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Twitch use grows during COVID-19 pandemic

Twitch mimics much-missed social interactions with live chats, direct engagement with streamers

Twitch streamer Ethan Harris operates the control panel for his music creator on his computer, Feb. 11, 2021. Harris started Twitch streaming his music creations during the pandemic. // Courtesy of Ethan Harris

By Cole Mumper

Ethan Harris had a Twitch account for years, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that he actually started livestreaming.

Harris isn’t alone in his decision — while Twitch has been around for a decade, its popularity has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Why the sudden surge? It’s simple. People miss being social. 

It’s no secret, social interaction is vital for people, something which is virtually impossible to do safely in-person amid a pandemic. However, Twitch offers a safe alternative.

It’s the reason Drew Hardcastle, a fourth-year English literature major and an essential pharmacy worker, has stayed on the site.

“I’ve stayed on Twitch because I have made lasting friendships on Twitch,” Hardcastle said.

Through the site’s more interactive setup, Twitch creates an environment that encourages interaction between streamers and viewers. For a livestream to be successful on the platform, both the content and the streamer have to attract and sustain viewers’ attention. 

For Twitch streamers, maintaining interest means regularly engaging with viewers. 

Interest in the platform grew dramatically at the start of the pandemic and has maintained its heightened popularity since then, and some longtime viewers have stepped into the spotlight themselves.

Ethan Harris, a longtime Twitch user and second-year Western Washington University student, recently made the leap from viewer to streamer.

Harris initially made his Twitch channel to interact with other people on the site, but during the pandemic, he started streaming his music creation videos along with some video game play-throughs.

“I’m at home at my computer so much now, it’s just sorta easy to get started with,” Harris said. “If I were taking in-person classes, I wouldn’t be streaming as much.”

Twitch is able to foster an environment for some needed social interaction, as either viewers or streamers.

“I have noticed higher viewership in channels I watch, mostly because I suspect people are at home,” Harris said.

Caroline Hardin, an assistant professor in Western’s computer science department, has used Twitch in the past and is researching with her colleague, Justice Banson, on how Discord, another website that is also used as a social interaction platform, can affect computer science classes.

Hardin uses Zoom to stream her online class lectures, but she also uses Twitch occasionally to stream other aspects of her class.

Hardin said the internet has always occupied a space in real life, but because of the pandemic, it has become even more prominent. 

Hardin describes social interaction for Twitch as the core of the site’s identity and main appeal, which makes it different from video websites like YouTube.

“It’s huge, without the social interaction you just have another livestreaming platform,” Hardin said.

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