For the better part of the past two years, Twitch has had the field of video game livestreaming to itself, but YouTube’s entry into the field today sets the stage for what could be a titanic battle.
As curious as it might seem to some, gamers spend a lot of time watching other gamers play video games online. And the field has exploded since the launch of Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One.
On Sunday, Aug. 23, Amazon-owned Twitch (AMZN) had 2 million concurrent viewers on its platform, with a large percentage watching the ESL One competition in Cologne or the League of Legends North American finals.
The service currently has 1.5 million broadcasters and 100 million viewers per month, who watch, on average, 106 minutes of streamed content on the network per person per day.
“I put what Twitch and [YouTube] are doing right up there with VR as the beacons of light that are trying to build audiences,” says John Taylor, managing director at Arcadia Investment Corp.
YouTube (GOOG), though, has the deep pockets and global reach to challenge Twitch’s numbers. And after the Google unit failed to acquire Twitch last year, it’s eager to ensure it doesn’t lose ground in the streaming video market.
YouTube says people currently watch billions of hours of gaming on its service each month—and that half of its top 100 channels are gaming-focused.
But analysts say even with those impressive statistics, it’s far from a sure bet that the company will be able to push Twitch aside.
“Google certainly has the scale and resources that most companies can’t ever match, but that said, they’ve gotten into the augmented reality and social networking fields with Google Glass and Google+—and arguably have not wildly succeeded in crushing the incumbents,” says P. J. McNealy, founder of Digital World Research. “Twitch is pretty well embedded right now with a lot of the hardware systems and it will be a challenge for Google to try to displace them.”
What’s perhaps more likely is the emergence of competition could cause both services to greatly improve their offerings.
“Clearly the entry of Google and YouTube is going to create some waves in this part of the market,” says Taylor. “It’s hard to believe this won’t have some impact on Twitch. But Microsoft’s entry in market clearly had an impact on Sony and Nintendo—and everybody got better.”
Twitch says it’s ready for the fight—and the first salvo may come at TwitchCon, the company’s first fan convention, being held in San Francisco on Sept. 25-26.
“The opportunity in gaming video is enormous, and others have clearly taken notice,” says Matthew DiPietro, Twitch’s SVP of marketing. “We are focused on building upon the foundation we’ve laid with the Twitch community, and incorporating the next-generation features the community has asked for. … We have a very ambitious and long-term product roadmap, some of which will be revealed in the coming weeks and months.”
Another possible outcome of the face-off? A YouTube/Twitch battle could complicate streaming for players, with both companies angling for exclusive relationships with game publisher titles or eSports tournaments. (Exclusive streaming rights from the consoles are extremely unlikely.)
The ultimate impact of YouTube’s entry into the game streaming space, though, is one that should work out well for the entire industry, says Taylor.
“Clearly, there’s a lot of interest and social media attention being paid to what some of the best gamers are doing out there,” he says.. “That can have a direct benefit for the game publishers in that they get a ton of exposure. They get a lot of people wanting to emulate what they see on these channels and it does nothing but help broaden the audience.”
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