The morning air wasn’t the only thing that was dank as crowds of streamers, gamers and hardcore memers clamored in front of San Francisco’s Moscone Center on Friday and Saturday, ready for the inaugural TwitchCon.
Twitch, the company behind the eponymously named convention, is an online streaming service known for its video game-related content. It’s grown tremendously over the years — averaging about 550 thousand viewers per day and peaking at 2.1 million, which is more than twice the peak of last year.
Boasting more than 20,000 attendees and 1.9 million unique viewers across the convention’s various broadcasts online, TwitchCon seems to be on track to rival other gaming conventions such as PAX and E3. The thing that sets it apart, however, is the event’s unique focus on the interactions between Twitch’s content creators and their audience.
“The heart and soul of TwitchCon is the same thing as the heart and soul Twitch, the online service,” said Emmett Shear, CEO of Twitch, during TwitchCon’s keynote address. “It’s the broadcasters and viewers coming together to make a community.”
After Friday morning’s keynote address, attendees meandered through the convention center as the Super Soul Bros. soundtracked the day’s journey with live instrumental covers of classic video game songs. Many attendees found their way to the first floor’s Expo Hall, which housed Broadcaster Alley, the Taco Bell Indie Game Garage and the Free Play Area, where guests could play a variety of tabletop board and card games.
A line quickly congregated around the “Paladins” booth, the much anticipated team-based shooter with strategy card elements integrated into its gameplay — a lovechild between “Team Fortress 2” and “Hearthstone.” Developed by Hi-Rez, the company that helped create “Smite,” “Paladins” offered full gameplay demos to convention guests as well as early access codes for beta registration. The matches were broadcasted on displays above the players, garnering laughter for their epic fails and drawing an audible “Oh shit” for their sick plays from the crowd.
The Expo Hall also featured gameplay demos of “big name” games like the new expansion “Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void” and “Guild Wars 2,” as well as lesser known and up-and-coming games such as “Vainglory” and “Just Shapes & Beats” for guests to try out.
Beside the various gaming booths was Broadcaster Alley, where attendees could meet their favorite streamers, such as ZombiUnicorn, Trick2g and MANvsGame.
“I like the fact that TwitchCon isn’t too crowded,” remarked one TwitchCon guest as he waited in line for “League of Legends” streamer imaqtpie. “It gives their fans a chance to actually communicate with them, rather than just taking a picture with them.”
Attendees soon filtered out of Moscone Center’s first floor Expo Hall, and onto the second floor, which held various workshops and panels. Topics ranged from “Women in Gaming” to “Legal Self-Defense for Broadcasters” to “Getting Games for Free: PR and Media”, but had a unifying theme of helping educate broadcasters, developers and other content creators to improve their approach to streaming and development.
“Developers are starting to recognize that streaming and broadcasting have a big impact on the marketing aspect of your games,” said Matt Griffin, the publishing manager of Chucklefish Studios, at the “Indie Games <3 Twitch” Panel. “They’re trying to make games more streamable.”
While streamers flocked from panel to panel, the more casual gamers seemed to be heading toward the Intel Gaming Lab, where they could play an assortment of Twitch’s most popularly streamed games such as “Hearthstone,” “Minecraft” and “League of Legends,” allowing them to meet and bond with fellow gamers, as well as play with their favorite streamers from each particular game.
Although the process of creating visual art is also broadcasted on Twitch, it generally receives less views than other conventionally streamed subjects, such as video games. But TwitchCon still showcased the Creative Gallery on the third floor, demonstrating their dedication to every type of content that they stream. Containing works from Twitch art streamers such as Uguubear and Almightysavo, the gallery housed pieces highlighting the influence of staple characters of the nerd world: Various “League of Legends” Champions, Boba Fett of “Star Wars,” Link of “Legends of Zelda” and the Pokemon Trainer and his legendary party from Twitch Plays Pokemon among many others.
As Saturday wound down and parts of the convention began closing, many attendees came across Twitch Fight Night, which featured a battle of “Super Smash Brothers,” or “SSB,” between SF-based Twitch employees and players appointed by LA-based Red Bull, commentated by former “SSB” pros D1 and Scar. The winners of this matchup would decide the location of the next major “SSB” tournament held by Red Bull.
The matches were streamed by filming the television set with a physical camera, akin to early 2000s method of broadcasting tournaments, working as a nostalgic nod toward the beginning of video game broadcasting. Twitch won with a convincing 3-0 victory, meaning that the next tournament will take place in Northern California, where Twitch is based.
But the festivities of TwitchCon didn’t end at the Moscone Center. As guests began leaving the venue, many made their way toward the Bill Graham Civic Center to attend the TwitchCon afterparty. The ever-meme-able Darude and his surprise cohort Deadmau5 headlined as DJs for the night, renewing the tired gamers with energy from their bouncing 808s and deep trance beats.
Perhaps the perfect ending for the inaugural TwitchCon, Darude performed his Internet smash hit “Sandstorm.” Gamers, with their purple TwitchCon lanyards illuminated under the strobe lights, frantically pumped their fists and screamed as the song transitioned to its iconic melody. After the song ended, a member of the audience jokingly shouted, “What song was that?” Attendees, united by dank memes and a passion for video games, were no longer just gamers or streamers or Twitch employees — they were a community.
Contact Josh Gu at [email protected].