Ideas of Community
Passion. It runs deep.
It runs so deep.
I want to touch on the stigma of it being “weird” to watch someone play video games to outsiders.
Although improving, the stigma is still present. It’s all becoming mainstream, though.
[nods in understanding]
I never found it weird. The thought of someone else finding it weird is hard for me. I know people did find it weird, because I got plenty of that shit from people. What that did is it made me blind to the exact moment when it went from totally weird to accepted.
Streaming hypothetically was still way ahead of its time. Yeah, there was YouTube. Yeah, there were some livestreaming [happening], but it wasn’t really as prevalent until video game streaming started, putting forth hundreds and hundreds and thousands and eventually millions of hours of broadcasting. Netflix had a huge part to play in it, as well as Hulu, in the sort of larger culture war happening.
For example the eagles stream, when that got really popular. It eventually got parodied and ended up in an episode of Silicon Valley. There was there was a shift in culture, and during that shift is when I think it just became so natural.
Was it weird I was buying video game magazines back in the day? I definitely didn’t think so. It’s like, a new medium becomes accepted and available for people to share and showcase gaming, and also find other people who have those similar passions. The chat as well, it just put it front and center. You and I could both love the ukulele, and we could both go on YouTube and watch a million videos of the ukulele, but there’s never an opportunity for you and I to interact; suddenly, there is.
The chat created an ability for all of us to connect with one another, where that’s our passions, the games we love, the esports we follow, a favorite player, whatever it may be. From there, bonds grow, and the idea of community comes to fruition.
You’ve mentioned in the past that it may not be such a far-fetched idea for kids to come home and turn on Twitch, versus a television, in coming years. I think you said this to Sundance in a conversation a while back?
It’s here. If I said that, it was a while ago because I take a look at my own son…
You know, I look at miniWHEAT [James], my 14-year-old son, and I have watched him grow up in this generational shift that we’re talking about where kids don’t watch television much anymore. If they do, they’re typically watching it on-demand and not on the schedule that the television dictates but where they are dictating schedules, perhaps via a friend recommendation. A friend of his might tell him to check this out on Crunchyroll, or sit down and watch Good Place with us [Marcus and his wife], but usually he’s only watching something if we tell him he needs to check it out.
The way that the new generations are consuming media and even the way that existing generations are consuming media, is completely changing. This is historically something that has happened since radio and has seen the peak of popularity, and then television came out and television saw the peak of popularity. Then the internet came out in the internet is seeing its peak of popularity right now and then evolving from there because now there are new ways via the internet to get your content.
Disney Plus, Peacock, Shutter, and all of these other things that are kind of like branching off to be their own thing; to me that’s creating sort of the new foundation for the question of, “Will it be toppled?”
I don’t know, I think the next innovation that hasn’t been made by anyone else but Twitch it is to combine viewing, community-building, chatting. Whatever that might be.
I would say in 2015 when you guys streamed the World Series of Poker, that was one of the first times where the idea of Twitch shifting away from gaming came up. That pulled in over a million concurrent viewers. Huge.
Yeah, that was definitely a time.
I have a lot of thoughts about this because television was fucking huge. We all agree, that television is still massive but television still has limited audience whether that is a local station or a nationwide network like ABC or Fox or CBS. Technically many of those audiences are limited to the United States, and sure maybe some syndication goes out to Europe or other countries and some of that stuff comes back in, but there is an accessibility problem with television. Subscriptions, as well as not being able to watch anything on your phone.
Suddenly, the internet. Then, Twitch comes in and lets everyone know it doesn’t matter; you just need internet, and you have access to content from around the world.
That is drastically changing everything.
If I’m a company like PokerStars or the World Series of Poker and I have a worldwide audience, ESPN is actually just one small slice of what I could accomplish if I had the ability to globally distribute my content. It makes sense that even as gaming begins to grow or other disciplines, whether that’s Magic the Gathering or chess at that are relative in and make sense in this space begin to use Twitch as a way to globally get their content into the hands of anyone who loves that thing.
The doors were opening pretty early, it was just that in this particular scenario, Twitch was very sensitive about going from Justin TV then to gaming and then you know, what from there? I don’t know.
There was a long time where an IRL stream or a travel stream wouldn’t have been allowed on Twitch. But again, I think like as that culture shifted and as it became a more accepted form of distribution in the way people are watching. Not necessarily accepted, but perhaps more aware that engagement was growing.
