Twitch Turns 10, and the Creator Economy Is in Its Debt


Justin Kan, Twitch’s cofounder, just wants his favorite chess streamers to notice him. “I’m in the chat, like, giving them donations, hoping they say my name and shit,” he tells WIRED. He’s terrible at chess, but he can’t stop watching Andrea and Alexandra Botez play it on Twitch. They haven’t acknowledged him yet. He hopes they will soon.

Twitch pioneered this—the digital parasocial thing. More specifically, monetizing it on a massive scale. Exactly 10 years ago, on June 6, 2011, Twitch launched out of Justin.tv, a sort of general-purpose video livestreaming site Kan had founded four years before. Kan, who is no longer with the company, says he and his cofounders spent years ruminating on how to make people interact online and give each other money. Should they have a sidebar chatroom? (Yes.) Emotes? (Definitely.) Career potential? (Yes.) The end goal wasn’t live video; it was the creator economy. Subscribing to people doing things.

Twitch has many legacies, from the Kappa emote to the rapper Drake’s Fortnite stream with Twitch celebrity Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Its greatest legacy, though, is trailblazing this all-enveloping world of patronized content and of gamifying online entertainment, both for the viewer and the streamer.

In late 2010, Sean “Days9” Plott, a fearsome and charismatic Starcraft II player, confided to his Justin.tv viewership that he was super stressed about loans for his graduate school tuition. Fans flooded his PayPal account with thousands of dollars in days. Even after the donation drive, viewers asked him how they could offer more support. When Justin.tv spun out Twitch as its gaming-focused arm months later, early employees asked users what sort of features they’d be into. Plott, who had migrated over, suggested subscriptions. “This made a lot of sense to me,” he later said to InvenGlobal. “Instead of the traditional media model of ‘pay first, consume second,’ an opt-in-support model allowed everyone to view for free and support if they wished.” He would become the first Twitch partner, and a subscription button would appear on his channel.

pointed out that, in the spring of 2021, if a streamer attracted more than six viewers they were in the top 6.7 percent of Twitch streamers.)





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