"We aren't just there for the show. We are the show," Twitch CEO Emmett Shear said during his keynote speech at TwitchCon 2018. (Photo: Courtesy of Twitch)
Tens of thousands of fans have descended from parts near and far on San Jose for TwitchCon 2018, one giant thrill fest for those who live on the live-streaming platform.
During his keynote speech, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear made a point of emphasizing his emphasis on community. "Today, you're going to hear me say 'community' 46 times. There's a good reason for that. Billions of them, actually."
Twitch is predicated on a basic fact about humans: we like to watch other people and we like other people to watch us. TwitchCon is predicated on another basic fact about humans: we like to see the people we interact with, in person, eventually.
Thus, there's a palpable thrill in the air at San Jose's convention center, the kind of thrill that comes with viscerally sensing you are not alone in your passion for Twitch.
That's the case for Marvin England, a systems engineer from Austin. “I'm here to meet other streamers I’ve only met online,” he says; especially Filipino streamers.
3D animator Lionel Milbourne of Baltimore was surprised by the size of this crowd after attending cons closer to home. “So far, it’s pretty lit. It’s a lot of people right here,” he says, his eyes spinning at the passing crowd.
Even people who work for Twitch are susceptible to the euphoria. Elena Gauvin of Sacramento, who works in trust and safety, says, “I’m excited to see my coworkers, because a lot of us are working remotely. So this might be the first time we’re meeting in person.”
It must also be said many Twitch streamers are interested in much more than engaging in it as a hobby. Like would-be Internet celebrities everywhere, huge numbers of streamers dream of achieving online stardom and lucrative sponsorship deals, and Twitch knows this.
The San Francisco-based, Amazon-owned platform has mastered the gamification of engagement with streamers. The more you stream, the more followers you have, the more support you get from Twitch building a bigger, better community.
If you can deliver 500 minutes of broadcast in the last 30 days with at least seven broadcasts, you can apply to be a part of a Twitch Affiliate program, where viewers can subscribe to your channel for $4.99.
Consistently attract 70-80 viewers per stream, and you can become a Twitch Partner. This year, Twitch says more than 235,000 streamers reached Affiliate status, and 6,800 reached Partner status.
Subscriptions, sponsorships, ads, direct donations from fans: is it enough to quit your day job? Maybe for superstar streamers like Ninja, who landed the platform's biggest pop culture coup when he got to play Fortnite with rapper Drake.
Ninja makes more than $500,000 a month, according to CNBC. But that's not going to happen for most of the more than 15 million daily visitors Twitch says it has. Still, a streamer can dream, and TwitchCon encourages that dream with celebrity panels and new feature announcements.
If anybody at TwitchCom 2018 was thinking about the two people killed and 11 injured in a mass shooting during a “Madden NFL” tournament in Jacksonville, Florida two months ago, nobody was talking about it with this reporter.
But they were buzzing about safety and security online: namely, troll control. Twitch is doing better supporting civility, says Miriam Aguirre. She's a senior VP of engineering at Skillz, an mobile multiplayer competition platform.
Aguirre is speaking Sunday on a panel about the under-representation of women in gaming. She's hoping people who left gaming because they felt unwelcome or unsafe in previous years consider coming back in 2018. She says the industry has grown increasingly sensitized to the need for tools like the one Twitch just unveiled, allowing streamers and moderators to see anybody's chat rap sheet at a click.
"A lot of these tools should have been made available early on, but I'm glad they're finally getting around to it," Aguirre says.
For arts stories you won’t read anywhere else, come to KQED’s Arts and Culture desk.