Games

Livestreaming market report: Women increase their presence on Twitch, and everyone’s playing chess

Most of the top women on Twitch are gaming-focused, but the list also includes a Canadian chess champion and an American wildlife rehabilitator. (StreamElements/Rainmaker report)

Last year was transformative for the international livestreaming scene, with Mixer bowing out, Twitch’s meteoric rise, and the continued growth of Facebook Gaming. In 2021, the landscape continues to heat up, with women on Twitch finding new audiences and a sudden resurgence of interest in chess.

That’s according to data from the monthly State of the Stream report for February 2021, produced by Israeli firm StreamElements, a provider of tools and services for VOD production, in conjunction with its analytics partner Rainmaker.gg. (StreamElements’ previous analytics partner, Arsenal.gg, merged with Rainmaker early last month.)

One key takeaway from the report has to do with the increasing prominence of women in livestreamed broadcasting. Even though women make up 41% of U.S. video gamers, only two women were among the top 200 streamers on Twitch last year. That number has grown to nine so far in 2021, most of whom are gaming-focused streamers.

This includes Imane “Pokimane” Anys, who was the most-watched woman on Twitch in February, and is currently the seventh most-followed streamer on the site. Her recent content has focused heavily on both audience chats and Riot’s competitive first-person shooter Valorant.

Other popular female streamers in February include Las Vegas-based Rumay “itsHafu” Wang (No. 3), who began as a professional player of the digital card game Hearthstone before branching out into other games like Among Us; Maya Higa (No. 6), a falconer, musician, and wildlife rehabilitator, who mounted a successful online auction on Feb. 12 in order to open her own animal sanctuary; and Canadian chess player Alexandra Botez (No. 9), who hosts a regular chess show on the platform with her sister Andrea.

Wired in November noted that substantially more video games featured women in 2020. A report from Niko Partners in 2019 found an increasing number of women who are “transforming” Asia’s gaming landscape.

Other takeaways from the StreamElements report:

  • Speaking of chess, it’s enjoyed a rise of its own on Twitch over the last couple of months. This can be usefully linked to the popular Netflix drama The Queen’s Gambit. Its popularity following its launch in October has led to an upswell of interest in the game, and on Twitch, that led to the category cracking the 20 million hours-watched mark in February.
  • In addition to Botez, a five-time national chess champion in Canada, the chess audience on Twitch has been fueled by grandmasters running their own channels, such as Hikaru Nakamura and Aman “chessbrah” Hambleton.
The comparison between January of 2020 and 2021 paints a stark picture of Twitch’s rise during the COVID pandemic. (Source: StreamElements/Rainmaker)
  • Twitch has more than doubled its audience since the start of last year, though February saw a slump for the service, with three fewer days for broadcasters to fill. Still, it was an 82% increase from last year. Twitch streamed over 1.8 billion hours of content last month.
  • Facebook Gaming, the only remaining major competitor to Twitch, had its best month yet in January, breaking its previous records in 2020, but didn’t crack the 400 million hours-watched mark in February. Facebook has a consistent share of this audience and seems to be in it for the long haul, but Amazon-owned Twitch still commands a gigantic share of the livestreaming marketplace.
  • Live video gameplay still makes up the majority of the top content on Twitch, though one trend from last year — the dominance of the video-log/slice-of-life category “Just Chatting” — is holding firm. While Just Chatting did take a slight hit in February, it’s still comfortably No. 1 in content overall with 235 million hours watched.
  • For video game content, Grand Theft Auto V saw a big boost in February thanks to two top streamers — Félix “xQcOW” Lengyel and Colorado Springs-based Jaryd “summit1g” Lazar — playing it live. Fortnite, Minecraft, Valorant, and Apex Legends all also saw notable increases
  • The British-made survival game Rust still cracked the top ten on Twitch in February, but ate a massive drop in popularity from January. This is probably due to the end of a promotional deal that Rust had with Twitch from Jan. 7 to 14, where players could earn unique cosmetic items in-game by watching specific broadcasters’ streams for up to eight hours.
It turns out that when you bribe people to watch your content for hours, your game gets popular, and when you stop, so do they. (Source: StreamElements/Rainmaker)

In general, the livestreaming audience seems to have continued its overall growth since 2020. Its initial growth was visibly spurred by the first weeks of social quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As distancing measures forced live entertainment to shut down, Twitch ended up as the last port of call for bored audiences looking for some semblance of human communication.

However, Twitch is still dealing with one major unanticipated consequence of its new audience, and no, I don’t mean that whole “pogchamp” thing. (Don’t ask me to explain “pogchamp.” I can, but it would demean us both.)

Last summer’s barrage of copyright strikes from the American music industry has led Twitch to implement new algorithms on its service that police its broadcasts for any hint of copyrighted music.

Since almost no humans are involved with this curation process, it’s had the unfortunate side effect of doing significant damage to the Twitch musician community, with independent performers like DragonForce’s Herman Li reporting they’ve picked up copyright strikes for streaming their own music.

If you watched Metallica’s live show for BlizzCon 2021 on Twitch, their performance of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was muted and replaced by what sounded like overworld music from an NES game. It was hilarious. (YouTube screenshot)

This hit an unexpected crescendo, or possibly a nadir, on Feb. 19. The California-based video game company Blizzard held a virtual version of its annual fan convention, BlizzCon, to announce game-related news like the next big patch for World of Warcraft.

BlizzCon usually has popular musicians on hand to play a show at BlizzCon, and this year, it hired the heavy metal band Metallica for a virtual concert. Thanks to Twitch’s algorithms, though, Metallica — a well-established band playing its own music in a professional performance — got its audio muted and replaced by 8-bit chiptunes.

If you’re old enough to remember how Metallica lost its collective mind over music-sharing services in the early 2000s, this can feel a lot like a particularly poetic form of justice. More importantly, this serves as a particularly useful example of the challenges Twitch faces, and will seemingly continue to face, as it continues to develop.

Before the COVID pandemic, Twitch was a significant but overall minor part of the entertainment landscape; now it’s moving faster than it seems to be able to keep up with, and the growing pains are proving to be fascinating.

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