Learning to Twitch

Gamers are coming together to celebrate the streaming community
at a new video game eSports bar, High Score.
By Chris Penwell

On a recent Saturday night, the atmosphere is electric, the room packed with over 100 people. Every weekend, the gamer community takes over the Dirtbag Café on 107th Street, where gaming systems of all kinds fill the space: top-of-the-line computers, modern game consoles, even a GameCube. Strangely, in a room full of gamers, the systems are almost untouched, as almost everyone is chatting.

Halloween is drawing near, and cobwebs are strung over the attendees’ heads and the lightbulbs above give off a pumpkin-like glow. On an unseasonably cold Edmonton night, the eSports bar is a warm, cozy oasis. On one side, someone is playing Blizzard’s bright and colorful Pixar-like shooter, Overwatch. On the other, a camera had been set up between two chairs like a set for a late-night television show.

The term for highly competitive video gaming is eSports, which ranges from smaller local events to grand arenas packed with gamers keen to see, admire, and learn from the best players in the world. Most tournaments have grand prizes, ranging from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the event.

Edmonton is hardly a major player in eSports, but the scene is growing, and places like High Score are on the crest of a major trend: video gaming has become what may be the fastest-growing spectator sport on Earth. Twitch, the leading platform for video-game streaming, draws 15 million daily active users, and it has helped spread eSports.

By 2020, eSports revenues are projected to pass $1.4 billion, the gaming news site Newzoo reports. The Cineplex cinema chain has been hosting eSports events in their theatres for such games as the popular shooter series Call of Duty – and has been offering cash prizes.

Not all streams are competitive eSports; however. Some are pure spectator entertainment, similar to a phenomenon on YouTube called Let’s Plays, in which entertaining hosts with fascinating or witty commentary play games for a few hours in the day.

As RBTZful, a streamer at High Score’s meetup event says: “People like enjoying watching games is the same reason why people like reaction videos. It’s super interesting just to see other people react.”

“There’s a lot of people within the city that are making an impact within the eSports scene,” High Score co-owner Steven Noel says. “That now through an event like this have a place to … meet people that do different things

“Edmonton is really exploding with the eSports side right now. Red Bull’s stepping in and it’s interesting because, when we started, it’s almost like everyone came out of the bushes, and there’s this huge community.”

Noel once worked for a systems integration company as a contractor who installed alarms and managed surveillance and access-control systems.

“I was burned on a big project and worked for an extended period of time with no pay,” he says by way of explaining why he now runs an eSports bar. “I just realized that I hated this, and it’s not worth working for yourself if you hate it. So I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to try out High Score’ ”

The eSports bar had been on his mind for three years before he finally opened it in 2017, and it has been tough to get interest from the average consumer, because a video-game sports bar seems like an odd concept to many, Noel says. But the business has been doing well in the fighting game, MOBA (multi-player online battle arena) and streamer communities. Noel and his partners are working on getting gamers’ attention before opening a full-time location.

That crowded café seemed to be proof that an eSports bar could work in the downtown core. Running around the huge crowd and shouting at the top of his lungs to get everyone’s attention to make announcements, was Kelly Froese. He is the organizer of Twitch Edmonton and of the event. Despite all the chaos of running an event, he was smiling from ear to ear.

Froese is the owner of the Facebook page the Edmonton Nerd List, the main mission of which is to create a community around Edmonton’s nerd culture, something he did after making a list of all the game stores and comic book shops in town and realizing how many there were. From starting the list, he says, he has made many friends and connections.

And those connections have connections. For example, one streamer in Camrose, ClassyPax, has almost 65,000 followers. Froese says the streamer asked him why there haven’t been any community meetups in Alberta for the streaming website Twitch.

“I started helping people realize Edmonton has a big community in everything (nerd related),” Froese says. “And then I started keeping track of streamers. I realized that there’s a lot of us here.”

He says he knew there was a community in Edmonton and so he applied to Twitch to create an official meetup group. The website approved them and then later publicized the event on their Twitter page of 4.56 million followers.

Noel says he, too, was surprised by the number of streamers in the city.

“There’s a lot more than we thought, and a lot more than what other streamers thought. It’s the coolest thing.”

XGen

High Score started in January 2017 as a pop-up.  (Chris Penwell)

Studios was also at the Twitch Edmonton event, showing off their new game, The Low Road, a point-and-click adventure in which the player is cast as a spy who has to study evidence and interview subjects without blowing his or her cover. She explained why Twitch was important to her business. “It’s how we get all of our marketing for our games, so it’s the most important way to get marketing done for your video game.”

