There are only two conventions where random strangers run up to each other and hug; the National Cuddlers Conference, and TwitchCon.
My story is much like others; I can remember sitting in some dusty corner of my house, coddling over several adventure games. The Secret of Monkey Island and Sierra's Quest adventures were my favorite. I fell in love with the characters and the quirky situations I found them in as their stories unfolded. I can say I honestly fell in love with their stories far too much. Minutes in front of my computer turned into hours and, in some cases, even days. I spent so much time exploring the characters that I often forgot there was an outside. My mother would often stop by my computer to tell me, "You're never going to get anywhere playing video games!" Well Mom, I'm sorry to say this, but there's a phrase I and many others would like to tell all parents:
We told you so, parents.
I don't mean that in any negative manner whatsoever. In fact, I mean it in a positive way. You see, Twitch has something magical up it's sleeve. For years, gamers turned Saturday morning single-player adventures into something we cherished and wanted to come back to. Saturday mornings aren't the same as they used to be, unfortunately, as adulthood has replaced carefree attitude with worrying about gas prices and whether or not our sitting posture is healthy. It's the freaks, the geeks, the quiet ones in the corner that grew up to be business leaders, brand executives, and content creators, and they're bringing that Saturday morning fun mentality back into the house.
It was March of 2011 when I first entered the gaming industry in a professional light. I had an appetite for the industry like many others, and couldn't wait to break into it. I got my chance under a major media corporation and launched head-first into it by attending E3. It was my first event--ever--and so I often compare it to going from zero to 100 in .2 seconds. I never thought I could be just a small piece of this industry, but I'm happy I became a part of it. E3, Blizzcon, Indiecade, and other cons were under my belt, and I learned some valuable lessons. The first E3 I attended, I looked like an ass in front of a BioWare executive, lost my notes for another interview, and pretty sure I spit on a game company CEO. But nearly every con has lessons to be learned, and I learned plenty of them each and every time I attended. I learned to prepare for every con, treat all members of the gaming industry with respect, and always be honest. I had my con experience down pat. Until, that is, TwitchCon 2015 landed.
Back in 2015, I was ready to scour the expo floor to find what games were new. I had a list of questions prepared for games and PR executives. However, the convention hit me squarely in the face; instead of product pushers, PR executives shaking hands, and mega-money suits sharing drinks, I found friends, acquaintances, long-lost pals and people hugging each other left and right. For the first few hours, I was dumbfounded by what I saw. It wasn't so much product demonstration (unless you count Twitch Prime and other tech roll-outs), it was people hugging each other left and right. It was friends cramming into cars to hit the next awesome venue. It was laughs over beers, sharing gaming experiences with others, and conversations about how someone sharing a hotel snores too loud for others to sleep.
I was dumbstruck by this kind of mentality, so the next day I left my voice recorder and my journalist visage at home. I walked up to people I had never met in my entire life and suddenly found someone that had nearly the same interests as me (you like video games too?). I found a fellow streamer's favorite brand of whiskey, made a new friend over her choice of cosplay, and a long-time broadcaster I had known only through online discussion ran up to me and hugged me. It was a mentality I had never seen at a con, and it valued friendships over anything else.
This year's TwitchCon was only different by one aspect--it was larger. After getting to know several more broadcasters and viewers, I came back with a better mentality in mind of meeting people rather than product promotion (which isn't a bad thing). It's an eye-opener to see these relationships forged across wires. People from Switzerland, Australia, Japan, and other places all united under the purple banner to share experiences finally in person instead of over a computer. Once again, stories were shared over beer, friends crammed into cars to hit a venue, and people laughed over jokes instead of ogling a new product.
Don't get me wrong--the expo floor had plenty of products to go around. We were well-fed with protein bars and healthier energy drinks. And of course, Twitch had plenty of reveals in store at the keynote address: Twitch Prime.
With this, viewers can actually sub to any one partnered channel for free. It's another way that viewers are able to show support (which we covered here in a little more depth). Plus, a broadcaster doesn't lose out on monetary support. But the fact is it doesn't even matter. I've come across several broadcasters that are befuddled why people would even donate to their content creation. There's a simple answer to that, however--remember when bottled water hit the shelves and people were up in arms about why an abundant resource was being sold? Nobody inquires why that's the case any more. I'd argue the same goes for Twitch, and yet the strongest aspect of it--regardless of the product and services--is still the people.
This con has actually changed me for the positive. Instead of a handshake, it's a hug. Instead of some free swag, it's a smile. It has enhanced my relationships with people so much that I was compelled to bring others to TwitchCon that wouldn't normally have the means to make it. I wanted everyone on Twitch to come to this convention just so they could see how positive this convention and this streaming platform is.
So I've blabbed on about my experiences with this mentality-shifting con, and if you're not convinced by how it changed me, then I hope you can be convinced by a partnered streamer. I had an opportunity (and it's a rare one) to sit down with a fantastic entertainer known as Smokaloke. We spoke to him about his relationships of people that support his channel and how they have changed since he became a full-time broadcaster.
Senshudo: How did your relationship with Brycewise, your community manager, come about?
