People who live stream their video game play, either by hobby or profession, are known as streamers. The practice became popular in the mid-2010s on sites such as Twitch and, later, YouTube. By 2014, Twitch streams had more traffic than HBO's online service. Professional streamers often combine high-level play and entertaining commentary, and occasionally earn income from advertising, subscriptions, and donations. Amateur streamers spend long hours competing for an audience.
The practice of livestreaming video game play became popular in the mid-2010s on sites such as Twitch. By 2014, Twitch streams had more traffic than HBO's online service. In 2015, YouTube launched YouTube Gaming--a video gaming-oriented sub-site and app that is intended to compete with Twitch. Other video-game oriented streaming websites include Smashcast.tv, which was formed after the merging of Azubu and Hitbox.tv, and the South Korea-based afreecaTV.
Streamers and viewers register for free accounts with a service which lets them interact with each other by name and subscribe to, or "follow", specific streamers. Home video game consoles, such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, contain built-in streaming and optional camera integration. Home computers use software such as Open Broadcaster Software or XSplit to upload a livestream to Twitch's servers.
Building an audience, CNET advises, is more difficult than setting up the software. Among other advice, game streamers recommend selecting a popular game, which is more likely to interest viewers than a rare title without a following. Popular titles in the mid-2010s include League of Legends, Dota 2, first-person shooters such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and card games such as Hearthstone. Viewers are more interested in players who play and entertain well, offering jokes, pop culture, and current event commentary instead of repetitive gameplay. Streamers also recommend keeping a schedule so viewers know when to watch, self-promotion on social media, and giveaway contests to build a follower count.
Professional streamers often combine gameplay with highly knowledgeable or dextrous play and entertaining commentary. They can generate livable revenue from viewer subscriptions and donations, as well as platform advertisements and sponsorships from eSports organizations. An October 2017 report from SuperData Research estimated that more people subscribed to video game streams and Let's Play videos on YouTube and Twitch.tv that for all of HBO, Netflix, ESPN, and Hulu, combined.
Amateur streamers spend long hours competing for an audience, as time spent away from streaming becomes an opportunity for followers to leave their channel. As a result, many streamers live unhealthy lifestyles, with extended sedentary activity, poor diet, and little sleep. A medical doctor and obesity specialist at the Mayo Clinic described the lifestyle as appearing "intuitively and medically ... an unwise way to spend one's years". After the death of a streamer reaching the end of a 24-hour marathon session, other professional streamers spoke publicly about their exhaustion from streaming and their resulting heart, spinal, and weight problems. Others found equilibrium and longevity in streaming less often, pulling in fewer but more dedicated viewers, and in varying their stream content to include activities such as exercise.
Streamers run the risk of being victim to stalking, as with other publicly known individuals. For example, a teenage viewer showed up uninvited to a streamer's house and requested to live with him after having saved up for a one-way transcontinental flight. Another risk to streamers is swatting, where someone makes a false report to police of serious criminal activity taking place at the streamer's residence, resulting in a raid by police, which is often captured live by the streaming service. Such activity can create serious risk to the streamer, and has even resulted in deaths. On December 28, 2017, Wichita police officers killed a man named Andrew Finch at his Kansas home in a reported swatting. Based on a series of screenshotted Twitter posts, the Wichita Eagle suggests that Finch was the unintended victim of the swatting after two Call of Duty players on the same team got into a heated argument about a USD 1.50 bet. On December 29, 2017, LAPD arrested 25-year-old serial-swatter Tyler Raj Barriss, known online as "SWAuTistic" and "GoredTutor36," in connection with the incident.
Live streaming of video games has many of the same legal issues that Let's Play videos may have. First and foremost, such videos can be considered a copyright violation, though is argued to be protected by fair use defenses.
Nintendo has generally taken a strong stance compared to other publishers for allowing their games to be streamed or recorded. Initially, they have used YouTube's Content ID system to register their games such that they can generate ad revenue from streaming videos and Let's Play videos. By about 2014, Nintendo crafted its Nintendo Creators Program, which would allow players providing live streams and Let's Plays of Nintendo games that sign onto the program to receive some monetization of these videos through YouTube. However, in September 2017, Nintendo changed the program specifically preventing affiliates from using streaming video of Nintendo games, monetized or not, though non-affiliated accounts, and Let's Plays with commentary, remain unaffected.