What Amazon Sees in Twitch

A player streaming a World of Warcraft mission on the website Twitch.tv. The site’s videos attract millions of viewers.
A player streaming a World of Warcraft mission on the website Twitch.tv. The site’s videos attract millions of viewers.

On Wednesday night, I spent time on Twitch.tv watching people watch people play StarCraft II, Call of Duty and League of Legends.

When you cover media, you get used to meta activities, but staring at my computer watching an audience watch others play streaming video games was a new level of remove. There were funny, eccentric grown-ups, but also a lot of teenage boys talking profane smack on headsets, often with corrosive rap spinning in the background, as they maneuvered through seemingly impenetrable game environments.

After surfing around for 90 minutes, I couldn’t help asking, is this really a thing?

Actually, Amazon believes it’s a $1.1 billion thing. Last Monday, the company announced it would buy Twitch, which surprised most industry observers because they thought Google had wrapped up a purchase. It surprised me because I had no idea what Twitch was.

My demographic hem is showing. I’ve always taken pride and interest in staying with the wave, swimming in a sea of devices, apps and new business models. But even as video games threaten to become bigger than Hollywood in terms of gross revenue, I’ve never caught the bug. Maybe if I had had sons instead of daughters, or taken more of an interest in Madden NFL rather than the actual N.F.L., I’d be in the know. I’m not, but I knew what I needed to do. I called Clark.

Clark is the 17-year-old son of friends of mine at our summer place. I have spent many hours there chatting with him about his custom-built gaming PC, which, he tells me, includes dual Asus GTX graphics processing units, 16 gigabytes of Crucial Ballistix Sport memory and extra cooling units to keep the beast from overheating while he is busy killing targets. He likes Twitch, of course.

“It’s a community, or really a bunch of communities within communities, organized around certain games,” he said.

So … all these people gather online to listen to people discuss the games they are playing as they play them? “They don’t just talk about the games, they talk about themselves, too,” he said. “You learn stuff and you can see their faces, so you can see emotions and what makes them laugh.”

“It isn’t like TV,” he added. “In gaming, you are the character, you’re the one that that’s deciding.”

Twitch has built a platform that hosts live events akin to the N.F.L., theUnited States Open or the X Games — and it has the audience to show for it. Part of the magic is that on Twitch, you are not just watching other gamers, but hyper-talented digital warriors, the Peyton Mannings and Roger Federers of Counter-Strike and Minecraft.

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