In 2020, the international livestreaming scene has been a lifeline for millions of people who’d otherwise have gone stir-crazy while social distancing, and it’s been reflected in the audience numbers. Amazon’s Twitch has continued to break viewer records, its competitor Facebook Gaming has seen a steady rise, and increasingly, users are flocking to non-gaming DIY content like video logs and beauty tips.
These are some of the major points from the latest “State of the Stream” report, courtesy of StreamElements and its analytics partner Arsenal.gg. StreamElements keeps track of trends in the livestreaming business as part of its main hustle, which is furnishing streamers with useful tools and services to assist their individual businesses.
One of the stories of the year, month by month, has been the growth of both Twitch and Facebook Gaming, particularly after the abrupt shuttering of Microsoft’s Mixer back in June. Twitch has come out of the scramble as the overwhelming leader in the livestreaming market, and has broken at least one of its viewership records every month since May.
Facebook Gaming has doggedly held on, however, and has increased its viewership by well over 100% since this time last year. While it’s still not moving anywhere near as many hours watched as Twitch, it’s still managed to carve out a respectable audience. Twitch peaked at around 1.7 billion hours in November, versus Facebook’s all-time high of around 350 million in September.
One of the fuels of Twitch’s growth since May has been the steady rise of the “Just Chatting” category, which includes video logs, open conversations, and other unscripted interactions between a streamer and their audience. Back in December 2019, Just Chatting was already the No. 1 category on Twitch by a slim margin, accounting for roughly 80 million hours watched. This past November, Twitch streamers spent a cool 228 million hours in the same category.
That’s not just a nearly 300% increase in the audience in eleven months. That also makes it bigger than the next three top categories — livestreamed gameplay of League of Legends, Among Us, and Fortnite — put together. That’s an easy stat to write off as a knock-on consequence from lockdown boredom, but that’s also the kind of overall audience momentum that’s not going to go away when COVID does.
While a lot of video game coverage on Twitch did suffer slight to significant decreases in November, both Minecraft and World of Warcraft bucked that trend by enjoying big audience spikes. With World of Warcraft, this can be attributed to the release of its latest expansion Shadowlands, which sends players into the game world’s elaborate afterlife in search of the renegade ex-Warchief Sylvanas Windrunner.
Minecraft‘s sudden popularity has a more elaborate story behind it. While there was a big patch for the game’s base edition on Nov. 16, the primary driver of Minecraft‘s Twitch boom seems to have come from the game’s speedrunner community. This is an unofficial player-designed competition, where runners start a new world on Survival or Hardcore difficulty and compete against one another to reach and kill an ender dragon in as little time as possible.
In a June update, Minecraft added the ability for in-game monsters called Piglins to trade for goods with the player. One of the items that Piglins might offer is a rare endgame material called an Ender Pearl, which were previously much harder to find, and which are required to build a gate to the area where ender dragons are found.
As a result, this touched off a new wave of competition among Minecraft fans, since an easier way to get Ender Pearls meant much faster clear times than were previously possible, and audiences tuned in to watch as competitive speedrunners worked live to break the old records. One Minecraft streamer, Dream, has enjoyed a meteoric rise of his own over the course of the year, with several of his YouTube speedrun videos getting millions of views. However, he’s now engaged in a public feud with the speedrun.com administrators, who call Dream’s world record run times “too unlikely to verify.”
Another category on Twitch that’s exploded recently is the Beauty & Body Art topic, which has grown by 260% since November 2019. While this isn’t a big rise on paper, from 32,000 hours watched to roughly 117,000, it marks the shift from Beauty & Body Art being a niche subject for streamers to a potential new trend. Several of the top channels in the category have already picked up cosmetic brands as sponsors, which could potentially convince the online beauty-tips crowd to start dipping its toes into the Twitch scene.
That being said, the actual viewership numbers on Beauty & Body Art are sharply divided. The top two streamers in the category — Brazilian beauty vlogger TrizPariz and UK-based yoga teacher/body painter Ruby True — are running neck-and-neck, with the next eight all competing for a smaller piece of the overall audience. It may not be that the category is on the way up, so much as these two people are, and everyone else is enjoying what a stockbroker would call a “sympathy bounce.”
The next big question, going into 2021, is what happens to this livestreaming boom post-pandemic. There’s no firm timeline on when that will be or what it will look like, naturally, but a significant amount of the streaming industry’s momentum is owed to the fact that everyone was stuck inside with nothing else to do for three-quarters of the year. If Twitch isn’t asking itself what its business model looks like when it’s forced to once again compete with life events like “going outside,” it should be.
The overall scene is also in for some legislative challenges in 2021. Facebook Gaming is in the regrettable position of, well, being associated with Facebook, which is in just about everyone’s crosshairs at the moment and is likely to spend a lot of time in federal court in the year to come. While its streaming arm is one of the least controversial parts of the company overall, it’s also in a precarious position against an overwhelming competitor, and any disruption to Facebook Gaming’s day-to-day could have disastrous consequences.
Meanwhile, Twitch has its own issues building on the horizon. As we noted in last month’s report, the Recording Industry Association of America mounted a full-fledged attack on Twitch last summer, filing more Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests against the service in any given week than the entirety of Twitch had received in the previous three years.
Twitch initially reacted by quickly deleting much of the offending content, which meant a lot of streamers woke up one day in November to discover their video archives were gone. Twitch, with its deeply annoyed users on one side and a vengeful music industry on the other, has been scrambling behind the scenes since then to address the issue.
The same problem hit a new high for Twitch last week, when Sen. Thom Tillis introduced a proposal as part of the newest omnibus spending bill that would turn unauthorized streaming of copyrighted material into a felony, rather than a misdemeanor. Were it to pass, that would force Twitch and other online content platforms to make extensive modifications to their current business model, and could potentially force American streamers to make some tough choices in 2021.
While this is theoretically just as much of a problem for Facebook Gaming, Twitch currently hosts somewhere around 91% of the content creators in modern livestreaming. That means a sweeping reform of the laws which govern it is primarily Twitch’s — and Amazon’s —headache. 2020 has been a sort of golden age for streamers, but there’s a lot to indicate that by this time next year, it’s going to be a very different ball game.
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