Why play... when you can watch
Thanks to integration with PS4 (opens in new tab), Xbox One (opens in new tab), and a rapidly growing PC community,Twitch (opens in new tab) is fast becoming the entertainment / procrastination site of choice for gamers. Its a live-streaming and video hub for community events, e-sports extravaganzas, and helpful video game tipsters. But--to the uninitiated--it can seem impenetrable; a meaningless list of names and faces that dont seem all that different from one another. There are just so many channels to sift through.
Usefully for you, Ive spent more time watching streams than is healthy. I know the difference between the amateurs and the professionals. So theres no need for you to spend hours wading through the clag: here are the 10 best things I found to watch on Twitch.
The greatest attraction of Twitch is seeing aspects of games that are impossible elsewhere or take years upon years of practice to achieve. Speedrunning (completing games as fast as possible) is the epitome of that. The origins of the sport come from Quake, whos rocket-jumping, bunny-hopping friendly engine made speed something that could be strived for with more enjoyment that before. Now everything from Final Fantasy (opens in new tab) to Half-Life (opens in new tab) to Super Mario 64 (opens in new tab) has a long history and hardcore base of dedicated runners.
While individual streams are rife for any number of games, Speedrunnings biannual Games Done Quick (opens in new tab) marathons are truly special. Using donation incentives like naming characters in RPGs or attempting challenges, they raise money for various charities. The most recent was AGDQ, which raised over a million dollars over the course of a week for the prevent cancer foundation. Your best bet for seeing all they have to offer is the SpeedRunsLive (opens in new tab) and SpeedDemosArchive (opens in new tab) team pages.
For... Pokemon as you've never seen it before
Heres the second invention: a game of Pokemon (opens in new tab) controlled solely by players entering commands in Twitch chat. Initially an interesting social experiment, it rather quickly devolved into chaos--and then an even more intriguing fight between those who wished to finish the game and those who wished to ruin it. Its remained mostly unchanged since its inception, except for implementing a 'democracy' mode that helps to reduce the random element.
Its since moved on from Red to Crystal and you can bet your master ball itll go further. Its an oddly frustrating watch, slowly inching its way from gym to gym, fight to fight, getting stuck on the simplest things. The quantity of watchers meant whole sub-Reddits were set up to follow the progress and make plans for what to do next. Theres now a rich history to scroll through, which compliments the continuing, everyday developments.
For... Fighting games
In my notes for this article, I have this described as 'the hypest shit alive' and I honestly cant think of a more honest or accurate way to put it. Beyond spectator modes, first person vods and developer sessions, fighting games feel like Twitch was made for them. Crowd mics pointed at thousands of fans, face cams cutting to celebrations and frowns, commentators excited to the point of speech loss--its the perfect blend.
TeamSp00ky (opens in new tab) is something of a hero. Streamed by the titular Victor Spooky Fontanez, it hosts not only the weekly Next Level Battle Circuit from his local arcade but also a huge number of major events throughout the year. Hes also the man who streams EVO, the yearly fighting game world championships, an event not to be missed. Level Up Live (opens in new tab) is similar, with their own weekly tournament and covering majors not done elsewhere.
For... League of Legends
Lane-pushing poster child and PC gamings current colossus, League of Legends is practically nailed to the top spot of Twitchs game directory at any time of day. Hate it or love it, theres more money behind Riots juggernaut than any other game, and it shows in the quality of its year-round Championship Series (opens in new tab).
In off hours, individual streamers take the helm and theres a huge host to choose from. Theres seasoned professionals like Team SoloMids Bjergsen (opens in new tab) who provides world-class play and informative chat with his surprisingly civilised fans. For those who like something a little different, SirhcEz (opens in new tab) runs a collection of wacky strategies and strange character builds... plus he has a habit of bursting into song. Moreover, hes a success story who managed to quit a retail job and support himself entirely through streaming over the last year.
For... Starcraft 2
Depending on who you ask, StarCraft 2 spearheaded e-sports streaming or piggy-backed on its own predecessors groundwork. On Twitch, it boasts some of the most experienced players and casters in the business. The global finals at Blizzcon in 2013 proved popular and the World Championship Series (opens in new tab) attracts thousands of viewers per day.
