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Video game streaming surges in popularity amid quarantine

UPDATED: Thu., April 23, 2020

A screenshot of “Valorant,” a competitive, multiplayer, first-person shooter currently in closed beta.
A screenshot of “Valorant,” a competitive, multiplayer, first-person shooter currently in closed beta.

The New York Times said this month video game streaming might be “the most virus-proof job in the world.” Streaming video is not new technology, but watching another person play a video game over the internet might seem a silly idea to some – why not play the game yourself?

This reminds me of my elementary school years when I couldn’t afford the then-new Xbox, so I would go to my neighbor’s house and watch him play “Halo: Combat Evolved.” Catching a livestream is less personal, but, with much of the world now quarantined, it seems more than ever like a compelling way to pass the time.

Don’t take my word for it. The statistics speak for themselves. The big platforms are Twitch, Mixer, YouTube Live and Facebook Live, but Twitch is by far the most prominent. Twitch’s audience has been steadily increasing over the years, but the platform’s viewership has soared this spring. According to TwitchTracker, Twitch had 1.4 million average viewers in February, 1.6 million in March and so far 2.5 million in April.

Alongside the quarantine, the other clear contributor to livestreaming’s surge is the game “Valorant,” which entered a closed beta on April 7. An eagerly awaited competitive multiplayer shooter developed by “League of Legends” developer Riot Games, it borrows heavily from the tactical and unforgiving “Counter-Strike,” while adding heroes with uncommon abilities.

The developer is unapologetically fueling the hype by limiting access to the game until its full release in the summer. On April 14, Riot Games began offering gamers a chance to gain access to the incomplete game by watching streams.

So far, Riot Games’ strategy is working: It has been the No. 1 most-viewed game since April 7, even beating out the likes of industry giants “Fortnite” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.” According to stream analytics platform Arsenal.gg, in the first week of its unveiling, “Valorant” had captivated viewers for a total of 155 million hours. With just two weeks under its belt, the game has a viewership average of 580,000 at any given time.

In recent years, many game developers have operated under a similar model: Release a closed beta to reviewers and streamers and eventually release an open beta to all gamers before quickly unveiling the full game a few weeks later. That tactic worked well for “Overwatch” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” but “Valorant” does not release until summer. Will the hype hold steady until then?

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