Once a niche destination for watching video game broadcasts, Twitch has become the epicenter of online entertainment — especially now that creators and fans alike are spending more time at home. The Amazon-owned livestreaming platform is host to tens of millions of viewers who tune in daily to watch gaming competitions, podcasts, concerts, cooking shows and just about anything else involving a person speaking into a microphone. And unlike traditional TV, Twitch allows viewers to interact with the people they’re watching, creating a unique online community where everyone’s part of the show.
Better yet, trying out Twitch streaming for yourself has never been easier, thanks to a variety of ways to start broadcasting from your phone, console or PC in just a few clicks. In order to help you on your Twitch journey — whether you’re just getting started or want to level up your stream — we talked to popular streamers and industry experts about everything from picking the right equipment to putting on an engaging show that will keep fans coming back.
What is Twitch?
For the uninitiated, Twitch is a livestreaming platform that first launched in 2011 and really picked up in popularity around the time it was purchased by Amazon in 2016. The service is best known for live gaming content, as you can find the top Fortnite and Call of Duty players in the world streaming their online matches, or tune in to high-stakes professional tournaments for titles like League of Legends and Counter-Strike.
But Twitch is much more than a gaming platform these days — especially in light of the global pandemic. You’ll find everything from podcasts and live cooking tutorials to NFL games and wrestling matches on Twitch, and popular musical acts such as Code Orange and Trivium’s Matthew Heafy have embraced the platform as a means of playing for their fans at a time when in-person concerts simply can’t happen.
“In 2020, we saw the broader entertainment industry migrate to the platform since the performing arts, from concerts and stand-up comedy to drag shows and DJing, could no longer have in-person events due to the pandemic,” says Doron Nir, CEO of livestreaming services provider StreamElements.
Citing data from Arsenal.gg, Nir says that Twitch fans watched 1.7 billion hours of content in December 2020 alone — that’s a whopping 109% increase over the previous year. Heck, even politicians are getting in on the fun, as congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently teamed up with some of Twitch’s biggest influencers for a hugely popular Among Us stream that was done to help get the vote out. Long story short: Twitch is a bigger deal than ever, and now is a great time to try it out for yourself.
How to stream to Twitch
You don’t need a ton of expensive equipment or a high-end PC to give Twitch streaming a shot. The latest PlayStation and Xbox consoles let you go live with the click of a button, and the Twitch mobile app for iOS and Android makes it just as easy to start broadcasting no matter where you are. Here are some simple ways to start going live.
From your console
If you have a PS4, PS5, Xbox One or Xbox Series X|S, you already have everything you need to start streaming your favorite games. On PlayStation, just hit the Create button (PS5) or Share button (PS4), and you’ll see a broadcast option for going live to Twitch once you connect your account. On Xbox, simply download the free Twitch app, log in with your account and go to the Broadcast tab to set up your stream and go live.
Console streaming is a great way to get started on Twitch that doesn’t require you to spend extra money or have a ton of technical know-how. You can use webcams with the latest consoles (the PS4 and PS5 work with Sony’s proprietary cameras; Xbox systems support most major USB webcams) and take advantage of services like Lightstream to add custom layouts and graphics to your broadcast.
Natasha “ZombaeKillz” Zinda, a partnered Twitch streamer with more than 7,000 followers, recommends console streaming as a good way to get started, and found early success using her Xbox One X’s built-in tools before investing in a higher-end setup.
“If your console has the ability to be paired with a webcam, things like Lightstream and other stuff like that makes it really accessible and easy to start with,” Zinda says. “Especially if you have a big personality and you don’t even need a camera. I started without a camera; I got to my first 700 followers without [one].”
From your phone
Going live on Twitch from your phone is as simple as downloading the Twitch app for iOS or Android, setting up your account, tapping your profile icon on the home screen and selecting “Go Live.” Streaming from your phone is a great way to broadcast your favorite mobile games, or use your phone’s camera to stream yourself cooking, playing music or just hanging out and chatting with your viewers. In fact, Twitch has a popular IRL category for people doing just that.
From your PC
If you want to go live from your PC or Mac, you have a multitude of options. Two of the most popular streaming applications are Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) and XSplit, which let you create a multitude of scenes from different audio and video sources (such as your camera and microphone) and go live to Twitch. Those looking for something extra beginner-friendly can check out Twitch’s own Studio software (which is currently in beta) or Lightstream, which lets you go live directly from the cloud but requires a monthly subscription.
Once you’ve got the basics down, there are a variety of online tools available that will make your stream look extra lively and professional. These include StreamElements, a popular cloud-based suite of services that allows you to create things such as custom layouts, widgets and bots that can automatically provide messages to your chat room.
“Our offerings are all of the slick and animated things you see on a popular streamer’s channel that is happening on top of their video, the widgets beneath it and being automated in chat,” says Nir.
