When I was young, the early 2010s was a time of experimenting when it came to the internet. All sorts of websites were either being invented or gaining traction. Facebook was dominating the social media industry, YouTube was becoming a household name for watching video content and then there was Twitch, which was one of the first websites to capitalize on the concept of gaming streams.
Being exposed to all of this change, an impressionable 12-year-old me found herself gravitating towards the side of the internet that was filled with, what we call now, gaming content. To give a brief definition of what it is, depending on the creator, gaming content is essentially recordings of another person playing video games. I remember being so obsessed with watching those kinds of videos, made by gaming creators like PewDiePie, ChilledChaos, CaptainSparklez. And whenever my parents saw me watching these types of videos so intently on my fourth generation iPod, I was always asked this question:
“How do you find watching someone else play a video game so entertaining?”
In hindsight, I can understand my parent’s confusion. Video games were meant to be played. Where’s the fun that comes from watching someone else have fun? 12-year-old me may have had a hard time coming up with a reasonable answer for that question, but now, I have plenty of reasons that explain the entertainment value that comes from watching gaming streams.
A lot has changed since the early 2010s, and while it may have initially been viewed as bizarre, gaming streams have risen to a level of both immense popularity to the general public and profitability for many companies. Platforms such as Twitch have seen an increase in viewer engagement, an average of over 17.55 million daily users by 2019, according to The Conversation writer, Joel Abrams.
Clearly, there is an appeal to video game streaming, but what exactly is up with the hype? Well, I could ask the exact same question to someone who watches football games. What the two forms of entertainment have in common is gratification for the viewer. And luckily for us, there have been scientific studies conducted that illustrate the influence that gratification has, especially within a gaming setting.
According to an article from the journal "Computers in Human Behavior," results from this particular study revealed that “all five classes of gratification (cognitive, affective, social, tension release, and personal integrative) were significantly associated with the main outcome variables related to how many hours and how many streamers individual users watch.”
The five classes of gratification refer to the scientific theory titled "The Uses and Gratification Theory," which talks about the effects certain forms of media have on people. This concept applies to a gaming stream setting for the following reasons:
- Cognitive needs refer to one’s need to acquire knowledge, which is perhaps one of the popular reasons why gaming streams are highly valued. Just like how a person may pull up a video to figure out how to set up a vacuum cleaner, gaming fans may pull up a video to figure out how to beat a certain level or boss (a significant computer-controlled enemy).
- Affective needs refer to one’s need to satisfy one’s emotional needs. When you’re watching a comedy movie, you’re appealing to your emotional needs for humor and entertainment. It’s exactly the same for a person watching a gaming stream. A person may watch a streamer’s gameplay due to how humorous their commentary is, or a person may watch an Esports game to feel the rush of adrenaline that comes from watching competitions. Either way, the affective needs of a viewer are met definitively which helps to illustrate the entertainment value that comes from video gaming streams.
- Social integrative needs refer to the need for socialization. Watching video games streams has its entertainment value for its viewers, but what truly makes gaming streams so appealing is their social factor. Streaming platforms like Twitch incorporate a chatroom function that allows for viewers to interact with both the streamer as well as with other viewers. This socialization aspect provides a sense of community, and with the pandemic limiting the ability for face-to-face interaction, it’s no wonder that there’s been a spike in gaming video content viewers, surpassing 1.2 billion in 2020 according to Unboxed writer, Georgie Peru.
- Tension-free needs refer to the need to escape from reality to relieve one’s stress. What makes a streamer, such as on Twitch, successful is their ability to give entertaining commentary as well as gameplay, which inadvertently allows for their audience to become completely engrossed with the video. The purpose of video gaming itself is to transport players to another world, a setting that differs from reality. With gaming content, viewers are able to share that experience with the streamer, thus allowing for an escape. I know I cannot count the many times I’ve come home from a hard day of school and pulled up a Minecraft Twitch stream just so I could let my thoughts of school slip away.
- Personal integrative needs refer to the need to self-assure oneself. Although this type of gratification is probably the least common type of need found in gaming viewers, it still holds its impact on the reasoning behind the appeal. Viewers could watch a Twitch stream of a particular game they may be interested in playing, and depending on the buzz behind the game, could lead to the individual purchasing the game for themselves. Thus, it’ll provide the gratification of self-assurance.
Some may think that those who enjoy gaming content would have to be in the younger age demographic. Like I’ve noted, I started getting into these kinds of videos when I was a young teenager, however, according to data collected by the website Stream Scheme, 41% of viewers on Twitch are between the ages of 16 to 24 years old.
Young adults and college students like myself make up a large portion of the consumption of this form of entertainment, and such interest is easily reflected amongst both the media and college campuses. Take a look at the University of Arizona. Not only does the college have a student gaming club with over 1,700 members, but as of March of this year, has launched its very first varsity Esports program, according to an interview conducted by fellow Daily Wildcat reporter, Jacob Mennuti.
Why is this such a huge deal? Well for one, the Esports industry as a whole is worth over $1.1 billion according to esports.net, and it is expected to continue to grow. So it was only a matter of time until colleges, especially the University of Arizona would hop onto the trend. Not just that, but Esports (which for clarification is playing computer/video games competitively) have played a huge role in growing the gaming industry. Before the Esports program became a UA funded program, the gaming club had been doing its part in introducing both competitive and casual gamers to the possibilities that this industry holds.
With this highlighted platform as well as a newly renovated Arizona Esports Arena, it can be reasonably assumed that the UA Esports program will start to branch out into the lives of everyday college gamers and perhaps even introduce new students to the industry.
Just like how sports programs draw so many spectators, it’s very well expected that the Esports program will bring in the same results. I’m quite confident that with the university’s recognition of the Esports industry, it’ll lead to a better understanding and appreciation of the gaming industry itself. And now, whenever someone questions the entertainment value of video gaming streams, they can simply read this article as well as the many other articles that praise the streaming industry. And, if you need to figure it out yourself, simply just log onto Twitch and pick the first streaming video that catches your eye.
Follow Tereza on Twitter
Tereza Rascon (she/her) is a junior majoring in English. She loves to watch musical theater, read and write on her free time.