Since its humble beginnings as Justin.tv in 2005, Twitch has grown rapidly, eventually becoming one of the major players in the mega-profitable live streaming and e-sports industries. But how did the platform get its footing in these super competitive niches and carve out its own space?
What Is Twitch’s History?
Twitch was founded in 2011 as a spin-off company that branched off from its predecessor, Justin.tv. Justin.tv was founded in 2007 by Justin Kan and was just a livestream of Justin’s day to day life. Today Twitch is the largest live streaming platform in the world and streams a variety of topics.
Read on to uncover Twitch’s history from its launch as a tiny San Francisco startup to its eventual fate as a multibillion-dollar Amazon subsidiary.
When Did Twitch Start?
Twitch started in 2005 as Justin.tv, a streaming service created by founders Justin Kan, Emmett Shear, Michael Seibel, and Kyle Vogt. The service was, in many ways, very similar to how Twitch functions today, just on a much smaller scale and not as focused on gaming but rather IRL (In Real Life) content.
Justin.tv began with only a few people being able to broadcast but later opened up to more people.
Accounts on Justin.tv were known as “channels,” and the platform allowed its users to live stream their content using a feature on the site called “broadcasts.”
Justin.tv enabled creators to broadcast their streams from their phones, computers, and gaming consoles, similar to how Twitch functions today.
Primary founders Kan and Shear quickly noticed that, while the platform divided its content into many unique categories, the fastest-growing niche by far was gaming and, more specifically, e-sports.
Interestingly, the platform wouldn’t be known officially as Twitch until 2011.
Beginning in June 2011, the company launched a new platform designed specifically for gaming content. This platform came to be known as TwitchTV, a clever reference to the term “twitch gameplay,” or any situation or challenge in a video game that tests the player’s reaction time.
Twitch grew exponentially in its first year as a standalone platform, and it was soon garnering over 3 million unique visitors each month. By the time it had been in operation for a year, in 2012, it had grown to boast over 20 million unique visitors per month.
By 2014, the platform was already pulling in over 55 million viewers tuning in to watch various gaming streams from their favorite creators each month.
Twitch made up around 1.8% of peak internet traffic at this time, coming in just ahead of Hulu with 1.7% and even surpassing Facebook, Valve, and Amazon.
Twitch was now an undeniable presence in the world of content creation and gaming.
Amazon, Acquisitions, and Twitch Prime
All of this attention inevitably led to the undisputed biggest names in tech, Google and Amazon, vying for the service’s ownership. The entire world had now noticed the platform, and the two companies competed for the site’s acquisition only three short years after its initial launch.
In August 2014, Amazon had successfully acquired Twitch Interactive for $970 million. Woah! ????
Twitch was now dominating the gaming and e-sports subcultures with little to no competition. They eventually went on to acquire GoodGame Agency which was a company that owned prominent e-sports teams such as Evil Geniuses and Alliance in late 2014.
They also managed to acquire Curse Inc., a network of gaming sites, for an amount still undisclosed to this day.
2016 was another notable year for the company. Twitch had now solidified itself as a critical player in the live streaming and e-sports niches, but was looking for a way to get viewers more involved.
For this reason, Twitch Prime was introduced that year (2016) as a subscription service made available to streamers and viewers alike who had purchased Amazon Prime subscriptions.
Twitch began offering several valuable perks to its users through the service, such as ad-free streaming, discounts on game purchases, and free in-game content known as “loot” for popular games like FIFA Ultimate Team, Apex Legends, Doom Eternal, and many more in the following years.
Twitch eventually renamed the subscription service to Prime Gaming to be better aligned with Amazon Prime’s selection of services.
The Future of Twitch
In recent years, Twitch has made deals with prominent streamers on the platform as well as game developer and publisher Blizzard Entertainment, making Twitch an exclusive broadcaster of certain Blizzard e-sports events. It even became the official streaming partner of the Overwatch League in 2018.
In May 2020, Twitch launched its own Safety Advisory Council composed of well-known streamers, academics, and policy institutes.
The council dedicated itself to creating rules and guidelines for moderating the platform, protecting its users’ safety and privacy, and even collecting suggestions and feedback from marginalized groups using the site to create a better experience for its overall user base.
Although other live streaming platforms besides Twitch have been growing at a rapid pace, Twitch continues to be the leader in live streaming. Twitch continues to grow each year and live streaming is only becoming more popular.
Where Did Twitch Start?
Twitch started in San Francisco, California as its startup company, Justin.tv. The move to Twitch was due in part to investor Paul Graham of the seed capital firm Y Combinator. The firm granted Justin Kan and his associates $50,000 to fund the startup.
The company also received additional funding from Alsop Louie Partners, another San Francisco-based technology venture capital firm, and Tim Draper, a prominent billionaire venture capital investor. However, the exact amount of money received from these sources is still unknown.
Twitch has remained California-based throughout its development. Today, it hosts a fan convention, TwitchCon, in San Diego and other venues worldwide like Berlin and Amsterdam.
Twitch headquarters is also still located in San Francisco, but the company also has 15 additional offices that span 9 different countries.
Who Owns Twitch?
Twitch’s founders, Justin Kan and Emmett Shear, initially owned Twitch. As the platform grew exponentially over its first few years in operation, it attracted attention from tech titans Google and Amazon. Amazon won the bidding war and bought the platform for $970 million in 2014.
In May 2014, Google made a deal with Twitch’s owners at the time to acquire the platform for roughly $1 billion. Unfortunately, the deal fell through, with Google backing out because of their concerns regarding antitrust laws surrounding its ownership of YouTube.
After Google lost interest in acquiring Twitch, Amazon was able to quickly swoop in and make its own bid.
In the end, Amazon won the bidding war, acquiring the platform in 2014 for about $970 million. Amazon still owns Twitch in 2023 as one of their many subsidiaries.
Emmett Shear was the only remaining member of Twitch’s founders still involved in managing the streaming service; however, in March 2023 he announced he would be stepping down as CEO of Twitch meaning Twitch no longer has any original founders working for the company.
Who Was the First Twitch Streamer?
The first streamer on Twitch to gain a subscriber button was Sean Plott, also known as Day9tv, in April 2011. Soon after, streamers Towelliee in July 2011 and Dansgaming in September 2011 also gained the subscriber button, ushering in a new era for the platform that prioritized subscribership.
Twitch launched their Twitch Partner program in the same year, intended for streamers with over 500 concurrent views, 1,000 followers, and 300,000 total views on their channel to gain various perks like ad revenue and unique channel customization features.
At the time of its introduction, the requirements for streamers hoping to become partnered were very specific.
Still, today Twitch takes many factors into account when reviewing the program’s applicants, including how often they stream and their typical viewer count. They consider each candidate individually on a case-by-case basis.
In 2023, Twitch now hosts around 8.5 million streamers per month. As of 2022, approximately 51,000 of the platform’s streamers were part of Twitch’s Partnership program.
Twitch has grown from a tiny startup to an absolute behemoth in the gaming and esports industries since its beginnings as Justin.tv all the way back in 2005. The service has gained millions of users in recent years and is now estimated to be worth around $15 billion in 2023.
The platform is a shining example of how even the smallest tech startup can reach international recognition.
Eric streams 3 days a week on Twitch and uploads weekly to Youtube under the moniker, StreamersPlaybook. He loves gaming, PCs, and anything else related to tech. He’s the founder of the website StreamersPlaybook and loves helping people answer their streaming, gaming, and PC questions.