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Video games come of age as spectator sport on Twitch

By Barbara Ortutay and Ken Sweet
Associated Press

NEW YORK Video games have been a spectator sport since teenagers crowded around arcade machines to watch friends play “Pac-Man.” And for decades, kids have gathered in living rooms to marvel at how others master games like “Street Fighter II” and “Super Mario Bros.”

Today there’s Twitch, the online network that attracts millions of visitors, most of whom watch live and recorded footage of other people playing video games – in much the same way that football fans tune in to ESPN.

Twitch’s 55 million monthly users viewed more than 15 billion minutes of content in July, making Twitch.tv one of the world’s biggest sources of Internet traffic. According to network services company Sandvine, Twitch generates more traffic in the U.S. than HBO Go, the streaming service that’s home to popular shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “Girls.”

Fans watch for the same reasons ancient Romans flocked to the Colosseum: to witness extraordinary displays of agility and skill.

Jacob Malinowski, a 16-year-old Twitch fan who lives outside Milwaukee, admits that some may question the entertainment value of Twitch’s content.

“(But) I think it’s interesting because you get to watch someone who’s probably better at the game than you are,” he says. “You can see what they do and copy what they do and get better.”

Amazon’s commitment to purchase Twitch for nearly $1 billion this week is an acknowledgement that the service’s loyal fan base and revenue streams from ads and channel subscriptions present enormous opportunity.

Most Twitch viewers are gamers themselves who not only see the live and recorded video sessions as a way to sharpen their abilities, but also as a way to interact with star players in chatrooms or simply be entertained.

Twitch fans are the stuff of advertisers’ dreams. They are mostly men ages 18-49, an important demographic for advertisers. Nearly half of visitors spend 20 or more hours a week watching Twitch video, according to the company.

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