Gamers are changing the election night coverage with Twitch (and that’s ok).
Twitch launched in June 2011 as a video game-centric spin-off to Justin.tv, a general-interest streaming platform. Twitch quickly eclipsed the popularity of Justin.tv and has become the face of the live streaming industry. Twitch is now home to over 3 million monthly active users and continues to grow with the COVID-19 lockdown doubling the site’s watch time. However, this very same site gamers visit to watch Fortnite and Minecraft live streams is very quickly changing the landscape of the election night coverage.
When representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) appeared on her Twitch live stream, it made the entire world pay attention to what is happening on Twitch. This event was covered by various news outlets, including The Verge (already familiar with Twitch and the live streaming industry), CNBC, Washington Post, and even the BBC. Twitch’s introduction to American politics did not go unnoticed, and it became a force to be reckoned with come election night.
Traditionally, election night coverage is dominated by the talking heads from CNN and Fox News, fearmongering how this election will ultimately turn our lives upside down. As someone who grew up with the internet, TV hosts and talking heads never really interested me. These people often do not share the same values, I can’t voice my insight, and it’s difficult to shake the feeling that I am being brainwashed by news corporation executives. But Twitch streamers solve all of these problems for me because of the diversity of opinions on Twitch. I could donate a small amount of money to streamers to have my voice heard, and because these streamers are not some faceless giant corporations brainwashing me.
On election night, I visited several streams talking about the election results, but most of these streamers were not political commentators or political journalists. Several large video game streamers such as XQC and Destiny were streaming the election results, stating their opinions, hedging bets, and even speculating who would win which States. In addition, Hasan Piker, a left-leaning political commentator who found his success on Twitch, achieved unprecedented viewership during the election night. His stream would regularly surpass the largest of streamers during the three days after the election. Bouncing between the streams, I would hear a diverse set of opinions from people both on the left and right. It felt like I was listening to a conversation with friends, jumping between tweets by election officials to figure out who would win the election. Furthermore, the way streamers would analyze new information, frantically jumping between different tabs to keep track of the latest information, felt familiar to me in a way that mainstream news can not replicate.
This experience, however, wasn’t mine alone. With nearly 140,000 people watching Hasan Piker’s live stream during its peak, Piker alone was responsible for nearly 5% of election night live stream traffic. These numbers prove that election night coverage is changing. Twitch is no longer just a video game website, but instead is actively changing how young people interact with the media.