Whether you want to launch a Twitch channel to showcase your artwork or simply watch people play video games, you need to take the time to familiarize yourself with the various terms, tiers, and tricks that make Twitch tick. For instance, what type of hardware and software do you need to stream? Also, how can you watch and support your favorite streamers? Our guide answers all your questions.
What Is Twitch?
First, a little background: Twitch launched back in 2011 as a gaming-centric spin-off of the now-defunct Justin.tv. In 2014, Amazon acquired the parent company, Twitch Interactive. Since then, Twitch has blossomed into the go-to streaming destination for watching esports, streaming games (not to be confused with game streaming services), and supporting other entertainment personalities.
Twitch Communities are long dead, but there’s now a tagging system in place. There are three main tags: IRL (for everything that has real people), Creative (streams in categories such as Music & Production, Travel & Outdoors, Makers & Crafters, and Food & Drink), and game genres (such as FPS, MOBA, Driving/Racing Game, and Strategy). Note that everything tagged with the Creative category falls under the IRL category, too.
One of the top streaming category at the time of publishing is Just Chatting, which is a sort of catchall category for content that doesn’t fall completely into one of the other dedicated categories. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the top streaming content is related to popular games, such as League of Legends, Valorant, Grand Theft Auto V, Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. There’s also the free-to-play Twitch Sings experience, which is just an endless stream of vocal performances.
In addition to esports content, Twitch streams some regular sports too. It’s not a full-fledged sports streaming service, but it has streaming rights to NFL (Thursday Night Football), WNHL, and WNSL games. Know that Twitch lost Overwatch League streaming rights to YouTube, however, and that popular streamer Ninja has left for Microsoft’s Mixer.
You may be worried about your child seeing potentially inappropriate content or being harassed by toxic community members on Twitch—for good reason. Broadcasters, in particular, should assume that everything they say and do on Twitch will be captured and forever available on the internet. There are simply unavoidable privacy and safety risks with participating in any online community, and especially one that puts such an emphasis on the individual. On that front, Twitch recently launched a Twitch Safety Advisory Council and recently updated its Community Guidelines.
Twitch Accounts and Subscriptions
You don’t need to sign up a Twitch account to watch most streams, but you do need an account if you intend to stream for yourself or interact with channels. A free account allows you to contribute to the chat on most streams, follow channels, and stream for yourself. Note that following a channel is not the same as subscribing to it. Following a channel is free and helps you keep track of your favorite streamers. Subscribing to a channel costs at least $4.99 per month and unlocks benefits such as ad-free viewing, custom chat emotes, more chat privileges (sometimes channels host subscriber-only chats), and a channel badge to use in chats. There are two additional subscription tiers at $9.99 per month and $24.99 per month, which include more of the same type of benefits.
Twitch offers two types of paid plans: Twitch Turbo and Twitch Prime. Twitch Turbo gets you ad-free viewing across all streams (except for some embedded ads and ads during promotional events), an exclusive Twitch Turbo chat badge, two additional sets of emotes, custom chat username colors, and extended broadcast storage (60 days vs 14 days). This tier costs $8.99 per month and does not include any channel subscriptions. If you want to subscribe to a channel, the pricing is the same as if you were a free user. Twitch doesn’t indicate whether there are any geographic restrictions on Twitch Turbo accounts.
Twitch Prime accounts are linked either through an Amazon Prime ($12.99 per month) or Prime Video subscription ($8.99 per month). This account gets you a free monthly subscription to a channel of your choice (the $4.99 per month level), free games and game loot to download each month, and exclusive chat privileges (custom badge and exclusive colors and emotes). You get to keep the games and loot forever, but you need to install Twitch’s desktop app to use them. Some of the games I’ve gotten from the program in the past include Superhot, Oxenfree, and Pikuniku. These Twitch privileges come in addition to everything else you get with a Prime subscription, including free two-day shipping, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Prime Music, and Amazon Fresh.
Your country of residence determines what Amazon subscription plans are available to you and how you can sign up for Twitch Prime. For example, if you live in a country where Amazon Prime is available, then you just need to link your account. If you are not a Prime member, you need to sign up for an account and then link it.
If you live in a country where only a standalone Prime Video account is available, you can link that account with Twitch to get access to Twitch Prime. If you do not subscribe to either Amazon Prime or Prime Video and do not live in a country where Prime is available, you can sign up for a Prime Video worldwide plan.
On the topic of account log-ins, Twitch includes an option to set up two-factor authentication. It’s a good idea to do this anyway, but it is a requirement if you plan to join Twitch’s Affiliate or Partner program (more on those later).
