October saw the opening of the 3rd Twitchcon in the Long Beach Convention Center. Though it took place in a smaller venue, the actual convention was about the same size when taking into account that last year’s event only took up half of the San Diego Convention Center.
For the uninitiated, Twitchcon is the convention hosted every year by the popular streaming platform Twitch.tv. With events like PJ Saltan, an annual video game tournament about the saltiest player, and Kaiju Big Battel, which is WWE if it had 95% more people in big rubber costumes, Twitch has shown that even since entering the Bezosphere, it retains the creative spark that gives us funny, creative, and (sometimes) downright weird content. Twitch itself started as a video game streaming platform but has since expanded to include any form of streamed content in a full circle back to the roots of Justin.tv. With the introduction of the Creative category last year and the IRL category this year, Twitch has come to embrace all the wonderfully weird things that people want to share.
If we look at Twitchcon, we have to consider what advantages it has over other conventions in the industry. The biggest one is that, due to the draw of the convention being streaming personalities, the con fosters perhaps one of the strongest community focused experiences of any gaming related convention. It’s a time for streamers to meet fans, their communities, and their moderators; in other words, it’s a chance to interact not only with the immediate community, but with the Twitch ecosystem as a whole. It’s a chance to meet the people behind the screen. Most importantly, it’s a space that could potentially foster empathy.
Every year, Twitch highlights a couple of things that come to represent what was important about that year. This year was the Year of Tabletop. Tabletop roleplaying games have seen a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years, but this year especially. Juggernauts like Geek&Sundry’s Critical Role regularly average 30 thousand live viewers a week with many many more watching the vods afterwards Smaller shows like Roll20 Presents and Rollplay also draw a dedicated fanbase that can often break the thousands. For a site that started by being explicitly about video game streams, it’s surprising to see the number of people tuning in live every week to watch people sit around a table and roll dice.
When asked, variety streamer and GM in Residence for Roll20 Adam Koebel says, “Twitch I think has personalized [roleplaying games] in a way that we haven’t seen before with necessarily podcasts or written actual-play in that it allows you to interact with it live.” There’s a big element of community interaction in tabletop streams, which for the longest time existed in the most private sectors of the nerdy hobby undercity.
Another variety streamer DistractedElf cites flexibility of narrative as a big strength. She says, “If you want something to happen you can make that shit happen on a tabletop game whereas in a video game you’re constrained by the physical walls of the game.” The use of a human in the gamemaster position presents a flexibility of options that are absent in a video game environment. The chat can lead you to hidden secrets in a video game, but in a tabletop game, they can have real impact on the narrative being told at the table. It’s compelling because the chat is in on one big collaborative storytelling experience. And at the end of the day, Twitch has always been about that collaborative element.
The next highlight was that this was the Year of the Moderator. Twitch gave one big and public thank you to the people who have been there since the very beginning, helping to keep chat a pleasant experience for all. As a moderator of a channel myself, I admit to feeling a little emotional after having what is generally an invisible contribution be made public.
Finally, this year was the Year of Everything That Makes You, You. Twitch celebrated all the wacky, wonderful, and amazing things that people are passionate about. In a gaming space that’s largely dominated by the homogenous voice of the white male gamer, Twitch has been making motions to buck the trend. With the introduction of things like Twitch Unity and panels at Twitchcon focused around politics, diversity, and inclusion, Twitch has shown that it acknowledges the existence of historically marginalized people and the unique experiences and perspectives they bring to the platform. Is it any wonder, though? Twitch as a business is centered around streaming and streaming is most often centered around personality and identity. It’s in their best interest to break the status quo purely from a financial standpoint. Adam Koebel puts it best when he says, “I think Twitch as an organization, it behooves them if they want a breadth of stories and experiences, if they want the most amount of people to stream, they need to make that space inclusive for the most amount of people and I think they recognize that and it’s on them, too, to make that happen that it’s gonna be a profitable experience for them.”
You need look no farther than the Twitch Yearly main stage and the speakers they chose for insight into their slow but steady progress towards being a more inclusive space. Adam Koebel is an openly queer, openly political streamer who uses his platform and his privilege to educate people on social issues and create an inclusive community. He runs tabletop games, plays video games with a critical lens, and has a weekly tabletop GM/relationship advice talk show. FerociouslySteph is a trans woman and quite possibly one of the greatest forces of goodness and positivity on Twitch. Her relentlessly positive outlook shows us that being a gamer doesn’t have to mean being adversarial or angry. I hope Twitch continues this effort and continues it unapologetically. After all, Twitchcon shows us what we can be: people united around a love of gaming, a love of people. It gives faces to the faceless chat that is infamous for being an absolute dumpsterfire. And, hopefully, it lets us foster empathy in a space that sorely needs it. We all bleed purple.