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In spite of criticisms, Twitch dreams of eSports expansion

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 11.13.37 PMOnce again, San Diego Comic-Con refused to be confined to only celebrating comics, and instead played host to events ranging from movies to video games, and everything in between. Starry-eyed comics readers did have the chance to meet bleary-eyed comics writers though, while celebrities and consumers clashed in the convention center’s cavernous halls, and video game companies hosted private parties on pirate ships. Among the non-comics related events was composer and producer Tommy Tallarico’s Video Games Live, which found itself delighting thousands in San Diego’s Civic Theater with special guests like Solid Snake voice actor David Hayter, Bungie composer Marty O’Donnell, and more.

Twitch Vice President of Marketing Matthew Dipietro

Twitch Vice President of Marketing Matthew Dipietro

Although the theater was not fully packed, VGL’s audience was far bigger than just those physically in attendance: online broadcasting service Twitch was on hand to stream the three-hour plus event to users at home, marking the first time the two organizations have worked together. “What we’re really excited about is to take this from the venue that [Tallarico] is doing and broadcasting it live online to, you know, at a huge scale,” Twitch Vice President of Marketing Matthew Dipietro told Digital Trends before the show. “We can get this out to an audience that Tommy has probably actually never seen.”

Video Games Live is always evolving, and that night marked the premiere of songs from the Assassin’s Creed series and The Secret of Monkey Island. Highlights also included music from Final Fantasy VII, Beyond Good and Evil, Shadow of the Colossus, and Destiny, and a rousing Foo Fighters song on which an audience member accompanied the orchestra on Guitar Hero. He chose expert, despite the $1,000 Amazon gift card and Kindle Fire riding on his performance, and tensions were high until he passed the pivotal 400K point milestone. During the show the VGL hashtag “#playtheclassics” trended in the top ten on Twitter, and a publicist told me that 11,000 people were watching from home. The full event—including a two hour pre-show—can be watched on Twitch.tv.

According to its latest numbers Twitch boasts over 38 million unique viewers a month and over 600,000 unique broadcasters, most of which are everyday gamers. Those numbers also include game media sites like Destructoid, game publishers like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and 2K.

“When you bring it all together, Twitch is the underlying live video platform for everybody in the video game space,” Dipietro said.

One of the most popular types of programming on Twitch are the growing eSports competitions, like those hosted by Major League Gaming. Earlier this year Twitch entered into an exclusive streaming agreement with MLG. But when Digital Trends spoke with MLG President Mike Sepso earlier this month, he suggested that he doesn’t consider Twitch to be the ideal partner for his organization.

“When you spend ten million dollars [a year] to produce video content you don’t necessarily want it sitting next to, you know, some kid in sweatpants in his basement streaming or whatever, without any content control and production value,” he said. “It’s sort of akin to HBO putting Game of Thrones and True Blood on next to cable access.”

“I can’t speak specifically to what he was saying,” Dipietro said at the VGL event. “What I can say is on Twitch, no matter who you are, whether you are a premium content player or an individual, passionate gamer, your channel is your channel, you know? If you come to the eSports league channel XYZ, that’s your channel, and it’s all yours. And our only goal is to make sure that you have the ability and the promise to broadcast to the largest audience that you possibly can and build a community around your content.”

“We love MLG,” he continued. “We love all of our partners. And they all … they make Twitch, and that’s why we’re here.”

Speaking more generally, Dipietro said Twitch wants to continue working with a variety of eSports organizations in addition to the other organizations, companies, and gamers that use Twitch every day. “Esports is a very large industry all its own,” he said. “We want to be the platform by which they broadcast to a large audience online.”