The Biggest Traffic Hog You’ve Never Heard Of

A streaming service that lets users watch others play video games is catching fire.

A website that few outside the gaming community have ever heard of is picking up steam in a very big way. Twitch.tv, a site that lets users view live broadcasts of gaming sessions across numerous platforms, recently became the fourth-largest source of peak Internet traffic, regularly beating out Hulu and Facebook.

Launched in June 2011, Twitch lets users participate in online gaming events, as well as livestream their own gaming sessions. In addition to console and PC support, Twitch is available on mobile devices such as the iPhone 5s and iPad Air.  The company is also working on a Kindle Fire TV app, StreamingMedia.com reported.

Twitch has more than 45 million monthly unique visitors, and 1 million of them create and stream video content on the site, The Wall Street Journal reported. According to search firm Qwilt, the site holds a 44 percent share of live game streaming. In addition, the service has tripled its bandwidth in the last 22 months and generates more traffic than HBO Go, according to Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena Report: 1H 2014.

Partnering with Xbox

According to Microsoft, the Twitch app has been a boon for Xbox One usage since adding live broadcast support in March.

“We have always considered enabling live streaming directly from consoles to be a key step in unlocking the ability for all gamers to share their experiences,” said Emmett Shear, founder and CEO of Twitch, in an Xbox blog post. “Yet we never imagined the popularity would spread as fast as it has.”

Watching people play games is a growing trend that can also be found on YouTube. In fact, YouTube’s corporate parent, Google, is reportedly in talks to buy Twitch for $1 billion. The search giant declined to comment on “rumor and speculation.”

Twitch is so popular that between PlayStation, Xbox and other platforms, more than 1 million gamers broadcast their activities each month.

“Live broadcasting represents one of the most important shifts in the way people play games,” said Matthew DiPietro, Twitch’s vice president of marketing.

The appeal of Twitch casting

So why do people want to watch others playing games online?

Broadband access, high-performance gaming, low-cost streaming and popular gaming titles such as League of Legends and Minecraft are attracting gamers to the service, according to research firm Qwilt.

The firm described Twitch as a combination of Yankee Stadium, Lambeau Field, Madison Square Garden, Brazil’s Estádio Maracanã and London’s Wembley Stadium.

“They pull in the best gamers, biggest audiences, best tournaments and coolest shows,” Qwilt said.

Perhaps it’s a feeling of social engagement that attracts users to watch. “Gaming is a social experience,” Matthew Szatmary, Twitch’s senior video encoding engineer, said during a keynote address at Streaming Media East in New York City.

A recent League of Legends championship received 8 million concurrent streams on Twitch, compared with a peak of more than 800,000 concurrent streams for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Streaming Media reported.

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