Another popular option is Streamlabs, which offers its own range of custom layouts, on-screen notifications and tools for monetizing your stream.
The streaming gear worth buying
If you’re looking to put on a quality stream, having the right gear is essential. A good webcam and microphone are key for allowing your audience to see and hear you clearly, and it’s worth investing in some inexpensive lighting to help you pop a bit more on camera. Those looking to broadcast high-quality console gameplay will want to consider a capture card, while extras such as the Elgato Stream Deck will give you extra-fine control over your streams.
Buying tons of expensive equipment right away won’t automatically make your streams more successful, so we recommend starting small. However, as Zinda points out, it’s worth investing in quality gear once you’re ready to step up.
“I try to tell people now, because I’ve fumbled along the way … spend the money on the good things,” says Zinda, noting that top streaming gear can often be found at a discount. “Don’t go cheap off the door. Because you’re just going to replace the cheap later.”
Fortunately, there’s plenty of high-quality streaming gear out there that won’t break the bank. Here are our picks for some essential Twitch accessories for those starting their streaming journey.
Logitech C920 ($78.49; amazon.com)
A good webcam is an essential part of any streamer’s tool kit, and the Logitech C920 is largely considered the best overall webcam for everyday use. This popular camera can capture at a crisp 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second, complete with a wide 78-degree field of view. Streamers may want to consider splurging for the $99 Logitech C922 Pro Stream webcam, which is an upgraded version of the C920 that can capture at a smoother 60 fps (frames per second).
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The right lighting can make you look more vibrant and lively on camera, and Emart’s 10-inch Selfie Ring Light is the best ring light that we tested. This inexpensive ring light includes an adjustable tripod that can go from 19 to 50 inches, complete with a dedicated phone holder, making it ideal for both PC streamers and those doing some live vlogging from their mobile device. You also get three light modes with 11 levels of brightness for each, making it easy to find the right level of shine for your stream.
“People forget that webcams, they really are just super light-dependent,” says Kahlief Adams, founder and host of SpawnOnMe, a partnered channel with more than 6,400 followers. “If you throw a lot of good light at it, it’ll make everything look so much better. It makes the camera work less hard. It takes out some of that grit from your video. It actually helps with the frame rate.”
Blue Yeti Nano ($99.99; amazon.com)
Few things are more important to a quality stream than a good microphone, and the Blue Yeti Nano will allow your viewers to hear you loud and clear without making you spend a fortune. This condenser microphone features both cardoid and omnidirectional modes for recording solo or with a group, respectively, and its compact design can be attached to a variety of mounts and stands to fit your space.
“You can have a stream that doesn’t look as great, but if your audio is bad, people will automatically turn you off,” says Adams.
SteelSeries Arctis 1 ($49.99; bestbuy.com)
Having a good headset while streaming is key for hearing your games clearly while monitoring volume levels for your broadcast. And while we recommend springing for a dedicated microphone, the built-in mics found on gaming headsets work just fine for communicating with your audience (especially if you’re going direct from console). The SteelSeries Arctis 1 is a great starting point, offering solid audio performance, a detachable noise-canceling microphone and easy compatibility with PCs and consoles alike.
“I have really good headphones, because headphones you cannot do without,” says Zinda, who uses the Logitech G733 headset, a higher-end wireless model with customizable RGB lighting.
Elgato Game Capture HD60 S ($144; amazon.com)
The Elgato Game Capture HD60 S is the best capture card for most streamers, able to capture and broadcast gameplay from just about any modern console at 1080p and a smooth 60 fps. It works great with PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch, and its Game Capture HD companion software makes it easy to go live or record quick video clips.
Elgato Stream Deck Mini ($79.99; target.com)
Elgato’s Stream Deck Mini puts a ton of stream controls at your fingertips, allowing you to easily manage your broadcast without having to click around in your streaming software. This peripheral packs six fully programmable LCD keys, which you can use to do things such as switch camera scenes, activate GIFs, promote your stream on social media and go live with a single tap. Those who want a wider range of controls can also check out the $149 Stream Deck (15 keys) and $249 Stream Deck XL (32 keys), but the Stream Deck Mini is a great place to get started.
Jaodol Cat 7 Ethernet Cable ($13.99; amazon.com)
If you’re streaming from PC or console, you need to wire up — period. Having a wired internet connection will ensure better and more consistent video quality when broadcasting, because no one wants to sit through stuttery, low-quality streams. This popular Jaodol model gets you fast speeds and 25 feet of slack for just $13.99 (or a generous 50 feet for just $16.99).
GoXLR Mixer ($498; amazon.com)
When you’re ready to take your stream to a more professional level, Adams recommends the GoXLR Mixer. This multichannel mixer makes it easy to manage all of the audio sources for your stream — including your microphone, game sound and background music — in order to provide the best possible mix for your viewers. It can connect to XLR microphones for studio-grade sound, and packs a variety of controls for playing samples or modifying your voice with filters. If you want something simpler and more affordable, there’s also a $248 GoXLR Mini.