Apart from the web interface, Twitch offers apps for Macs and PCs, mobile devices (Android and iOS), streaming devices (Chromecasts, Fire TV, Nvidia Shield), and gaming consoles (PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but not the Nintendo Switch). I downloaded the software and signed in on the Windows and Android apps without any issues.
How to Set Up Your Twitch Broadcast
If you plan to broadcast, you need to make sure that you have the right hardware and software. Some of the dedicated Twitch apps build in this functionality, but the Windows and macOS versions do not. Twitch lists the following requirements for broadcasts: a solid internet connection, streaming software, a machine that will run your content, and audio and visual peripherals.
You should ideally use an Ethernet connection for broadcasts, since network performance is typically faster and more stable with a physical connection than over Wi-Fi. Most laptops no longer include Ethernet ports, so you need to buy an adapter that plugs into whatever port your laptop does have. Windows desktops and iMacs typically include Ethernet ports.
The easiest broadcasting software is Twitch’s Studio app, which is currently in beta and only available for Windows systems. Just download the software and sign in to your account. During the first-time setup process, the app detects connected microphones and cameras, runs a bandwidth and system resources test (you can change resolution options here), and creates three basic streaming layouts. These streaming layouts are what you use to customize what appears on your stream. You can add various layers to each layout such as camera feeds (for example, if you want to add a video feed that shows you on top of the main capture source); any text or graphics; or channel alerts (such as subscriptions, cheers, or follows) in a WYSIWYG editor. After you get everything set up and are ready to go live, hit the purple Start Stream button at the bottom of the app. The app experience is sleek and seamless.
Not everyone uses a Windows PC, though. Alternatives for both Windows and macOS devices include Open Broadcaster Software, Streamlabs OBS, and Lightstream Studio. You can explore all of your potential alternatives and other broadcasting tools on Twitch’s dedicated broadcasting software page. Other options that don’t appear on that list include Overwolf and Bebo. If you want your stream to stand out, take a look at the available Twitch Extensions.
Twitch’s hardware recommendations for streamers, includes details on Windows and macOS computers, audio mixing interfaces, microphones, desk mounts, cameras, and lighting equipment (all with convenient links to Amazon purchase pages). Whether you need a gaming PC or just a mid-range laptop depends on what you intend to stream. For instance, if you are streaming the latest AAA game, you need a gaming PC that can handle running that game and streaming simultaneously. However, if you are just using the computer to process inputs from a camera and a mic, then you can likely get away with a less powerful system. If your system is completely overwhelmed by these requirements, you can use a two-device setup, with one responsible for capturing the gameplay and the other handling the broadcast. That method is expensive though, and is likely not necessary.
Can you find cheaper options than what Twitch recommends? Yes. Do you need everything on this list? No. For instance, you can probably get by without a desk mount and a dedicated video lighting if you already have any decent light source available.
You can go live with Twitch’s apps for mobile devices and gaming consoles without any additional software components. Plus, you don’t need to worry about hardware specs with these platforms. You may have to run through some one-time steps, but just follow the on-screen instructions. Keep in mind that Twitch does not offer an official app is for the Nintendo Switch. However, you may be able to capture gameplay by using an external capture card with the Switch in the docked TV mode.
Build a Twitch Channel
Once you configure all the back-end settings, you are almost ready to start broadcasting. But first, you need to decide what you want to share with the world. Take some time to watch popular streamers to figure out what makes them successful. Some people are great at a specific game, for example, while others have engaging personalities. You just need to give people a genuine reason to tune into your broadcast and subscribe to your channel. Check out Twitch’s in-house Creator’s Camp page for more guidance on getting started.
A significant aspect of your channel’s appeal could be the topic you choose. As explained earlier, Twitch now uses a tagging system for categorization. Whether you seek the tags that attract the largest audiences or the least popular tags that have small, but dedicated followers, you should try to come up with an angle that makes your content distinct. Of course, you must tag your content correctly if you want anyone to discover it.
Since Twitch is primarily a platform for streaming games, choosing a popular title could help boost your popularity from the offset. Games such as Apex: Legends, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, FIFA, Fortnite, League of Legends, Minecraft, Overwatch, Rocket League, and Valorant are all safe bets. New and emerging titles also have lots of viewership potential, especially for gamers who are on the fence about purchasing said games. Above all else, you should choose a game that you are skilled at and enjoy playing. A combination of passion and expertise can go a long way in helping you build an audience. Make sure to avoid any games that Twitch forbids, namely those that have an Adults Only rating from the ESRB or violate existing community guidelines. You can check Twitch’s current (but non-exhaustive) list just to be safe. In any case, our roundup of the best video games for kids is a good place to start.