Smokaloke: When it comes to something like that, it's interesting. Whenever people say "I have real life stuff to do, I can't stream today", Twitch is real life, but the way I like to word it is you have your local friends, not real-life friends, local friends and then you have Twitch friends of course. Funny enough, when Bryce entered my show, he hated me. He thought I was just a pompous asshole and I completely understood. I can come off a little strong. He kept coming back and he and I just had that rare click where, to a degree, we are somewhat polar opposites. He's very quiet, very reserved, very intelligent. I on the other hand, I'm loud, I'm obnoxious, I'm not the sharpest crayon in the box. I don't know how to sum it up in words, but we just clicked and kind of blossomed from there. We're on the same page and we respected each other and what each other had to say. It just took off from there and it's been ever-growing for three years.
How do you think Twitch has changed your relationships?
In the broad spectrum, Twitch has been a fantastic bonding platform. You get to, in so many words, meet people from all over the world. It's interesting to see that happen and you have this platform where like-minded people get together and it's hard not to get along, so if anything I think Twitch has taught me to be a little bit more open-minded and has opened me up a little bit. I try to protect myself and shield myself a little bit, but with Twitch it's a very real thing. People can talk about real-life stuff and relate, empathize. If anything, Twitch in terms of relationships has taught me to listen a little bit more and to pay attention.
How do you think these relationships are changing gaming?
In my opinion, it's--no pun intended--it's a game changer. TwitchCon alone, you and I met via Twitch, and here we are sitting and talking. I think if anything, it's helping people overall, sometimes on a serious level, sometimes on a nerd level. "Hey you like this game? I like this game!" It's that easy.
Do you see your social life as "improved" because of Twitch and games?
No. Actually Twitch has been pretty detrimental to my local social life because of my position being a full-time streamer. There are a lot of sacrifices that go unseen by the general masses and the Twitch community, the sacrifices that streamers have to make. I guarantee all of them. It's, for me, personally, forty hours live, almost guaranteed each week, if not more, and then there's twenty plus off-screen hours of work where you're networking, prepping, planning, and unfortunately you do have to blow off your real-life friends, your local friends, at times, and it sucks. For the most part, they understand. They're real friends, they're good friends, they understand, but it's actually hurt my social life. That's a very real topic and I don't think enough people talk about it. We gotta put on the face, you know, it's your personality. It's you. I think somebody worded this real well. There's a few fake streamers out there, but it's you, cranked to eleven. You take your personality and crank it up for the show.
What do you think TwitchCon is doing for gaming, developers, publishers, individuals, and even youth?
TwitchCon specifically has done wonders. I want to shout out to the indie community because this is a great place for indie developers and companies to really showcase their selves because half the battle is exposure. Being able to be put on the floor and do the things that they're doing here...case in point example, Lachhh, Just Shapes and Beats, I don't think anyone's done it, the real life raid! We all bombarded his channel and got more and more people hyped about it. Without this type of exposure, he's just some guy on the Internet making a game. How do you get noticed? These types of conventions and get-togethers really, really open up the door for a lot of people to get hyped. You'll meet somebody and they say "Oh, did you see this game? No? You gotta check it Then you do, and it's more and more and more exposure, then it just bleeds down the line. It's a great thing.
Not all relationships on Twitch are positive. How do you combat negativity between streamer to streamer and streamer to viewer?
The beautiful thing about Twitch as opposed to local friends--I've even had to personally deal with a falling-out recently--Twitch can be...if there's a clash between streamers, and I do have a couple myself, it's really easy to separate yourself because it's online, it's not physically personal. I think it's easy enough to get away from negativity, if it's a viewer being negative you can just ban them. Granted they can come back, but eventually they'll give up. Dealing with it is fairly easy in my opinion. If there is that negativity in that negative relationship, cut it off at the head and get very far away from it. Word does travel around Twitch, it is a family of sorts and people know and find out. It's real easy to get away from it.
What do you think about the new tech and features of Twitch, and because of that do you think that's going to bring an already close community even closer?
I absolutely do. I think it's going to bring people closer and if anything it will expose more people in a good light. We are creatures of habit and change can be scary sometimes, but with something like Twitch it's an ever-changing market and that applies in the grand scheme, and in the single stream. What works one year for a company or a streamer, or a convention even--change is good, the recent changes announced. What little I know right now I think it's going to be a fantastic thing. Essentially, what worked last year won't work this year. It's got to adapt as it's a growing organism.
What do you want to say to the fans?
What don't I want to say to the fans? Hi! First off, and foremost, thank you. It is very true no broadcaster is anything without their community. If it wasn't for the community like mine, the Smokestack, I would just be another schmuck playing video games on the internet. They are the reason we are able to entertain, they are the reason we are able to make peoples' day hopefully a little bit better, we can make you laugh, we can act like idiots, it's very humbling to have stick around and support, like yourself. You're a part of this mess, this fun mess is what I like to call it. I wish there were more words to be able to say thank you for this opportunity. I feel as though...I'm very passionate about this but...you know. From small beginnings to where I am now, I'm one of the lucky few. I have mad love for the people that stick around and genuinely enjoy myself and the community, and make Twitch what it is.
Thanks to Smokaloke for the interview - you can find him live at https://www.twitch.tv/smokaloke!
So, in a nutshell I was disillusioned by TwitchCon--in a positive way. I myself feel compelled to share my experiences with everyone on Twitch, not because I'm looking for article reads or follows, but because I want them to understand that this convention--and this platform--is about people ultimately. Yes, it's a business. Yes, people like Smokaloke and others are making a living from this purple branding company (which is why you should support them). Yes, after three days of walking, I was ready to crash and get the best massage I could find here in Orange County. But the best thing I took away from this convention, after all the friendships I've made across miles of wire, is this:
This is Twitch. This is us.