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How the Twitch Meta evolves, keeping brands on their toes

Mindfuture understands the Twitch Meta and can navigate it to find the best opportunities for your brands.

twitch logo with blurred background
Image: KnowTechie

In 2021 there was a different meta, the Twitch Meta. This is a relatively new phenomenon brought around by the increased popularity of variety streamers, people who play whatever they want and their audience largely follows.

In the past, streamers would often stick to one main game or genre. When Fortnite was the most popular game a few years ago, almost every major streamer was playing it primarily.

Then that designation expanded to other battle royales like Apex Legends and Warzone.

This year we are seeing a much different meta take hold. Every few months, a new game emerges as the most popular choice for streamers. At different points during the year, different games became the go-to.

Among Us was the period that received the most attention and reached the highest peaks but games like Chess, Fall Guys and Rust also saw peaks of attention that waned soon afterwards.

How the rise of just chatting created the Twitch Meta

twitch app on nintendo switch
Image: KnowTechie

To understand the twists and turns of the Twitch Meta, first we need to look at how Twitch has changed.

Just Chatting, the successor to the IRL section of Twitch, was meant to be a place where streamers simply sat and chatted with their stream.

Usually a category where streamers started and ended streams while playing a specific game in the middle.

Just Chatting, or IRL before it, was always a popular spot on Twitch but 2020 was the year when it surpassed the biggest games in the world to take over the top spot.

Hop over to Twitch, change the categories to sort from highest viewers to lowest and Just Chatting will be in the top spot 80% of the time. It will always be in the top three.

Some games (like Among Us) people played in Just Chatting until the game became popular enough to draw in viewers as a standalone category.

As I write this on a random Tuesday afternoon, streamers are building PC’s, surfing social media and guessing geographic locations, all to more than 20,000 viewers.

woman playing video games on a huge monitor

It’s a subtle change but an important change to the core of Twitch. It signifies the switch from games dominating the platform to personalities.

While people used to hop over to Twitch to watch Fortnite streams or esports events, now they instead go to watch individuals, no matter what they play.

This rise has been led by a few of the biggest channels on the platform, people like Shroud, Summit1G and XQC who can play anything and their audience follows. But that was a luxury reserved for only the most popular streamers.

Now more and more streamers are finding core audiences who will follow them around the gaming world, often picking up more viewers as they play the flavor of the month.

How Twitch’s Meta changed over 2020 and 2021

The relationship between some games being roped into Just Chatting and others taking on their own categories made it a bit harder to keep up with the exact Twitch Meta, but TwitchTracker gets us close.

The Twitch Meta prior to 2020 was pretty much the battle royale genre, GTA5 and League of Legends. Other games would peak around big events but those core groups of titles stayed close to the top of the platform.

A big shift started happening when the pandemic went international in the winter of 2020.

just chatting twitch chart
Image: TwitchTracker

In the image above from TwitchTracker.com, you can see the rise of Just Chatting (green, at the top), the consistency of League of Legends and the Fortnite reign in 2018.

Then, in 2020, Twitch’s viewership skyrocketed with everyone stuck at home in Spring. That added attention changed what people are watching, and when.

The first game to receive the new pandemic-driven attention was VALORANT (light orange spike in around May 2020).

VALORANT, a new title from Riot Games, the developers of League of Legends, entered beta with a ton of buzz. It was marketed as the next major esport and so far has been off to a solid start in year one.

Spring of 2020 was the first time we saw the game in action and it dominated Twitch throughout that beta period. The game peaked at an average of nearly 800,000 viewers for an entire week in April – nearly 30% of the entire Twitch audience.

valorant characters
Image: Riot

Once the game actually came out in June, the hype wound down as people could now play the game. It still brings in solid audiences on Twitch but the meta moved on.

A slow summer had streamers going back to the roots of strategy games seeing Chess make a comeback. Bolstered by major channels like XQC and Ludwig, the chess category exploded bringing in new streaming personalities like Hikaru and the Botez Sisters.

Events like Pogchamps were organized to capture the energy with Chess.com reveling in every minute of the game’s renewed relevance.

Netflix’s Queen’s Gambit would follow up bringing even more mainstream attention to Chess (and keeping chess sets sold out for weeks) but the Twitch community had already moved to its new obsession: Fall Guys.

Thanks to a snarky social media account and the game’s engaging but surprisingly competitive structure, Fall Guys became the talk of Twitch for about a month in late summer 2020.

And while it reached a solid peak for a while as a massive amount of people watched Timthetatman fail to win a game for an absurdly long period of time, Fall Guys eventually went the way of the characters in the game and fell off.

streamers

That decline was as rapid as the ascent and it was pushed by the new top title: Among Us. More accessible than Fall Guys, Among Us capitalized on the lack of social avenues during the pandemic to create a gaming sensation.

As crewmates looked for two imposters bent on killing the rest of the crew, the game grew and grew over Twitch.

Among Us really highlighted how the Twitch Meta changes. The game first came out in 2017, to little fanfare. It was only when some streamers started hopping on that the ball started rolling quickly.

Twitch, in the matter of a few weeks, took a game from being a failure to the biggest on the platform. Among Us’s peak likely came through a political crossover event.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Ilhan Omar, two progressive US Representatives, played Among Us with some of the biggest streamers.

AOC’s stream became one of the most watched streams on an individual channel in Twitch’s history as she turned the game into a subtle political messaging tool urging viewers to go vote ahead of the US presidential election.

Among Us also helped unite streamers. The game required ten people to play for the best results and so different groups of streamers started playing together. It built bonds that continued even after Among Us started dipping back down the Twitch charts.

The bonds built in Among Us then carried over to Rust. A classic game where players start with a stick and a dream, Rust rewards community and teamwork. It’s a great game for Twitch as it naturally lends itself to fun moments.

The game reached a peak average viewership of over 400,000 for the category, about 15% of the total Twitch audience in January 2021. Now it has dropped to about 3%.

There isn’t a clear dominant successor to Rust although it seems like GeoGuessr is gaining popularity recently. Some of these games go through cycles as well, Chess saw a mini-resurgence in late Fall.

mindfuture platform
Image: Mindfuture

For brands, the constantly changing nature of Twitch can make it hard to plan campaigns. That’s why Mindfuture Platform was built, to keep your brand in the best possible spot, in front of the audience that makes sense for your brand.

While some games may be brand safe (like Chess) others like Rust aren’t as friendly. When the same streamer can go from Chess to Among Us to Rust over the course of a few weeks, brands need to be prepared.

Mindfuture understands the Twitch Meta and can navigate it to find the best opportunities for your brands.

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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