A large portion of Twitch content falls outside gaming now, too. Some of the IRL and Creative tags are just as popular as some of the biggest games. The Just Chatting category tops the charts on the creative side of things, so that’s as good a place as any for new streamers to start, though the Music & Production category is not too far behind. The same rules apply here for building an audience. Either bring a unique personality to your viewers or showcase your talent or a skill that other people can enjoy watching.
Chats are another way to build and foster your community of followers. In addition to public chats, Twitch lets streamers set up subscriber-only chat rooms, so you can keep in touch with the people who are invested in your channel. Consider it an investment call for the social media age. Maybe they have suggestions on how to improve your stream. Perhaps they just want to chat about life. In any case, if you intend to grow your following, you have to engage with your most dedicated followers and make them feel special. Many streamers also use Discord to engage their followers. Our feature on how to use Discord covers everything you need to know about the community-oriented platform.
Badges help you keep track of individual users. For example, if you see a wrench icon, that person is a member of the Twitch staff. A purple checkmark icon denotes a verified user. You can also identify users by the number of Bits (a digital currency) they contribute to your channel, so it might be a good idea to cater to your more-generous followers. Emoticons are yet another way to communicate. If your group is particularly obsessed with emoticons, for example, you may consider creating custom sets for different tiers of subscribers.
Earn Money on Twitch
Many people enjoy playing games and even more enjoy earning money. Twitch provides several ways for you to make money while playing games, but not for people just starting. If you are new to Twitch, your best option is to link your PayPal or Patreon accounts somewhere on your profile and hope people donate to you
Once you get into the habit of posting regularly and manage to build an audience, Twitch offers two programs: the Affiliate program and the Partners program. You need to be a part of one of these programs to earn money via Bits or subscriptions.
First up is Twitch’s Affiliate program. To be eligible, you need to have streamed for eight hours in the last 30 days, streamed on seven of the last 30 days, reached an average of three viewers per stream, and grown your audience to 50 followers. Twitch automatically invites you to this program once you meet those metrics. You must continue to meet these goals or risk losing your account privileges.
The Twitch Partners Program is the next step up. On the partnership application page, Twitch lists the following requirements: an established and steadily growing audience and chat, a regular broadcast schedule of at least three times a week, and content that conforms to its various community and legal guidelines. Twitch also notes that it prefers original content creators and emphasizes the importance of attracting high numbers of concurrent viewers. However, just meeting those requirements does not guarantee you a spot. If you don’t make the cut the first time, Twitch encourages you to keep applying for entry, but make sure to space out your applications. Twitch values longer-term uptrends.
One advantage of this program is that you can earn money from ads on your channel. Twitch also covers the transaction fees for its partners and gives them a better earnings split. Other benefits of a Twitch Partnership over the Affiliate Program include the ability to create custom Cheermotes up to 50 Emotes (up from 1), 60 days of on-demand video storage, and a 45-day payout guarantee (vs. 60 days).
Streamers in either program can earn money from channel subscriptions and bits. As explained earlier, you can set up subscription tiers at the $4.99-, $9.99-, and $24.99-per-month levels. Affiliates take home 50 percent of the profit from subscriptions after taxes and fees are taken out, whereas Partners may get a better cut depending on the size of their audience. The cut remains the same for all the free subscriptions that come from Twitch Prime account holders. Twitch also now offers Gift Subscriptions, which means that users can buy subscriptions to a channel for other people.
Bits are a slightly more convoluted system. Essentially, users purchase Bits for real money to cheer on streamers. 100 Bits costs $1.40, 5,000 Bits costs $64.40, and 25,000 Bits costs $308. Streamers typically earn a penny for every bit you use in the chat. So, for every 1,000 Bits subscribers submit into the chat, the broadcaster earns $10. The higher the Bit value, the more visually pleasing the Bit gem emote. For example, the 1 Bit animation is just a grey, pyramid-like structure that twirls around, while the 10,000 Bit animation is a bright red star that disintegrates and reforms. Streamers can set minimum thresholds for Bits, in terms of total Bit value and the smallest possible Bit. So, for example, egomaniacal streamers can set both the minimum Bit value and smallest Bit size to 5,000 to ensure that they come away with at least $50 every time someone cheers. Cheermotes are simply messages that contain Bits.
Cater to The Twitch Community
If you are still confused about some aspect of Twitch, the best way to get comfortable with it is simply to use it. The more time you spend on the platform, the easier it is to understand all the terms and mechanics. Although instant success is still not likely, you can use this experience to craft a winning streaming strategy. You need to understand the Twitch community too, before you can hope to gain a significant following or earn an appreciable amount of money.