For the better part of a decade, the role of a “video game streamer” has gone through many evolutions. Most fans of streamers immediately think of platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. What some may not realize is Twitch started as “justin.tv” in 2005. Not only have games and technology advanced quite along in the 16 years since, but also the general public’s perspective of the gaming community. Back then, streamers might’ve been viewed in a negative light. I bet many of them might’ve heard things like “lazy”, “waste of time”, or “games will rot your brain.” Fast forward to 2021, streamers now hold tremendous influence over the popularity of games and that influence impacts the landscape of games greatly.
As the gaming community has grown over the years, so have its streamers. We’ve seen individuals rise and fall in popularity, viewing records being broken, and worlds colliding. Everyone remembers when Tyler “Ninja” Blevins teamed up with Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and rappers Drake and Travis Scott. Fortnite was already relatively popular at that time, but its popularity went nuclear after that. Fortnite went from being this goofy, cartoony shooter to a massive entity that’s cemented itself in pop culture history. If there was a poll for the most influential games in the past decade, it wouldn’t be a complete list without Epic’s battle royale. I’m not saying that Ninja is the sole reason why Fortnite blew up, but his role as a streamer advertising the game daily certainly helped the cause.
The influence a streamer can have on viewers can be absolute. Obviously, you have viewers who watch certain people based on the games they play, but also for their personalities. Whether you’re drawn to someone who looks like you, acts like you, or keeps you entertained for hours on end, you become a fan of them. That fandom leads to wanting to play the same games as them, and that’s where their impact is truly felt.
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Let’s take a look at 2020: Right when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to affect our daily lives in March, Activision released its battle royale Call of Duty: Warzone. Call of Duty is already one of the biggest multiplayer games ever in existence. So naturally, adding a battle royale mode to the polarizing franchise drew enormous viewers. Watching the high-intensity gameplay of Nick Mercs and “TimtheTatman” only stoked the competitive fires behind the people watching them, which only increased the player base. We have an innate desire to either imitate or exceed someone we hold in high esteem. If Nick Mercs drops a full squad with load-outs trying to escape before the zone closes in, we think “I can do that”, and of course we can’t, but seeing him do it drives us to play the game.
The thing will Call of Duty is that it’s as if it possesses its own gravitational field. Regardless of what’s near it, the presence of COD will overpower it. Kind of what happened to Valorant. In April, Riot’s team-based multiplayer shooter entered Early Access. The game gained serious momentum with its comparisons to the tactical Counter Strike: Global Offensive and ability-centric Overwatch. With how fast the hype around Valorant died, you’d thought something horrible was wrong with the game. No, Valorant’s time to shine was put off, mainly due to the heavy attention streamers gave to Warzone, which is understandable, not only because of how popular Call of Duty is, but Warzone was still in that “honeymoon” phase of its release. According to Activision, Warzone grew to over 75 million players by the end of its first five months. Around the tail end of those five months, prominent streamers began migrating to another game: Among Us.
Back From the Dead
As we entered the heated summer months, the allure of Warzone slowly began to fade away. Not that people weren’t enjoying themselves, but the itch to play something new was becoming too irresistible. With the pandemic still affecting our daily lives, streamers discovered Among Us, a “new” party game that would bring people together. Developed and published by InnerSloth, you might be surprised to learn that Among Us was originally released back in 2018. So why are we just hearing about it now? The streamer impact.
There were moments through 2019 where the player base gradually increased, but near the end of 2019 Among Us experienced an exodus of players. When the calendar flipped to 2020, players slowly went back to the murder mystery, and then the player base exploded in July. That was around the time Twitch streamer Hafu created her now-famous “Hafu lobbies”, which subsequently pushed Among Us to unprecedented levels of popularity. Among Us is the perfect game to analyze when discussing the influence streamers have on games. This was, for lack of a better term, essentially a dead game. I don’t believe there were any plans on adding content to Among Us, until the massive boom in the player base. Due to the lack of additional content, streamers began adding their own mods to the game to create new gaming experiences. And it’s not like these mods were half-assed either, we’re talking about fully functional game modes that completely altered the experience. While Hafu stuck to the traditional way of playing Among Us, other streamers welcomed the added mods with open arms.
Voted Content Creator of the Year at the 2020 Game Awards, YouTube streamer Valkyrae almost exclusively played Among Us non-traditionally. First, it was proximity chat, being able to talk throughout the game, but only to players within proximity to you. Then, we started seeing other roles being added like Jester, Sheriff, and Detective. This content was all player-made, not from the developer. These mods further increased the game’s popularity, but at the same time, it was clear that Among Us had an expiration date. InnerSloth announced a new map was imminent, but the general public’s interest in the game was fading; again, due to the lack of interest by streamers. The amount of Among Us streams started decreasing until finally, another game from the past rose to claim its place in the sun: Valorant.
Remember when I said there wasn’t really anything wrong with Valorant and how people were just preoccupied by Warzone’s recent launch? Well, streamers began migrating back to Riot’s multiplayer shooter as the Among Us craze started dying down. Even Hafu, probably the most dedicated Among Us player, was shortening her Among Us streams to play Valorant. And sure enough, the masses followed. The current number for Valorant’s player base is unknown, but simply based on observation it’s clearly a top streamed (at the time of writing) game at the moment. Ever since streamers like QuarterJade, Sykkuno, Ninja, Myth, Shroud, and Sydeon made Valorant their main game, it’s been near the top of Twitch’s most viewed games (currently flirting near 100K viewers). Similar to Among Us, that’s sure to have a ripple effect on players wanting to either get back into Valorant or download it for the first time.
It remains to be seen how long Valorant will hold its place atop the food chain, but what we can say for sure is streamers possess tremendous influence in the gaming community. They have the power to push waves of people to certain games, and that might be scary to think about. I’m not saying developers should 100 percent cater to the needs and wants of streamers, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for studios to analyze what appeals to them. People relate to streamers because at the end of the day they’re just people who love playing games like the viewers who watch them. Sure, they might be connected with fame and fortune, but when it comes to “what game to play” it’s easier to pick up whatever your favorite streamer is playing than finding something yourself. And that’s where their influence lies: convenience. It’s convenient for people to turn on a stream, watch someone for a couple of hours, and decide to play that game. Studios know all about the importance of marketing their games, now it’s time to incorporate streamers in that marketing to maximize success.
The gaming community is forever evolving and this is its latest iteration. Regardless of whether or not you enjoy watching streams, we have to accept how important they are to gaming as a whole. They have the ability to push the medium to new heights and the influence to bring in more players. The emergence of streamers has only allowed the industry to grow and their presence is now important.
At the end of the day, it’s a streamer’s world and we’re just living in it.
Views expressed here are sole of the author’s and doesn’t represent MP1st and its staff in its entirety.