Twitch's Non-Gamers Are Finally Having Their Moment

Nine years after the launch of the game-streaming platform Twitch , the content that hardcore gamers most vocally reviled has officially become its most watched: just talking.A new report from stream management site StreamElements indicates that in December, Twitch viewers watched 81 million hours of “Just Chatting,” Twitch’s category for streamers who do exactly that, plus any number of other grab-bag activities. That was a solid 7 million hours more than the first game listed, League of Legends, and 23 million more than the second, Fortnite. The popularity of “Just Chatting” is bleeding into January, too, and according to StreamElements, nongaming may be Twitch’s number two category in 2020.

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2 Million People Streamed the Fortnite World Cup FinalsWhile it might not be surprising that people on the internet want to communicate with charismatic strangers over Twitch, it wasn’t long ago that streamers feared they'd face a stern suspension after getting caught chatting too long in lieu of popping heads in Call of Duty. In fact, Twitch’s rules of conduct strongly discouraged sitting in front of a camera and watching YouTube videos, rehashing the news, or eating ice cream with your viewership for too long. Twitch was for gamers broadcasting their slick Starcraft II plays; it wasn’t for the popular or the beautiful.
In the past four years, that’s begun to change. Twitch’s transition from a gaming hub to a general livestreaming hub has been a rocky one, but in that time hardcore gamers’ views have lagged behind those of users interested in making and consuming Just Chatting-style content. Even the people behind the platform itself seem to be unsure of what to make of the shift. Twitch declined to comment on this story on the record, but emphasized that Just Chatting isn’t currently the top category on Twitch, despite the millions of hours it’s being viewed.
Twitch launched its controversial “IRL” section for streamers who weren’t gaming late in 2016, and in 2018, the platform fragmented it into several categories, including Just Chatting. Streamers might entertain viewers with their reactions to silly videos or their gossip about a YouTube celebrity. They might dole out advice to the lovesick or just sit there in a thousand-dollar gaming chair singing along to hip-hop and talking about their glamorous life. Also associated with Twitch’s IRL section was the notorious streamer Paul “Ice Poseidon” Denino, whose unhinged stunts attracted a bevy of viewers but also real-life damage, including the month he got swatted every day, according to The New Yorker.Byron “Reckful” Bernstein, who drew in much of his 900,000-strong following on Twitch playing World of Warcraft, now says he averages 11,000 concurrent viewers when he’s gabbing with friends and fans to upbeat music.
“They get to know the broadcaster on a personal level,” says Bernstein. “Parasocial relationships are starting to form more and more often. When I go to an event (TwitchCon, BlizzCon), anyone who approaches me already feels they know me on a personal level—better than they know some of their closest friends.”Just Chatting encompasses everyone and everything. It includes a streamer with the handle Kitboga, who trolls tech support scammers with the wit of a performance artist; Sophia “Djarii” White, who paints her whole body to resemble videogame characters; Kaitlyn “Amouranth” Siragusa, who works out in sultry attire; and Maya Higa, who shows off her falconry skills and engages viewers about environmental conservation.
“People joke about me not playing games,” Higa says. “I’m not a gamer. I never have been.” (Most streamers mentioned here do sometimes play games, and their follower counts range from 128,000 to 1.2 million.)