While the main focus is often on tournament streams, who could forget now-legend and all around Twitch superstar Sean Day Plott (opens in new tab). Originally creating the Day Daily series to analyse pro-level StarCraft: Brood War games and help the small but passionate foreigner (non-Korean) community, he has now branched out. StarCraft 2 remains his main focus but it is not uncommon to see him stream any number of games on off days.
For... DOTA 2
While were talking of progenitors and their sequels, heres one that took an altogether different route. As an almost direct clone of the WarCraft 3 map that brought the genre to light, Dota 2 hit the scene with Valves first hosted tournament, The International (opens in new tab). This has since become an annual, massive deal attracting record viewers with each iteration. Interestingly, it remains Valves sole contribution to the scene.
This leaves it to personal streamers and smaller tournaments to pick up the slack for a ravenous community. Many of the biggest streams are commentated in Russian, something of a 'home country' for the game since its inception many years ago. Starladder (opens in new tab) bridges the gap, broadcasting its wide variety of coverage in both. Meanwhile, my personal favourite Twitch streamer of all, Merlini (opens in new tab), provides insightful and interesting commentary with masterful play.
Relative newcomer and current hotshot Hearthstone is a game that carried the momentum of its shockingly popular closed beta stage through to release quite well. While Magic: The Gathering, a 20 year old international phenomenon, can support only a couple of regular streamers, Hearthstone has pulled in five figure simultaneous watchers regularly for its more popular players.
A lack of foresight of its popularity means big tournaments are irregular due to a lack of spectating tools, but theres an absolute abundance of streaming talent. Kripparrian (opens in new tab) was one of the first, streaming almost constantly throughout the early days of the game, earning his 'nolife' tag. Hes a methodical player, explaining card picks and plays with a relaxed attitude. Trump (opens in new tab) is similar, initially a StarCraft coach he has been instrumental in shaping the Hearthstone meta-game and calculating the most efficient methods of play. Both are mainly arena players, whereas Reynad (opens in new tab) plays only ranked, regularly innovating decks via invention or improvement of old concepts.
For... Recent releases
On Twitch, games that become hugely popular for short periods of time are known as 'flash in the pan' titles. They usually happen either because of big releases or popular streamers picking up older games to show them off. These are opportunities, in a mostly demoless world, to try before you buy or discover classics you may have missed.
While the games will vary, the places to see them will not. Streamers like ex-MLG and e-sports broadcaster JP McDaniel (opens in new tab) like to show off the latest releases just because theyd be playing those games anyway. JP particularly is a long-time gamer who can delivery thoughtful analysis and comedy in equal measure.
For... Your favourite game
Perhaps Twitchs greatest asset is the ease of access and now-massive user-base. There was a time when streaming software, internet speeds and recognition were all inadequate to live up to the services potential. Now, its about five minutes of fully documented fiddling and youre good to go on basically anything. A powerful enough PC and you dont even need to change settings between games.
What this means for the viewer is someone, somewhere is likely streaming your favourite game. Im an old school StarCraft fan, but in recent years Brood War has dropped off the competitive map. Thankfully one kind soul has set up a 24/7 stream of old professional matches (opens in new tab) from Koreas 12 year eSports obsession. This is perfect for the random nostalgic cravings I suffer on a semi-regular basis.
For... Friendly betting
With a platform as new as this, every now and then someone comes up with an idea that you just wont find elsewhere. The past year has displayed two such marvels, both of which are still running today. The first is SaltyBet (opens in new tab), a stream dedicated to (entirely pretend) betting on AI matches in fighting game engine MUGEN. Payouts are based on betting, so underdogs will always pay out huge amounts--but mostly get crushed. It lead to some of the best memes of the year, most of which are now utterly incomprehensible to anyone who wasnt present in the glory days.
SaltyBet may have now run its course, with a dwindling viewer count and much less active chat. However, theres been some real improvements to the stream with regular tournaments to determine the best characters. Tiers have been implemented to prevent some of the more one-sided competition, though this comes at the cost of removing surprise from the scenarios. Itll still have you considering the most ridiculous matchups ever invented--at time of writing, former WWE Superstar CM Punk is facing off against a Sonic boss. All it really needs now is more viewers.
Watch this space
Of course, thats all just a tiny percentage of whats available on Twitch. Some of the best streams out there are smaller, almost invisible except to their friends and fans. If you havent found one you particularly like, I really recommend hunting through the site--you might be surprised what you find. Who are your favourites? Let us know below.