There are many ways to watch people play video games, but one of the easiest is to fire up Twitch. Available on multiple platforms, including desktop, mobile, browser, and set top boxes, the Amazon-owned streaming service specializes in broadcasting real-time gaming—though it offers kinds of content, too. Twitch’s ubiquity, ease of use, and high adoption rate make it an excellent service, despite a few issues. It’s one of the best video game live streaming services.
Twitch Prime and Channel Subscriptions
Twitch is a free service that inserts ads into its streams at regular intervals. If you’re an Amazon Prime or Prime Video member, your membership includes access to Twitch Prime, a premium experience that grants extended broadcast storage for broadcasters (60 days instead of 14 days), a single Twitch channel subscription (which includes ad-free viewing), exclusive emoticons, expanded chat color options, a chat badge, and free games delivered on a monthly basis. Twitch states that the games are yours to “keep forever.”
To me, the Twitch Prime channel subscription is the most attractive benefit, as it lets me watch, say, TeamSp00ky without Twitch inserting ad breaks into the stream. It should be noted, that that doesn’t prevent channel hosts from plugging sponsors during their broadcasts. You can only apply the Twitch Prime channel subscription to a single channel at a time; you can switch another channel every 30 days. This is a change in how Twitch handles ad-free viewing; a few months ago, a Twitch Prime membership gave you with ad-free viewing across the board.
If you want more ad-free channels, or you don’t have an Amazon Prime subscription, Twitch gives you the option to subscribe to individual channels for $4.99, $9.99, or $24.99 per month. Broadcasters set the subscriptions rewards, so the fun extras vary from channel to channel. You can give channel subscriptions to friends, too.
Alternately, you can sign up for the $8.99-per-month Twitch Turbo, a subscription that serves up ad-free viewing across Twitch’s many channels (you still see front page takeovers, however), extended broadcast storage, additional emoticons, custom chat username colors, priority customer service, and an exclusive chat badge. If you’re a broadcaster, Twitch Turbo benefits you, too—if you’re a Twitch Partner. If you’re a member of that group, you still get credit for ad impressions when a Twitch Turbo subscriber watches your channel.
In addition, Twitch lets you Follow channels if you create an account. Following channels doesn’t give you subscription benefits, but it places those streams into a column on the left side of the interface that alerts you when a streamer begins broadcasting.
Twitch also lets you buy Bits, a virtual currency that you use to purchase emotes from broadcasters to drop into the chat. Pricing starts at $1.40 for 100 Bits, and broadcasters get a cut of viewers’ purchases. This is yet another way for viewers to support their favorite streamers.
Twitch has become the de facto streaming service for gamers, as it’s nearly everywhere, as mentioned earlier. Twitch has Mac and Windows desktop apps; Android and iOS mobile apps; and PlayStation 4 and Xbox One console apps. You can find Twitch apps for Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and Nvidia Shield, too. That said, you won’t find Twitch on Roku or Apple TV devices. Instead, you should download the unofficial but reliable Twitched or Twitchy apps.
Mixer, Microsoft’s Twitch competitor, isn’t quite as ubiquitous. As you’d expect, it’s integrated into Windows 10 and Xbox One, and has Android and iOS mobile apps, but that’s about it.
Discovering Game Streams
The Twitch home screen has evolved a lot over the years. In the past, certain popular games, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, dominated the Discover section, creating an element of sameness to a section that should have been about content discovery.
Twitch now does a better job of highlighting a wider variety of games and genres; it now also features Fortnite, Overwatch, and PUBG. Additionally, you can view a full list of all live shows, explore games by genre, key a term into the search box, or check out clipped highlights of users’ cool gaming moments. There’s a lot of Twitch content, but it’s pretty easy to find something of interest.
Channels and Video Resolution
I spend more time than I care to admit watching Twitch content. In fact, I probably watch it more than Netflix (I should really cancel my subscription) and YouTube. The majority of my Twitch consumption involves fighting games, but I also tune into chess competitions, esports, and the dedicated Bob Ross channel.
Twitch streams are quite reliable; I very rarely encounter video issues. It helps that Twitch auto-adjusts the stream to match your internet connection speed, but you can manually adjust the bit rate, too. For example, TrU3Ta1ent’s recent Mortal Kombat 11 stream let me tweak the video setting from 720p/60 frames per second all the way down to 160p. I’d hate to think what a 160p stream looks like on a high-resolution display, but at least the option’s there for those times when your internet connection drops the ball.
Twitch is ripe with features for viewing, interacting, and streaming. I won’t highlight them all, but I will touch on a few of note.
Squad Stream, released in early 2019, lets up to four Twitch streamers go live and broadcast together in one window. The benefit? As a viewer, you get more angles on the action, a way to discover new streams, and the ability to chat with multiple Twitch communities at once. It’s a terrific way to expand how you use Twitch. Mixer has a very similar co-streaming feature that supports up to four broadcasters.
Clip is a feature that Twitch has had for a while now, but it’s still pretty cool. It’s designed to let you record hype moments by grabbing the video from about 25 seconds before and five seconds after you click the Clip button. A trimming tool is included to help you edit the captured video a bit.
If you want to minimize the distractions, activate either the Theater Mode or Full Screen Mode via icons in the bottom-right corner of the video player. Theater Mode darkens the interface so that your focus is the video content. It also increases the video player’s on-screen real estate, while keeping the chat feed. Full Screen Mode, on the other hand, takes things to the next level by ditching the chat feed in order to give the video player even more space.
PC gamers, if you plan to broadcast from a PC, visit the Creator Dashboard. Here you can see stats, test your stream, and download the appropriate software that enables you to stream. Like YouTube Gaming, Twitch demands additional software, such as XSplit Broadcaster or OBS, to broadcast your gameplay to the world. Mixer, on the other hand, needs no such third-party app on PC; you simply log into Mixer.com and fire up the Windows 10 Game Bar. If you game on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you can Twitch stream using the appropriate Twitch console app.
You cannot, however, stream gameplay using the Twitch mobile apps; you can only view content. That’s one area where YouTube Gaming excels, though it has some rather particular requirements. Mixer offers Mixer Create, an app that lets you stream from mobile devices.
Twitch gives you plenty of presentation tools for enhancing your stream. You can title your broadcast, set up privacy settings so that only certain people can tune in your feed, and generate a stream key that lets others who have streaming software broadcast to your channels. The last is incredibly handy for multi-person teams
Twitch used to automatically archive streamed videos by default, but not anymore (you now have to dive into options and set it up). If you want to retrieve your videos at a later time, make sure that you activate this feature, or you’ll lose everything.
Scratching the Twitch
Twitch is the face of streaming video game content for good reason: It’s easy to use and has enough flexibility to cater to casual and core users alike. Basic account holders must deal with some rather jarring ad videos, but, overall, Twitch is the place to go for professional and hobbyist streaming video game feeds. Twitch is PCMag’s Editors’ Choice for streaming video game services.