Everything has changed.
I know there’s still a lot of money in television and there’s obviously money and rights and that will always be there. But, if you are in a situation where you are seeking that global audience level; look at all the wrestling organizations, right? They are getting so much reach because someone from Poland can admire it and now watch it whereas before, they wouldn’t have been able to, however now it’s on Twitch and it doesn’t matter where this is taking place, as an example. I can still watch it and still enjoy it. So I would expect that. There’s going to be more and more of that in the future.
Twitch’s Core Audience
Will Twitch’s core always remain gaming, even if it becomes popular in other things, such as chatting or real life streaming? That’s the foundation.
Right. I mean… you’re talkin’ and as it stands right now…
[brings up Twitch’s directory]
There are 119,000 watching the Just Chatting category. That’s amazing. However, there’s 521,000 watching Fortnite due to an event, 109,000 watching Fifa, 105,000 watching League of Legends, and that’s just the Top 4, so you can see where I’m going with this. That type of ratio would have to shift over several years; it can’t happen overnight.
So, could it happen? Maybe.
Do I think it will [now]? I think it’s pretty doubtful, because you’ve seen gaming grow exponentially over the last 10 years. I see it as very friendly adjacent content.
Why do you think other platforms have failed to overtake Twitch? For instance, Vine Gaming, Own3D, and AzubuTV to name a few.
It has a lot to do with timing. You’ve heard the phrase lightning in a bottle.
JTV and how that grew with what Justin Kan originally did and how it became an open broadcasting platform. It wasn’t the first one but, I think that it was one of the more recognized first one Stickam was kind of on its way down. Ustream was taking some interesting business directions.
JTV at the time felt a little bit more for the people. Obviously growing from that, Twitch because of the rise of gaming content which again makes a lot of sense. That’s one of the easiest things to start a broadcast for extended periods of time over to audience of potentially millions.
There’s just so much. Timing, a little bit of luck, the emoticons, the dawn of memes, there was a new lexicon that was being created. Kappa was kind of the first memes on Twitch, but you think of the millions of memes that have gone through the Twitch pipelines over the last 8 years.
Why could no one overtake YouTube, right? Fundamentally there becomes a time in which a service become so ingrained that any new player to the market is going to have to innovate reinvent or bring something completely different if they are going to want to overtake it right?
I also believe it has a lot to do with how the original founders of JTV tackled the massive project. They wanted to build a global network to support; they were looking many years in the future and I think created something that was sustainable. The people that Twitch hired from the very beginning as well, very reputable individuals with great histories in gaming. There are so many reasons. That helped create really solid relationships in the industry that it that helped give guidance and Direction and all of it. To me, it’s more technology.
It’s a lot of then what happened on the people side. And who did they meet with and how did we connect with the community? Like I don’t even know the answer to some of these things.
What I can tell you is that one of the reasons I’m still at Twitch 8 years later is because this place is fucking special, man. There’s something about it and… if any one of us could actually put our finger on it or bottle it, we would all be bazillionaires, but then again it’s just one of those great mysteries of Twitch, you know?
If you asked a hundred people why they loved Twitch so much you’d get a lot of the same answers, but then the third and fourth and fifth answer they’d all be completely different.
I know in my heart of hearts that it has a lot more to do then with something tangible. No amount of money can recreate the network and expect to compete with Twitch. It just takes more than that. It’s community, technology, the language which people use to speak with one another, it is all of those things. I get that it would be incredibly difficult for anyone.
Are you satisfied with the way what esports has become? In the context of just the whole movement in general. If we look at the genesis to what it is now.
I mean it’s a super loaded question, and I know not intentionally, just because there’s so many different ways to.
This was another one of those situations where we both knew it was loaded, hence his reaction. I’ve known Marcus at this point for over a decade and we’ve both seen how much esports has changed, from infancy to whatever someone would consider it now.
When you start talking to or working with people who were around during its creation, you’ll soon realize that there are predominantly two opinions people hold.
One of them is that esports was better off as a tightly-knit underground entity, and lost sight of its roots as soon as money started pouring in and it became more business than passion.
The other is that every good thing must come to an end, and the acceptance of business hierarchy within esports was critical, alongside the necessary sacrifice of whatever rose-colored nostalgia people keep attempting to latch onto (tight-knit communities, “it was better back then,” and other such things).
