrated into the PlayStation 4, and will soon be available on the Xbox One, which has the potential to bring in even more gaming enthusiasts.
Gaming as a spectator sport is not a brand new phenomenon, nor has it occurred in a vacuum. Japan, for instance, has its own Competitive Gaming Premier League, where just like with any other sport, fans have their favourite personalities. But thanks to the coverage and penetration that Twitch has achieved, in addition to media efforts like Charlie Brooker’s recent documentary ‘How Videogames Changed The World’, competitive gaming is on the cusp of crossing over into the mainstream.