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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

May 31, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Watch me win: At blockbuster Twitch, gaming is a spectator sport

James Copsey, 22, sets up his Twitch livestream as he gets ready to play Mario Kart 7 for an audience that reaches up to 100 people on any given night in his home Friday. His setup includes dual monitors, ambient lights, a webcam and a green screen background. Copsey has played around 60 different games and logged over 2,300 streaming hours under the username "Korza" since joining the Twitch community. He has recently become popular enough to become a Twitch partner, giving viewers the ability to subscribe to his channel for $4.99. (LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

James Copsey, 22, sets up his Twitch livestream as he gets ready to play Mario Kart 7 for an audience that reaches up to 100 people on any given night Friday. Copsey has played around 60 different games and logged over 2,300 streaming hours on Twitch, recently become popular enough to become a Twitch partner, a distinction that gives his viewers the ability to support him by subscribing to his channel for $4.99. (LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

korza-screenshot


While you were sleeping, Lanai Gara was kicking butt.

I watched with a crowd of hundreds late Wednesday as 26-year-old Gara — also known as Ms Vixen — fought her way through a fictional Chicago from her bedroom in Battle Ground, Clark County.

Lanai Gara, a.k.a. Ms Vixen, lives off the revenue she makes broadcasting herself playing video games on Twitch.tv. (Photo: Lanai Gara)

Lanai Gara, a.k.a. Ms Vixen, lives off the revenue she makes broadcasting herself playing video games on Twitch.tv. (Photo: Lanai Gara)

“Every time I talk to people about live streaming for a living, the first thing they think about is, ‘Oh, no. She’s in a porno,’ ” she told me via video chat. “But no. I live stream video games.’”

It was noon on Thursday and Gara, curled up on her desk chair under bright red headphones, was a little sleepy. It had been less than six hours since she had turned off her lucrative eight-hour online broadcast of the hot new hacking thriller game “Watch Dogs” and gone to bed.

Welcome to a new kind of mass entertainment. And, for popular streamers like Gara, a wild new day at the office.

Gara is one of more than 1 million gamers who broadcast themselves playing video games live on Twitch.tv, a blockbuster online platform that boasts 45 million viewers and is the subject of a flattering tech rumor.

According to a report in Variety, Google’s YouTube wants to buy it for a whopping $1 billion.

At the helm of this company is a guy who, years ago, hung out three or four afternoons a week at the old Wizards of the Coast Game Center in Seattle’s University District.

Emmett Shear, who grew up in Seattle, is CEO of Twitch. (Photo: Twitch)

Emmett Shear, who grew up in Seattle, is CEO of Twitch. (Photo: Twitch)

Twitch CEO Emmett Shear co-founded Twitch’s predecessor, a live video site called Justin.tv, with friends Michael Seibel, Kyle Vogt and Justin Kan (who, like Shear, grew up on Seattle’s Capitol Hill) in 2007.

By 2010, he had seen how many of Justin.tv’s users were streaming game content and saw an opportunity. What if Justin.tv built a platform just for them?

Twitch.tv hit 13 billion minutes watched per month earlier this year. In February, The Wall Street Journal ranked it the fourth-largest site in the U.S. in terms of peak Internet traffic, beating out Hulu, Facebook and Amazon.com.

You know how the crowd noise at CenturyLink Field kind of sort of definitely helped the Seahawks win? “The crowd is going to increasingly become a bigger part of video games,” Shear said.

I might have missed Twitch entirely if not for my 29-year-old husband. He watches more Twitch game streams of Valve Software’s “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” than he does anything else online these days, including all the Netflix and HBOGo shows I want him to binge-watch with me.

Lanai Gara streams the thriller game "Watch Dogs" on Twitch.

Lanai Gara streams the thriller game “Watch Dogs” on Twitch.

Thanks, Twitch.

But I’ll admit: When I watched a streamer from Lake Forest Park steer Princess Peach through a course in “Mario Kart 7,” it was hard to turn away.

“How do they have the time to eat all these mushrooms? Wouldn’t Peach get full?” Korza, also known as 22-year-old James Copsey, joked to his dozens of viewers, many of whom joked back on an attached chat. Like many streamers, Copsey broadcasts himself as well as his game.

Copsey came in sixth place that round, which was no big deal. Great streamers don’t have to be great players. They just have to be fun.

Copsey’s mom was not thrilled when he stopped going to classes at Central Washington University, saved up for a new $800 PC, found a blue sheet to drape behind his head for the webcam and started streaming several hours a night in 2012.

James Copsey, a.k.a. Korza, streams his gameplay five hours most nights. (Photo: James Copsey)

James Copsey, a.k.a. Korza, streams his gameplay five hours most nights. (Photo: James Copsey)

But last week, she had to congratulate him. After more than 2,300 hours on Twitch, Copsey became one of the platform’s nearly 6,500 stream partners.

That means he gets to both run ads on his stream and land every streamer’s holy grail, a $4.99 “Subscribe” button.

Copsey has pulled in money from viewer donations and affiliate programs — in addition to pay from his part-time job at the UPS Store (he thanks his friend AndrewArcade for helping him get noticed on Twitch). But for the lifelong gamer and performance-loving veteran of Shorecrest High School’s drama program, this is something else.

This is fantastic.

As for Gara, her earnings go beyond profit. Formerly the No. 1 player in the world on “Call of Duty: World at War” free-for-all mode, she and a team of streamers she started, TeamVGaming, have raised $100,000 doing charity donation-driven Twitch broadcasts, including $23,000 for Seattle Children’s hospital.

So she’s kicking butt and doing good.

Beat that.

Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest — or know someone she should meet? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or send her a message on Facebook.

Comments | More in Column, Entertainment, Gaming, Habits, Seattle

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