In addition to the event being a meetup for the Twitch streamers in Edmonton, it helped raise awareness for Extra Life, an imitative by the Children’s Miracle Network to have gamers play any game, (albeit a video game, a board game, or a tabletop game) for 24 hours and fundraise for charity. It’s similar to runners raising money for a marathon, but in this case, gamers playing for 24 hours straight.  With the Extra Life funds, the charity funds operations, research, and life-saving tools for their hospitals. High Score held a raffle at the event with prizes generously offered by local game developer Beamdog.

Extra Life Edmonton managed to reach over $97,000 in funding in 2017. Froese mentioned multiple times that he wanted Extra Life Edmonton to beat Wizards of the Coast, the board game publisher behind Dungeons & Dragons. Extra Life Edmonton is ranked seventh beating out communities with large followings, such as Rooster Teeth, Reddit, and PlayStation. Wizards of the Coast is second at the time of writing.

After High Score said, “Game Over” for the night, two streamers, one relatively new and one veteran who has been streaming for six years, spoke about their experience with Twitch and the event.

RBTZful, who is just starting out, said, “I found it very useful. It was definitely a great thing to get the community together [and] see who was out there. It’s like a little Twitchcon.”

Twitchcon is another way for streamers to meet each other. Every year, Twitch hosts an event in Long Beach, Calif. It gives a stage for both high-budget developers and independents, a workshop for users to get better at streaming, panels, a cosplay (costume) contest, and a talent show. In 2016, the event had over 35,000 attendees and over 160,000 tweets about it.

However, for RBTZful, the meetup at Twitch Edmonton seemed to be a great substitute. “I found it actually really nice because as someone who’s kind of a shut-in, like, I don’t get out much to meet new people, but if it’s like an event like a convention, or if it’s like a game launch, or if it’s like a meetup, I actually enjoy going to those because then it actually puts me out of my comfort zone,” he expressed, excited about the community. He streams whenever he can as he works a seasonal position.

The veteran Twitch user JarkProvisoner was streaming our interview live, and it was quite frankly, surreal. He played an incredibly repetitive game called Adventure Capitalist he had no idea why he was playing, which had him just clicking on the screen. Each click simulated more cash going into his character’s account and the number distractingly kept going up to billions of dollars. It then dramatically went down a significant amount over and over again as he was simulating buying stock. On top of that, both of our faces were on screen, and the live chat chimed in on the subjects we brought up. It was beginning to make sense why this was such an interesting hobby for him. It was incredibly interactive.

When asked why he streams, he articulated, “It’s the freedom that you get from streaming. One of those things is, I don’t want to see that it’s an addiction, but it’s an escape. It really is. And I’ve definitely had my ups and downs with it, I’ll say that, for sure.”

However, the website has become too accessible, according to JarkProvisoner. He thinks that Twitch is getting too big. “Every person, and their dog, and their grandmother are streaming at this point,” he uttered with a frustrated tone, He said he thought that was great, but when there is so much saturation, it’s harder for a smaller streamer with better production values to grow within the community and it’s harder to embrace it.

JarkProvisoner explained, “What’s kept me going, probably, is the community. It’s that whole sense of comradery that you get with it and people saying, ‘Hey, you’re my favourite streamer,’ and then they’re supporting you and not just financially, I just mean, like, they help you out when you’re going through a tough time, or you’re able to help them out when they’re stuck in a rut or whatever.”

Streaming is a big part of his life at this point because he has met friends from the community and all over the world. He has gathered a network around him. However, he used to like it so much to the point of worrying those he knew. One friend even threatened to cut ties with him. He tried to stream for nine-and-a-half months full-time after someone donated $1000 to his channel, but it got to the point, in which “Streaming became all that mattered in [his] life.”

He admitted, “I would wake up, sometimes I would shower and sometimes I wouldn’t, I would eat, and then I would stream, and then when I was eating, I would stream. And I would take breaks and go to the bathroom, and I would do all that stuff that you’re really supposed to do, but it was an addiction.” He equated this addiction almost to a heroin addiction. “It was so bad for me.” He streamed up to 18 to 20 hours every day. What eventually got him out of his streaming addiction was his internship at a radio station.

Twitch has garnered a fervent group of gamers ever since its inception in 2010. From the busy meetup event in Edmonton, to Twitchcon, to the rise of eSports, it will likely continue to grow. More important, it has helped build a connection with charities such as Extra Life, raising more than $97,000 this year, and it has garnered a reason to open up a new eSports bar, High Score.

There is a lot of buzz within the local gaming community, but, as JarkProvisoner has claimed, it can leave a bit of sting to those who want to get into streaming at this point in the game; it’s hard to get the EXP.

A gamer (left) is playing for a livestream. Attendees (right) were invited to interview each other live.  (Photo by Chris Penwell)


 

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