“I think the GoXLR right now is really the crux of most streamer setups,” says Adams. “It just provides a way to do certain things that you need to have as a person who streams multiple forms of content.”
How to become a better streamer
Stick to a schedule (if you can)
As experts such as Nir and Adams point out, streaming consistently can help grow your channel — after all, if your audience knows you’ll be live on certain days and times, there’s likely a better chance they’ll come back. Posting a stream schedule on your channel and social media accounts is a good way to give your viewers a clear sense of when you’ll be live. However, being consistent doesn’t necessarily mean streaming as much as possible.
“The biggest thing is always consistency,” says Adams, who streams around twice per week but is able to keep people coming back by sticking to the same general time for his weekly podcast recordings.
Find your niche
Twitch has more than 400 million unique streamers that go live every month, and popular titles such as League of Legends and Fortnite have hundreds — if not thousands — of people broadcasting them at any given time. As such, finding a way to stand out amongst the crowd and do your own thing can go a long way. If you have a unique talent or perspective, or play a game that isn’t so crowded with other streamers, try leaning into that!
“I understood in year two or three that there was no one else having conversations about race and Blackness in the way that we were in the gaming space,” says Adams, whose channel SpawnOnMe largely consists of live podcast content that spotlights people of color in games. “That was the thing that made us special. And especially no one was doing that on Twitch because everybody was so scared to have those conversations for the fear of losing followers.”
SpawnOnMe now has roughly 6,400 followers on Twitch, and has amassed more than 2.5 million total views.
Nir echoes the importance of being unique, suggesting that “focusing on games that aren’t being played to death, or doing something creative in the multitude of nongaming categories” can help you find an audience on Twitch.
Engage with your community
Whether you have one person watching you or 10,000, engaging with your audience is one of the most vital parts of being a successful streamer. Answering viewer questions or striking up a conversation with your chat room is a great way to make your audience feel like part of the show — and will likely increase the chances they’ll come back for the next stream. You can take things even further by setting up a Discord server where you can chat with your community even when you’re not live.
“[Be] consistent in talking to your audience and engaging with them, and really just putting yourself into your community. That’s where I find all my success, a hundred percent,” says Zinda. “Building my community and being active in my community, being active in my Discord and fostering the community that I have is absolutely the core of my success.”
By being engaging, Zinda says, you’ll build an audience that wants to tune in regardless of what game or activity you’re broadcasting.
“Definitely build your brand around yourself, not your game that you play,” says Zinda. “I’ve seen so many people fall into this trap and they get to a space and then they’re like, ‘I’m unhappy playing this game now, but if I stop playing this game, I’m going to lose numbers.’ I play what I want, when I want, however I want. Pretty much the numbers stay fairly consistent because I made sure that people were there for me.”
Speaking of building a personal brand, having a presence on social media is a crucial component of being a successful streamer — after all, how are people going to know you’re going live if you’re not talking about it? Additionally, being active on places such as Twitter and Instagram can help you get noticed by brands you may end up working or partnering with.
“Social media is absolutely the lifeblood to your streaming career,” says Zinda. “All of the connections that you will make, the brands that you want to work with, the PR people that you want to deal with, the games that you want to get codes for, all of them are popping around on Twitter. They’re constantly looking for new people, fresh faces or people who are passionate about the games that they’re making and are coming out with. And that is your chance to shine.”
Don’t get discouraged — and enjoy the ride
Getting popular on Twitch — and especially turning it into a viable career — isn’t going to happen overnight, and many of the platform’s most popular creators spent years toiling away before they became a household name. With that in mind, it’s important to enjoy the journey when you’re first starting out, and not get caught up with how many people are watching you.
“I know that numbers are important, and I know that analytics are important, but I really think it’s important to focus on growing your skill set, your understanding of the technology that you’re using, your understanding of your audience, your understanding of the games that you’re playing or the type of community you want to build,” says Zinda. “Because if you build things the right way, people are going to continue to show up.”
It’s also worth noting that when you’re broadcasting on Twitch, you’re essentially playing the role of on-air host, live video producer and community manager all at once, which are valuable skills you can use well beyond the world of livestreaming.
“I’m lucky enough to have parlayed my podcasting career into an actual job at Intel in the gaming industry,” says Adams. “There have been so many different people who have held my hand, who understood that the messages that we share on the show have meaning and purpose, and actually are trying to make the world a little bit better.”
Whether you’re a musician, chef, podcaster or just someone who loves to play Among Us, it’s important to remember that Twitch is a place to have fun. Show off what makes you unique on stream, be as consistent as you can, make the most of the equipment you have and, ultimately, enjoy the ride. You never know who might be watching.
“I’ve built a radical, intentionally kind community on Twitch,” says Zinda. “I’m learning so much. I’m gleaning all this wonderful information while also making friends. I think that’s magical.”