As socializing has become forbidden during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are turning to online platforms for social interaction.
When Twitch user StarziiLive began streaming in October of 2020, her world flipped upside down.
“I was seeing growth and connection like I couldn’t have ever expected,” she told me. And she’s right. Starzii ballooned faster than most creators, gaining nearly 2,000 followers in the first six months of Twitch streaming, and she continues to grow with her daily streams.
“Most people don’t see progress on Twitch for years,” she said. “So to see so much growth in just a few months really shows how much people want to see new faces during quarantine.”
For those unfamiliar, Twitch is a live-streaming platform with over 15 million unique daily users and over 4 million unique streamers every month. There are hundreds of live-streaming categories, most focused on streaming video games in action, but Twitch also features streams focused on chatting, cooking, art, science and tech, and even autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR).
With Twitch being the largest platform in the world of its kind, it’s easy to see the influence it has on the internet. During the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent global lockdown during 2020 and continuing today, this platform grew wildly, showing how human connection is more important than ever —even over a screen.
Analytics-wise, 2020 was Twitch’s biggest year ever. Between March and April, when quarantine first began in the United States and other countries, the number of hours watched monthly by users on Twitch increased by 50 percent. As of January 2021, Twitch has over 1.65 billion hours of monthly watch time.
As someone who uses Twitch daily, both as a streamer and a viewer, not only have I seen these numbers change lives, but I have also seen countless close relationships form — all in a chat box on screen.
Personally, I contribute this progress to the pandemic. Not only do statistics show that more people than ever are joining Twitch to find online connections, but I myself can say that most of my friends that I have met on the platform got involved because they were stuck at home.
While I’m sure that many people would still find content that they enjoy on the platform outside of the desire to connect over interests online during the pandemic, I am inclined to believe that Twitch has helped people thrive during stay-at-home orders and lockdowns. The interest-based communities of Twitch combined with a strong desire for live, personal connection has driven many towards the platform, and the numbers clearly support this.
My first stream was on February 13th, 2021. In the last month since I began, I have been blown away by how quickly growth on Twitch can happen, as well as how quickly one can become drawn into the Twitch community. I reached Twitch’s Affiliate Status within a week of my first stream — “Affiliate” being a title where you’re able to make revenue off of Twitch, as well as being the first step towards becoming Partnered on Twitch, where the company personally sponsors your streams.
Here’s an image from one of my streams, where you can see that I had reached nearly 300 followers at that time. Now, just a few weeks later, I have nearly doubled my follower count.
Numbers aside, both Starzii and I have found that the largest aspect keeping us streaming is the number of connections we’ve both made in our short time on the platform. Using outside platforms like Twitter and Discord to connect with both fans and other content creators, we have found ourselves in a “bubble of content,” as Starzii put it.
“It’s like you break into the scene of streaming, and all of the sudden you have tons of followers, people reaching out wanting to be friends, it’s crazy,” she said.
This concept doesn’t just apply to streamers, though. More than anything, the viewers have been able to find huge communities of friends that hang out virtually more than most see people in person during the pandemic. One of my viewers, who goes by FishVapor online, said “It’s a weird place. I feel closer to people online now, almost, since I haven’t been able to go to school or hang out with friends. We always talk in voice calls and watch movies together, play games, or just talk about life. . . and they don’t even know my first name.” This absolutely holds true across the entirety of the Twitch community.
My favorite thing that has come from streaming during quarantine has been meeting people I would have never met before. I have made so many friends, to the point that when I host virtual movie nights over the Discord app, I have over 20 people joining the call just to feel that connection and be able to experience something together.
We even hosted a virtual prom in early February 2021 for our friends who were missing their high school proms due to the pandemic. The sense of community is tangible, and I have spent more time with these people on-screen than I have with people in person since COVID-19 restrictions began.
The ability to spend so much time online has given people an escape from the reality of the pandemic. For a while, as users watch their favorite streamer or hang out in a Discord call with their friends, they can forget that the world is shut down.
“I don’t know if when the world opens up that things will change,” Starzii told me. “I think that people are realizing now that they can make true, meaningful connections online. I know it was possible before, but quarantine really emphasized just how powerful the internet is. I think the only thing that will change for me is getting on a plane to visit my friends in person.”
Looking forward to what Twitch will look like after quarantine restrictions end and the world goes back to normal, I expect that Starzii will be correct. I think that quarantine pushed people into online spaces out of necessity for connection, and I think those people will remain in these spaces because now they know the possibilities that are out there for them.
The escape from reality that we see happening on Twitch isn’t something that people will forget about once the pandemic is over — people are always in need of a break from real life. I believe that people will stick with their online friends to watch a stream after a hard day at work or an exam that was just a bit too difficult. The community that Twitch gives people is incredibly kind and supportive, and always there to do something fun even when the world outside seems to be crumbling.