On my radar: Game on

2014-10-03 13:45

I have a cousin who’s a geek (and I say that in the nicest possible way). He now lives in Canada. On his first return visit to South Africa a few years ago, his parents threw him a large welcome party.

His geek friends arrived, armed with their laptops, which they proceeded to set up on the dining room table. They connected their machines and spent the rest of the afternoon staring at their computer screens, gaming with each other in cyberspace. For a group of friends who hadn’t seen each other in years, I thought it an odd way to spend a reunion, but I’m not a gamer so I don’t quite understand the nuances of the subculture. And what a subculture it is.

This year there have been prolonged negotiations by Google to buy a website called Twitch TV?–?for $1 billion (R11?billion). I say ‘website’ to irk the gamers who might be reading this. In essence, that’s what Twitch TV started out as in 2011 – an offshoot of a live-streaming website called Justin.tv.

What Twitch TV does today is stream, or rather broadcast, any video game being played live, online, from the gaming device to an audience that wants to watch the game being played in cyberspace. Who, you might ask (if you’re a nongamer like me), would want to watch a video game being played online?

You’ll have to take the word of the 55?million unique viewers a month who view about 155?billion minutes of gaming via Twitch TV. Due to its live-streaming nature, Twitch TV gobbles up bandwidth and has now become the fourth-largest user of internet bandwidth on the planet. No wonder Google was prepared to pay $1?billion for the acquisition.

In the end, the deal fell through?–?due to antitrust issues that would arise from the deal?–?so Amazon stepped in and snapped up Twitch TV for a bargain of $970?million. A not-so-insignificant subculture after all.

To understand the gaming subculture, you need to think back to the nondigital beginnings of gaming: the halcyon days of arcade games of the 1980s and early 1990s. Twitch TV CEO Emmett Shear explains the thinking behind the success of the online streaming platform. “When you think about what it was like to play a video game in an arcade, you put your money in the arcade machine and you waited your turn. And what did you do while you were waiting your turn? You watched the people who were playing,” he says.

This simple dynamic began evolving when the popularity of arcade games dwindled in the late 1990s and gamers started playing competitively online, instead of face to face. Communal gaming had moved to cyberspace.

Anyone who games, or knows a gamer, will know online gaming has now gone global. Who you compete with and where they live are unknowns. In the game, your battle is with avatars in an increasingly realistic virtual world and as virtual renderings become more real, so does the allure to watch these games play out in real time, like any sport. Apparently.

South Africa has its own claim to fame in this virtual world. Trevor “Quickshot” Henry (formerly known as qu1ksh0t) is a shoutcaster for one of the most popular online multiplayer games, League of Legends (LoL).

Shoutcasting is a new, but very real, career linked to online gaming, otherwise known as the eSport industry.

Like a sports commentator, he comments live on video games being played online. Consider the vast numbers of people who are involved in his commentary: 67?million people play LoL every month, 27?million a day and 7.5?million in peak time.

Henry grew up in Johannesburg, and started his career with a degree in marketing and business management. But he heeded the allure of professional online gaming.

He assembled teams and competed professionally in competitive online game leagues like Battlefield 2 and Call of Duty 4.

Today he is based in Cologne, Germany, but travels extensively throughout the week.

So there’s a parallel universe out there that most of us are oblivious to. We might think that gaming is a world for hoodie-wearing teen slackers, but the reality is that it is a massive business that the likes of Google and Amazon are fighting over.

So if you’re a parent who wants to make your child take a “sensible” university course and they bring up gaming as a career, you’d better think again.

I bet Henry’s parents never thought he would find fame and fortune shoutcasting in cyberspace.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit: www.fluxtrends.com

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