Richard Lewis offered some commentary on Marcus’ unfiltered honesty, and impact:
He’s one of the reasons I started—it’s no exaggeration to say—one of the reasons I started doing podcasts is because of him. Him and Joe Rogan are pretty much the two inspirations for the type of content I started doing, particularly with Live On Three. Just in terms of the way that he’s carried himself, he’s never shied away from having an opinion, even to a certain degree while he’s been working at Twitch. It must have been very difficult to say some of the things that he was publicly saying [has said].
He’s always remained true to himself. I think even when you disagree with where that might take somebody, you have to respect their clarity, vision, drive, and motivation to where they’re going. Marcus is an inspirational figure within esports and everyone could learn a lot from him.
Marcus’ answer to the original question:
First of all, yeah. People should be fucking proud of where esports has gotten in the 20 years, right? Imagine those 10 years that people are grinding out like we didn’t see much growth. It was like trying to watch a plant grow. Then suddenly, esports was kind of like watching a kid grow where it’s like it’s still happening slowly over time, but you’re noticing those changes, you’re seeing it. You’re noticing this is different than three months ago, this is different from last month, so on and so forth.
I still believe that esports is a crawling baby. For that reason, I think we’re going to make mistakes. I think people are going to fuck up. I think people are going to do amazing things. I think that we have to realistically know this is the stage that we’re in and we have to like try to not go into the toddler stage, and doing the “but, I want to be a teenager now,” because that’s what I feel like that’s what is happening right now, that esports is probably trying to grow up a little bit too fast.
That’s why we’re seeing millions of dollars go towards franchise spots and I mean like great, you know, like more power to the people that want to do that but for everyone else these are going to be intense learning moments because not every single one of these things is going to be successful and not everyone is going to have any sort of multi-year legacy that will come from it. Teams will both fall, and rise from the ashes, right?
It’s just like right now I think esports is in a really volatile position, but also in a position where I don’t think that if the proverbial bubble were to burst that esports would be in trouble, because esports is so well-established now and does have so many big players and does have you no more fans and it’s ever had and even if an Overwatch League disappeared or the CoD [Call of Duty] League disappeared or you know, right there’s going to be other leagues. There’s going to be other games I worry about I worry about like sponsorship Skip and like sort of brand involvement because of that right because of hey, if you spent a lot of money, it doesn’t work out. Do you think you’re going to spend a lot of money again? No, probably not.
I mean to that point, Mountain Dew was a big sponsor of CGS, they got burned and think about how long it was before you saw Mountain Dew again in esports. I think that was a direct result. I can’t speak for certain. I don’t work for Pepsi or Mountain Dew but I believe that result of like feeling very burnt. Touching the stove, getting burnt, and not doing that again.
They could also consider being burnt, but consider the positivity happening and recognize that as well; this is yet to be seen but I’m very happy with the growth of esports. I mean, it’s been an unbelievable growth over the last, what? 20 years? I think that in the last five years we’ve had exponential growth where we hit that first esports event in a stadium and suddenly like that’s a normal thing.
More structure as well, all around. You were even inducted into the esports Hall of Fame, that was a milestone.
Not only an amazing moment for me, but a very eye-opening one as well; it means the world to me. I never set out to do esports with the hope of like one day making it into some hall of fame. It’s absolutely surreal to me that that is something that would happen. Just based off the fact that I was just I was just a kid who loved competitive gaming and I followed my dream and had an addiction to it. I love to be able to say that I was a small part of it. That means a ton to me.
I feel like I finally was able to say that I cemented my legacy and esports and I’m not done yet. Don’t get me wrong, but that era and being recognized for that not only as a commentator but also just as an evangelist right? That’s what I’m most proud of, and Michal Blicharz [Carmack] might be another great one; I remember we’d have conversations thinking how fucking huge esports would be one day. There’s not a bone in my body that doesn’t believe that to be true.
I remember going to events and talking to Carmack and I would leave and I’d be like, “fuck, yeah man, I’m going to cast twice the amount of games now this week, and I’m going to do this, and this, and I’m going to join,” you know? Lots of motivation from incredibly motivating people keeping that dream alive.
All the passionate people, be them individual players, team owners, broadcasters, or otherwise that I got to work with.
In the beginning, it was Marcus’ parents who acted as his support system. As he grew, it became his wife and child.
Although he had achieved so much, he wasn’t alone. What were the dynamics of that family unit that meant so much to him?