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SWX gets in video gaming business with launch of streaming channel

Sam Adams is used to talking about games.

Usually, they’re of the touchdown and home run variety. On Wednesday, the 42-year-old sports anchor for SWX will trade those for the pixelated arena of video game streaming, a dream he’s had since the 1990s.

“I just remember leaving school going, I want to make a video game TV show,” Adams said. “I feel like I’ve missed my opportunity. I feel like baseball was invented 20 years after my prime.”

Adams, other KHQ personalities and some special guests will play 50 straight hours of “Graveyard Keeper,” a medieval cemetery simulator published by Bothell-based tinyBuild Games that releases Wednesday. The marathon will launch the 24/7 sports station SWX’s channel on Twitch, a popular service where gamers broadcast their hobby – and personalities – to millions of followers each month.

“It’s part about the game, part about who’s doing it,” said Adams. “There’s a relatability there.”

SWX is powered by KHQ, the local NBC affiliate owned by The Cowles Co., which also publishes The Spokesman-Review.

“Streaming,” among the younger demographic of gamers, has become even more popular than traditional televised sports, according to a market analysis by the firm Limelight Networks published earlier this year. That study of 3,000 gamers worldwide found that two-thirds of those ages 18 to 25 watched someone else playing online at least once a week. They also spent more time watching broadcasted video games than traditional sports.

For Adams, who grew up playing the Atari 400 and charting “SimCity” burgs on graph paper in his math classes, the idea of a Twitch channel for a sports station is a no-brainer. The enthusiasm is there, even if the references may be a tad dated for the “Fortnite” crowd.

“In hindsight, I kind of think of Weird Al Yankovich in ‘UHF,’ how they had the 48-hour marathon to save the station,” said Adams of the inspiration for stream to kick off the channel on Twitch, referring to the 1989 cult classic film. “We don’t need to save the station. Station’s doing just fine, but basically something wacky and different.”

Twitch, the most popular service used by streamers, sold to Amazon in August 2014 for a little less than a billion dollars. Gamers have grown cult followings by broadcasting themselves online using technology a younger Adams could only dream of after graduating college in the 1990s.

The explosion of streaming has caught some of the traditional old guard of gaming by surprise. Rand Miller, co-creator of the trailblazing “Myst” series of adventure games at Mead-based Cyan Worlds, Inc., said his team was puzzled by the request for free software in the weeks leading up to the release of their 2016 title, “Obduction.”

“Given the fact that we’re old school, we said, ‘Well no way, we’re not going to give you the key to our game, so that you can put up there so thousands of people can watch you play and give away all our secrets,’” said Miller.

The team realized the error of their ways a few short weeks later, when they all stood around a quality tester’s screen watching a Twitch streamer playing their title in real time on release day.

“Even us, having worked on it, not all of us have got to see people play and how it worked,” Miller said. “It was kind of mesmerizing. You could right away see the appeal.”

That appeal is not without its own concerns among parents and child health care professionals, who caution the same dangers that are true of the internet and television for young consumers is also true of watching online streams. That includes violent or otherwise explicit content in the games themselves, not to mention the commentary that’s being broadcast by popular Twitch and YouTube personalities.

SWX has established rules of engagement for its channel, requiring viewers to treat others and the streamer with respect in chatrooms or face bans. The first streaming title, “Graveyard Keeper,” features some mature themes that are presented in a cartoony, Super Nintendo-era overhead style. The title, from Russia-based developer Lazy Bear Games, takes many of its cues from the wildly popular “Stardew Valley” and casts players as the caretaker of a medieval graveyard under mysterious circumstances.

The game is recommended for children ages 10 and up by the Electronic Software Ratings Board, a panel that issues ratings based on a game’s content. The stream will include a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer that directs viewers to another channel if they’re offended by any of the game’s content, and Adams met with streamers Tuesday night to lay ground rules that include no swearing.

Miller called the current state of online streaming “the Wild West” but that it made sense for a TV station to provide its own streaming channel that could feed other gaming content, including coverage of the growing e-sports industry.

“It seems like the time is good for a little more control of that, from some people who are used to that,” Miller said.” You get people who are more involved in traditional stuff, they’ve been vetted, there’s a certain level of trust from the audience.”

The channel will also have professional production talent behind it, Adams said, complete with the same recording equipment that’s being used to produce nightly sportscasts. The channel’s gaming computer is just a few feet from the SWX sports desk.

The success of the stream and viewer feedback will determine the future of the SWX channel, which the station believes is the first gaming platform being launched by a traditional TV affiliate in the United States. That includes scheduling streams with different personalities, specialized content on release dates (Adams teased a tie-in with the exclusive Spiderman video game launching next month on Sony’s Playstation 4) and maybe even coverage of e-sport competitions.

That type of programming would help SWX reach an audience whose gaming heroes use joysticks instead of bats and gloves.

“There are people who are growing up with the dream, that that’s going to be it,” Adams said. “They’re going to be a YouTuber. They’re going to be a Twitch player.”

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