SAN DIEGO -- If live-streaming video is the future of media, gamers got there first. Slowly but surely, others are taking notice and following their lead.
Last week at Twitchcon, the now-annual conference put on by live-streaming giant Twitch that welcomes about 25,000 attendees a day, brands from outside the gaming ecosystem demonstrated how they're bringing clout, and coin, to the platform. And while gaming continues to form the core audience for both content producers and streamers, Twitch is now eyeing expansion into other areas, particularly those that intersect with their core users.
MAC Cosmetics is the first beauty brand to latch onto Twitchcon. Impossible to miss, the brightest booth in the San Diego Convention Center last weekend saw steady streams of makeup tutorials paired with games, while MAC's platoon of makeup artists touched up attendees. By Friday afternoon, the booth saw overflowing attendees as Twitch stars Imane "Pokimane" Anys and Kristen "KittyPlays" Michaela held meet-and-greet events there.
The convention also marked State Farm Insurance's first appearance at a gaming convention, announcing a new series of "charity streams." Their booth hosted the company's first sponsored esport athlete, Ben "DrLupo" Lupo. You couldn't stretch without accidentally hitting a child with a "Jake from State Farm" trucker hat, at least until they formed a massive queue around the expo hall to meet Lupo. Lupo says he still can't believe the attention he gets.
That's part of what makes gaming talent like him such a draw to young audiences: The humility of freshly minted stars and accessibility to them via streaming has created a new celebrity class for a generation that thrives on being immediately engaged with its entertainers. And other walks of life are noticing. Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang have Twitch channels.
"[Twitch] is always talking about community, and really that's the core of MAC's brand," said Cary Neer, MAC's executive director of global integrated communications and content. "Our motto is all ages, all races, all genders. And then you see the sign that greets you when you walk into Twitchcon, 'You're already one of us.' "
Amazon-owned Twitch remains the live-streaming champ, with more than 2.7 billion hours of video watched during 2019's second quarter, according to streaming platform StreamElements. Even as other competitors like YouTube inch closer, Twitch still commands 70 percent of the market. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post.
In 2017, Twitch had 2 million streamers per month. As of 2018, that number had grown to more than 3 million, with about 500,000 channels going live every day. Last year, Twitch had more than 7,800 "partners" and 248,000 "affiliates." Twitch partners mostly get access to tools; however, the company announced at the convention that affiliates will also begin earning revenue from video ads, among other changes.
As part of its growing pains, Twitch has seen numerous controversies around how it moderates the live-streaming service's rules and helping its streamers (and their viewers) feel safe and welcome. And while competitors like YouTube and Dlive try to steal some marketshare, Microsoft signed away Twitch's once-brightest star, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, to stream exclusively on its Mixer platform.
Twitch chief executive Emmett Shear says he welcomes the competition and argues that the service has seen competitors take shots for years. It's "healthy," he says, and hasn't yet affected the company's long-term goals of being the streaming platform for all interests.
"It certainly affects your short-term tactical decisions, but in terms of long-term strategy, the core customer is the same," Shear said to The Washington Post. "It's very oriented around building community. It's very much about that live interactive entertainment. ... In five years, I hope we've got an ever more diverse, larger group of streamers, diversity in terms of people around the world, of interests."
The "Just Chatting" genre of streams, which focuses on streamers talking to and with their viewers rather than playing games, has become the fourth-most-popular category on Twitch, according to StreamElements. With 180 million hours watched in the second quarter, the talk show format grew by 7 percent, the only category to do so since last year. Even viewership for the popular game Fortnite has dropped.
Still, Twitch is largely a service by and for gamers. Part of that is how relatively easy it is to set up a game stream vs. recording and sharing any other talent.
"We've not quite tilted other categories over from a creator point of view," Shear said. "It's just not quite easy enough; you don't have the content you need or the tools you need. We're already starting to see that start to work, but there's just a bunch of work to make it easier."
With high-end PCs, graphics cards for encoding and high-speed Internet connections, gamers are the perfect audience to test any live-streaming platform, Shear added.
"They're kind of the ideal customer. They'll put up with your hard-to-use software, because they're technically very sophisticated in general," Shear said. "Gamers are always the early adopters. Gamers are always the ones to show up first to technology."
Lupo, who raised thousands of dollars at Twitchcon for St. Jude's Research Hospital, said he's excited to see more competition for streaming views.
"Everyone's going to face mistakes, but it's amazing to see others are getting an opportunity to grow, and it will give Twitch a chance to push themselves to do everything they can to be at the forefront, because for the longest time they've been virtually unchallenged," Lupo said.
Meanwhile, Twitchcon's niche communities got a boost with other nongaming industry companies like Honda, TikTok, Hershey's and Kraken Rum setting up booths. Live-streaming will be a part of almost every industry, says StreamElements chief executive and co-founder Doron Nir.
"We're just seeing the beginning of it," Nir said at Twitchcon. "Every journalist, business owner, market, beautician, yoga instructor, gamer you name it, live-streaming is going to be a major component of how they build their clientele and their relationships."
Nir added that popular and controversial life coach Tony Robbins has started to stream.
"Live-streaming is pretty much going to replace other public appearances in media, because you can just do it on your own channel, unlimited time, direct communication with your audience, and everyone can participate from home," Nir said.
Lupo agreed, saying streamers as a new celebrity class are here to stay.
"The format, live entertainment with people you can engage with and talk to, you don't see that with actors," Lupo said. "We're talking live to the second. Twitch has basically no delay. That community building can't be overstated."
The MAC booth thrilled beauty streamer Sophia "Djarii" White from the United Kingdom. White focuses on elaborate makeup artwork.
"I've been pushing for makeup companies to get on Twitch for a long time," said White, who runs a team of makeup streamers and works with other brands. "Seeing MAC, a gigantic, titan company in the makeup community is really phenomenal. It makes me excited for the possibilities of niche communities on Twitch."
Meghan Elle, also known as Megs, often streams the game Destiny 2 on her channel and has been streaming for more than five years, a veteran in Internet years. Recently she has noticed some broadening in terms of the types of people streaming on Twitch.
"I see people huge in Instagram who do some YouTube are now trying to trickle into Twitch and see this is another platform that [they] can grow on and have another community with," Elle said. "It's cool to see all levels of people here. It's not just for the OGs."