YouTube must take small streamers seriously if it wants to compete with Twitch

Twitch and YouTube are currently the biggest players in live streaming. Mixer went down and Facebook Gaming is, uh, Facebook Gaming, so these are the places be if you hope to stream to an audience of tens of thousands. Although YouTube has done well to hold its own against the more established streaming platform by snapping up some of the biggest streamers in the world, it hasn’t quite found its footing among the smaller streamers. Even TikTok is becoming better known for its live streams than YouTube. It should have many advantages serving as a two-in-one platform for live and pre-recorded video, but it has yet to beat Amazon. So what should YouTube do to catch up with Twitch?

Well, the key is in his community, or lack thereof. Twitch was the first notable streaming platform, launched in 2007 as Justin.tv, and naturally has the upper hand as an OG, but it has failed to build a community simply because it has been around for a long time.

Twitch’s trick to fostering its community is its raid and hosting systems. When streamers finally find an audience, it’s rare that it’s an audience they serve alone. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are, if someone is watching streamer X, chances are they are also supporting their streamer friend Y. X and Y may even stream together on occasion. When they’re not streaming together and X disconnects before Y, they can raid or host Y, sending their viewers to say hello, aware of the overlap.

(Image credit: Valkyrae)

It’s the ebb and flow that Twitch provides that YouTube is just beginning to foster. YouTube calls its raid system Live Redirect, but you need to be a partner to raid other channels, although anyone can be raided if they follow the person doing the raid. And then you have to make sure you’re already subscribed to the person on YouTube and then there’s some other settings to check to make sure it works, depending this help guide (opens in a new tab). It’s convoluted and difficult compared to Twitch’s alternative and, although Twitch has suffered from a long period of hate raids (and although they still happen occasionally), no one ever wanted raids to go away, meaning how important they are to the culture of Twitch.

Organize a raid from a channel you are not familiar with can feel like an honor on Twitch. It’s new people, new faces seeing your content. It’s like buying a drink for a friendly stranger at a bar you just talked to. You feel connected and sometimes it starts a whole new friendship. And if the difference in community size is large enough, that can change a lot for the smaller streamer, potentially opening the door to a much larger audience.

The multiple functions of YouTube also go against its success. When I typed “YouTube streaming” into Google, the search engine assumed I was talking about streaming content like movies, not live broadcasts. So YouTube regularly offers videos, movies, and shows, as well as live streams, and navigating between each is inconsistent and messy. And that’s saying something when Twitch’s UI can already be notoriously useless for small streamers pushing them to the bottom of the pile.

(Image credit: Tim “TimTheTatman” Betar)

When I pressed the Live tab on my company’s Google account, the content sent to me included Steven Crowder, golf tournaments, and a confusing amalgamation of children’s sketches titled “IF OBJECTS WERE PEOPLE, food and makeup are alive! Crazy relatable situations (opens in a new tab)“. There’s nothing on this page to suggest to a new streamer that this is the place for them, especially not when Twitch is just around the corner showing a much more relevant stream page – the type of things they might think they could do themselves.

Youtube has has, however, made progress in bolstering its roster of streamers. Every month or so, a new streamer announces that they are moving to YouTube. But YouTube’s deals with these big streamers have very little effect on the small streaming community. You can have Myth (opens in a new tab), LilyPichu (opens in a new tab), Louis (opens in a new tab), TimTheTatman (opens in a new tab)and more on your platform, but what seems to have happened is that fans are going to YouTube to those streams and these streams alone. They don’t go there because the streaming community is thriving or even a strong community at all. They come to YouTube Live to watch streamers they’ve already fallen in love with elsewhere.

The exception to the rule is Valkyre (opens in a new tab), whose popularity exploded not on Twitch but on YouTube. She was a big streamer before, but she’s really found her footing on Google’s platform. It arguably has less to do with streaming and more to do with the boom among us, and the YouTube videos and clips that came out of those gaming sessions. And most importantly, streamers were collaborating on Twitch and YouTube at that time, so his voice and presence were still felt on Twitch in the lobbies of other streamers, straddling the streaming spheres.

(Image credit: Ali Kabbani)

YouTube’s streaming space is more like the European Union, while Twitch is more like the United States. YouTube streamers are like countries with a general governing body, and these countries are clearly separated from each other. Twitch streamers are more like states, mixing more seamlessly without borders although there are still individual communities present. On YouTube, communities care more about their individual countries than the governing body, but on Twitch there’s a much stronger sense of love for the platform and its overall power. Even if they have trouble with the shitty things he does from time to time.

When I interviewed streamers on the Twitch Status (opens in a new tab) earlier this year, each said they were going to start all over again on Twitch despite the success they saw some on YouTube. It’s of course a biased bunch as they stream on Twitch, but even as a streamer myself, I can’t imagine starting on YouTube again, at least not yet. When I started streaming a little over two years ago and was thinking about where to stream, Twitch seemed like the only sensitive option. Mixer was small, YouTube was a video platform with Live afterthought, Facebook seemed toxic, and Twitch was, well, Twitch. The live streaming platform. Even with YouTube’s better streaming quality, potentially better ad revenue, and multiple features, it was Twitch that caught my attention, like so many others in lockdown.

(Image credit: LilyPichu)

YouTube’s streaming platform feels like it’s still under construction. He needs to find a way to bring more than the biggest names in streaming. Maybe there are people dedicated to improving the lower end of the streamer ladder, but we haven’t seen any significant results yet. Although it has so much power over the growth of Twitch streamers as a video hosting website, where streamers place VODs and highlights, it still struggles to compete with Twitch’s title as a live streaming site or even games.

What YouTube needs to do is find a way to make YouTube streaming feel like a home rather than an alternative. It needs to make streamers feel welcome and a central part of what YouTube does, rather than a “live” reflection alongside all the other video the internet has ever seen. Make streamers feel special, like YouTube is the place to be. Otherwise, Twitch will always be number one.

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