What’s more fun than playing video games? Watching strangers play video games, of course. At least that’s the idea behind Twitch, the esports streaming platform that boasts an audience of over 100 million, and hosts over 2 million unique broadcasters.
Twitch streams range from multi-million dollar sponsored tournaments to kids messing around on World of Warcraft in their basements and just about everything in between. My boyfriend and I host a stream where we just play co-op games from our apartment and we still have an awesome community that comes to hang out every week. The main appeal of live streaming is that anyone can feel like a part of the action, whether it’s hosting a stream, talking in the chatroom, or just lurking in the viewer list.
Many streamers end up turning their hobby into a legitimate side hustle. Popular channels often receive sponsorship deals from brands or set up Patreon accounts for fans to donate. Even if you don’t end up making any money from it though, Twitch is a fun hobby that turns a typically solitary activity into a social event.
You don’t even have to be “good” at video games, or play video games at all, to carve out a niche for yourself on Twitch. Tabletop games are popular too, and people also use the streaming platform to vlog or even participate in “social eating” which is exactly what it sounds like. Sure, if you’re a pro at League of Legends that’s definitely a plus, but what’s more important is enthusiasm and personality. And of course, the proper hardware.
Streaming on Twitch is free, but if you’re serious about it (or want to make some money from it) you’re going to need to invest in some extra equipment to make your stream more watchable. This list is by no means mandatory or exhaustive, but in my experience these products make all the difference in taking the quality of your stream to the next level.
Obviously the first thing you need is a Twitch account. You can sign up for a free account at twitch.tv where you’ll be able to set up a profile and participate in chatrooms. You won’t be able to stream just yet — we’ll get to that later.
If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you’ll also get free access to Twitch Prime. With Twitch Prime you’ll get ad-free viewing, exclusive loot in games like Hearthstone and Madden ’18, and a monthly channel subscription that allows you to support your favorite channel. If you’re not a member yet, you can sign up here and get a free 30-day trial.
You need to make sure that the computer you’re using is going to be able to handle gaming and streaming at the same time. Twitch recommends an Intel Core i5-4760 processor and at least 8GB RAM, but that’s just the bare minimum. The type of games you want to play will affect how powerful your computer needs to be.
If you ask any gaming subreddit, streaming on a laptop is blasphemous, but it’s really okay for more casual games. We stream older games on a MacBook Pro and it works, but it’s definitely working hard. Unless you cut way down on quality, not even the most souped up gaming laptop will be able to handle streaming something like PUBG.
If you’re serious about it, you’re much better off building your own gaming PC. You’ll need a powerful CPU, motherboard, storage card, hard drive, graphics card, case and power supply. This processor comes with a cooler, which is absolutely necessary if you plan on overclocking your system with intense games. If you’re stuck and need some help, subreddits r/buildapc and r/pcbuild are great resources.
If you want to play games on a PS4, XBox, or Switch, you’ll need a capture card. It’s a device that plugs into your console and computer via HDMI and allows you to stream and record gameplay on Twitch (or YouTube.) This one by Elgato streams in 1080p and has a lag-free pass-through that’s essential for streaming.
Your computer’s built-in webcam is just fine for casual streaming, but if you want a more professional-looking setup you’ll need an external webcam. Not only will a third-party webcam have much better resolution, you’ll also get a wider angle to play around with. That’s especially useful if you’re planning on playing tabletop games or streaming with other people.
An external webcam also keeps you from having to sit right in front of your computer while you’re streaming. You can get a clamp or tripod for your webcam and place it somewhere stationary. This gives you much more freedom of mobility and lets you experiment with different setups.
I recently picked up this Logitech one and was blown away by the quality difference in comparison to a MacBook webcam. It’s perfect for capturing the room, but some streamers like to superimpose themselves over the game instead of broadcasting in a separate window. In that case you’ll want this version with background replacement. It’ll let you isolate your image without needing to mess around with a green screen.
Similarly, your computer’s built-in microphone is adequate, but it’ll never give you the kind of professional sound quality that a USB mic provides. I use the Blue Yeti — it’s the perfect mid-tier microphone, beloved by streamers and podcasters alike. It’s unmatched in both quality and ease of use and happens to be on sale. They also have some great bundles with games and/or headphones so you can save even more.
Obviously if you’re streaming console games you don’t need to buy separate controllers, but if you’re playing on your PC they’re more fun (and more convenient) than using your keyboard. 8Bitdo makes retro Nintendo controllers that connect via Bluetooth so you can use them on your phone, computer, or Switch. (If you haven’t gotten your hands on an SNES Classic yet, these controllers might console you a little.)
Technically you can connect your Playstation or XBox controllers to your computer, but that’ll take a little more work. You’ll need to download a to read them (unless you’re using an XBox controller on Windows) and those can be pretty buggy.
Once you have all your hardware, you’ll need to download software that will capture your screen and stream on Twitch. There are a few options out there, but OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is the most popular. It’s free and has tons of features to customize your stream. It’s also not the most intuitive software, so if you need help figuring it out this tutorial on Udemy is only $15.
Finally, the most important thing to keep in mind when getting your Twitch stream up and running is that this is meant to be a fun hobby. You’ll go far if you don’t take it too seriously, aren’t afraid to experiment, and treat other people in the community with kindness. That’s really all there is to it.