Where to watch eSports: A guide to the best eSports streaming platforms
The billion dollar industry of competitive video gaming, better known as eSports, has gone from strength to strength. Once a niche, under-the-radar form of competition, eSport has slowly but surely entered mainstream consciousness, with tournaments regularly selling out large sports venues as millions of viewers watch online. eSport players are even able to earn millions of dollars, through tournament prizes, league salaries and sponsorships.
And while mainstream broadcast networks are trying to get in on the action, you’ll find the majority of eSports content on streaming platforms. These have played a critical role in bringing eSports to the masses, and for a long time were the only way to watch the sport. As well as broadcasting eSports contests, these platforms also exhibit content from pro-gamers, teams and streamers, helping them to bolster their followings, monetize their videos, and profit from subscription fees and viewer donations.
If you’re interested in watching more gaming content, these are the main eSports streaming platforms to check out:
Twitch almost single-handedly spearheaded the rise of video game streaming, and remains the most popular gaming platform by far. Initially launched as a spin-off of justin.tv in 2011, it gained 45 million unique viewers by October 2013 and was acquired by Amazon for $970 million the following August. Cut to the present day and Twitch is the 31st most popular website in the world, and 14th most popular in the United States with the platform averaging a whopping 46 billion minutes watched each month. Twitch’s sense of community has been key to its success, effectively serving as both video platform and a social network for gamers.
In terms of eSports content, Twitch is a particular favorite among fans of Call of Duty and Fortnite, though it has also become synonymous with League of Legends, broadcasting the annual LoL Championship. It also streams the NBA 2K League, the Rocket League Championship, and the Fortnite World Cup. In addition to professional eSports tournaments, you can also find content from individual streamers and gamer-related talk shows. Some of the platform’s biggest streamers include Tfue, Myth and Summit1g.
While Twitch is the undisputed king of video game streaming, YouTube was determined not to be left behind and has managed to capture a decent share of the market. The site’s dedicated gaming space, YouTube Gaming, has garnered plaudits for its easy-to-use interface, and the ability to rewind during live broadcasts. The platform now has 90 million subscribers, with the total hours watched rising by 46% during 2019. Fortnite is YouTube Gaming’s most popular title, though Call of Duty and Minecraft also attract plenty of views.
The platform has been increasingly proactive in making valuable commercial eSports deals, including beating Twitch for a $160 million contract with Activision Blizzard in January 2020 for the exclusive streaming rights to Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Hearthstone, among others. YouTube has also tied down big-name streamers such as Jack “CouRage” Dunlop, Elliott “Muselk” Watkins and Lannan “LazarBeam” Eacott in recent times.
Formerly known as Beam, the Microsoft-owned platform has some interesting features that sets it apart from its competitors. One of these is its low latency, which means that there’s no delay between what streamers see and what viewers see. This improves real-time interaction and helps to increase the community spirit. Another useful aspect of Mixer is MixPlay, a feature which enables viewers to interact directly with the games being played, by voting, triggering effects or influencing gameplay. Additional features like overlays, stats and leaderboards also serve to enhance streams for viewers.
Mixer doesn’t yet come close to Twitch and YouTube in terms of making broadcast deals with games companies, but it is making some headway. For instance, in 2018 Microsoft signed a two-year streaming deal with Hi-Rez Studios, bringing the SMITE Pro League and the SMITE Console Series exclusively to Mixer. Beyond eSports, the platform’s biggest coup may have come in 2019, when Twitch’s biggest streamer, Ninja, signed an exclusive deal with the platform. This enterprising approach is starting to pay off, with users watching twice as many hours on Mixer in 2019 than the previous year.
Facebook Gaming initially launched in 2018 as a dedicated, independent hub called FB.gg, before it was integrated with the social media app in 2019. Then in April 2020, the company released a standalone app, making its gaming platform even more accessible. It can be used for a variety of purposes, allowing users to showcase their own videos, play Facebook’s more casual games (such as Words with Friends, Uno and Bubble Shooter), and watch eSports tournaments. And boasting the streaming rights to competitions including the ESL Pro League, Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins Premier League, and Twin Galaxies’ H1Z1 Pro League, there is plenty for eSports fanatics to get stuck into.
While Facebook Gaming may be a newcomer in video game streaming, it has already made a mark, swiftly rolling out its Level Up Program with the aim of luring both novices and streamers from other platforms. This initiative gives users the information and tools they need to bolster their profiles and earn money for their content, offering courses on the best practices for live streams and planning a content strategy. Meanwhile, the Facebook Stars feature enables streamers to monetize their content through fan support.
Facebook Gaming saw a 210% increase in hours watched in December 2019 compared to December 2018. It has also managed to sign a number of prominent streamers, including Jeremy “DisguisedToast” Wang and Corinna Kopf.