At TwitchCon, Video Games Are More Than a Hobby

TwitchCon Crowd - Publicity - H 2019
Patrick Shanley

"I've been stopped on the street, at the convention center, at the hotel," says professional streamer Nicholas Amyoony of his first time as one of the 25,000 attendees at TwitchCon in San Diego.

Spend more than five minutes in or around TwitchCon and there's a good chance you'll appear in the background of multiple live streams. As a throng of neon-haired content creators, gaming enthusiasts and fans of Amazon's streaming platform descend upon the San Diego Convention Center, selfie sticks sway above the fray like lances, documenting the experience from a thousand different perspectives. 

This is the fifth annual meeting of Twitch superusers, an opportunity for some of the 1.3 million people who are viewing programming on the platform at any given moment to connect in person. Though it’s held in the same venue that welcomed roughly 135,000 San Diego Comic-Con attendees in July, TwitchCon is considerably smaller. It hosts just 25,000 people over three days, beginning Sept. 27, but those attendees represent a cross section of the platform’s community — from top-level talent like Nicholas "Nick Eh 30" Amyoony and Fortnite World Cup champion Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf to affiliate streamers, newcomers and standard fans.

"The community has been amazing," says Amyoony, who signed an exclusive streaming deal with Twitch in August after building a following of over 4.6 million subscribers on YouTube. This is his first visit to TwitchCon. "The fans are so high-energy," he says. "I've been stopped on the street, at the convention center, at the hotel. There hasn't been a bad experience, it's always something like, 'Hey, Nick, I'm a big fan of your channel, can I get an autograph or a picture?'"

Amyoony is not the only big star in attendance. Serpentine queues curl across the show floor, slithering through aisles and between booths as ambitious would-be streamers wait to snag some face time with Twitch personalities like Imane "Pokimane" Anys (who has over 3.4 million followers on the platform) or Tyler "Tyler1" Steinkamp (2.6 million followers). 

At TwitchCon, it’s hard not to be recognized in a room full of thousands of dedicated fans. For many streamers, this level of fame is still unfamiliar. Streaming is still a relatively new form of media, and many popular personalities — including Amyoony, Anys and Steinkamp — are under the age of 26.

"Twitch actually hooked us up with our own personal security guys," says Amyoony. "Anytime I want to go somewhere, he escorts me down in the backstage VIP area." He says doesn't mind the exposure. Back home in Nova Scotia, he rarely has rabid fans clamoring for a photo opp. "I can jog for 20 or 30 minutes and not see a single person," he laughs. "Here, at these conventions, it's something else, but it's only a couple of days, so I'm living it up."

TwitchCon is not only an event for the biggest streamers. Nearly every attendee browsing the convention center sports a badge with their online alter-ego emblazoned on it. Walking the show floor means constantly stumbling upon a reunion taking place, or two strangers who read each other's badges and then embrace. "I watch you all the time" becomes something of a mantra.

"I think of TwitchCon as being this sort of peak Twitch experience," says CEO Emmett Shear. "Something that I hear from people who attend is that this is the chance to connect with people who form such a big part of their life."

Dylan "Hazordvr" Dennington is a Twitch affiliate, a category of streamers that have at least 500 total minutes broadcast in the last 30 days and at least 50 followers, among other qualifying criteria. The affiliate level is the last step before streamers earn the coveted rank of partner, where the biggest stars on the platform thrive and, in some cases, make a full-time living.

Dennington, a young man with bright green-blue hair, stands in a group of other affiliate streamers who are discussing what they're most excited about seeing (and showing off who's gotten the best swag) at the convention. "I came to TwitchCon to see my friends and have a good time," he says. What's interesting about the group’s dynamic is not how quick they are to trade jokes and jabs with one another, but that they have such a rapport despite having only first met in person the day before. 

"We're all very good friends. Some more than others," says Richard "Slick_richie" Cripps, a member of the group who flew all the way from England to attend this year's convention. They all met playing a game called VRChat, a massive multiplayer role-playing game/ social media hybrid launched in 2017. "Everybody's friends. We all help each other with any sort of problems we have and raise each other up," he says.

Becoming a partner may be a goal of Dennington’s, but it's not an end-all. "If I do reach it, that's great,” he says, "but I'm here to have fun."

In addition to rubbing elbows with fellow streamers, TwitchCon hosts a number of other activities. Artist Alley is a sprawling, bazaar-style row of 96 separate booths offering work from artists around the world, from comics and clothing to anime characters printed on pillowcases. Creator Camp workshops offer hands-on tips from successful streamers to help newcomers grow their audiences. The outdoor Kappa Stage features a rotating set of musical performances, and the Twitch Sings booth on the show floor provides a chance for any passersby to flex their vocal cords. At Petco Park during the convention’s second night, Blink 182, Au/Ra and DJ Madeon performed at the official party.  

But gaming is the one thing everyone is here to do. On the convention center's upper level, some of the top esports athletes compete for a total prize pool of over $2 million. Nearby, speedrunning organization Games Done Quick hosts a marathon to raise money for the Able Gamers Charity, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to improving accessibility in the industry. In the lobbies outside the exhibition hall, classic arcade cabinets for Frogger and Need for Speed are set up for anyone to play, free of charge. A line of pinball machines clink and clang a few feet away. 

Still, TwitchCon has a lot of room for growth. Twitch itself is less than a decade old, and while the annual gathering has expanded to include a European offering, the event has yet to reach the level of exposure of San Diego Comic-Con or Los Angeles’ E3 gaming convention. "I’d love to see us scale TwitchCon up over time," acknowledges Shear. "If you’re a regular Twitch user, eventually you’ll want to go to TwitchCon."