Alone, Together / by Jefferson Geiger

Last weekend I sat on the leather couch in my family room laughing with friends. We reminisced about the good days and wondered where the time went. But the room was empty.

I was watching the video game news outlet Waypoint play 72 games in 72 hours on the streaming site Twitch. The marathon weekend celebrated the launch of Vice Media's new game-focused site.

I had memories of a fresh site because I was already familiar with the staff. Reporter Patrick Klepek worked at the Giant Bomb and Kotaku sites before joining this new venture. I was lucky enough to interview him for my college thesis.

Managing Editor Danielle Riendeau was the reviews editor at ZAM, where I’ve freelanced, and the deputy reviews editor for Polygon. 

Editor-in-Chief Austin Walker replaced Klepek when he left Giant Bomb and freelanced for a multitude of sites when he wasn’t yet fulltime. Before that, there was StreamFriends.

The StreamFriends channel is why I have a Twitch account. Walker joined Polygon’s Phil Kollar and other writers and game developers to play whatever they wanted and comment on them for an audience. They were a socially conscious team with a lot of heart. In turn, the chat room watched what they typed and an inclusive community was born.

I casually watched the streams when I could but that all changed when they played “Recovery Search & Rescue Simulation.” The horrendous game and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” style humor created an instant classic. Five minutes into the stream I signed up to be instantly notified of future broadcasts.

The same levity and geniality convinced me to watch Waypoint’s wild weekend. And it turned out other fans of StreamFriends had the identical idea.

A collection of classics, such as "GoldenEye" and "Super Smash Bros.," new releases like "Mafia III" and unreleased games were all played on the stream. Guests included comedians, rappers and other members of the game industry.

In between segments the camera cut to a pair creating their own gaming PC. By doing it on the stream it began a crowd-sourced project with audience participation. At one point they couldn’t figure out how to fit a component on the motherboard and the viewers told them to flip it—instant collaborative tech support.

Waypoint isn’t the only use for Twitch. The Penny Arcade Expo broadcasts their panels and “Dungeons and Dragons” games. Last year there was a marathon of Bob Ross’ “The Joy of Painting” to promote allowing artists to stream. San Francisco-based developer Double Fine allows anyone with an internet connection to watch their Amnesia Fortnight game jam. For two weeks Double Fine stops all current projects and start something completely different from scratch to refresh the brain.

Microsoft and Sony’s press conferences at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the annual Game Awards, IndieCade and other smaller conferences can also be found on the site.

Just a few days ago thousands participated in Extra Life and played 25 hours of games while streaming it for charity.

Streaming is a major service for e-sports such as “League of Legends,” “Hearthstone” and “Dota 2.” Riot Games says 36 million people tuned into the 2015 “League of Legends” World Championships. Twitch is their ESPN. 

Even when it’s not an official match or tournament, average gamers tune in to watch their favorite player. They learn tips and feel closer to professionals. Imagine having a television channel that’s nothing but Von Miller's practices and matches. Pretty much every game can be found on the site, giving something for everyone.

However, it wouldn’t be fair to not mention the bad side of the service. Generally when the current viewership goes over 200 people, the chat room becomes toxic and abusive. Hateful comments pour in faster then they can be read. Earlier this year someone thought it would be funny to donate large sums to streamers and quickly cancel before the transaction went through. Recently streamers have run into trouble by promoting online gambling sites that they own.

The most dangerous problem plaguing Twitch is swatting, a horrible prank that involves a real SWAT team. A tech-savy viewer discovers the address of the streamer and calls the cops on them. The anonymous troll then sits and watches as an armed force busts down the door of the unsuspecting gamer.

But if one can find the light then there’s no reason to stray towards the dark. The Waypoint stream was around 2,000 viewers when I was watching and the chat was pristine, thanks to the excellent moderators and StreamFriends veterans. It was like returning to your hometown years later and picking up right where you left off.

It’s clear why shopping giant Amazon bought Twitch for $970 million in 2014. The platform has huge entertainment potential. As I watched the final minutes of the 72-hour marathon I was overwhelmed with emotions. I’m excited for what Waypoint and its community will do for the industry.

This column was originally published in the November 9, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.