Source: wired.com

As a form of competition popular ever since the arcade days of the 1970s, video games are no strangers to payouts. From a baseline of bragging rights, bigger prizes then expanded into the likes of financial rewards for big contest winners. Each new decade of popularity raised the potential prize pools on offer, but this growth hasn’t been linear. Instead, with the development of newer gaming infrastructure like what live streaming produces, winnings often head into more adventurous and even bizarre waters.

Streaming’s Effect on Popularity

The biggest name to popularize the idea of streaming has unquestionably been Twitch. Launched in 2011, Twitch was initially seen by many as a silly idea. The basis was solid, however, essentially leaning on the much-loved activity of hanging out and watching friends play games, only adapted into our busy lives through modern tech. Quickly becoming seriously recognized, the appeal of Twitch made it rise from 120,000 average viewers at the end of 2012 to 2.9 million average users by the end of 2021, according to Twitch Tracker.

With so many people interested, the possibilities for monetization began to make digital industries stand up and take notice. Both within video games and in the greater interactive entertainment market, there were opportunities to explore, where the imaginations of those involved continue to raise the bar.

Source: blogs.opera.com

The Forms of Game Winnings

The most direct example of winnings made possible through streaming systems are those found in the landscape of online casinos. Live streaming titles like blackjack, baccarat and even Deal or No Deal at digital establishments such as The Hippodrome have become a standout in this regard. These systems let players stream dealers and tables into their homes, fusing the realism and potential pay of physical casinos with the convenience and accessibility of web-based action.

Back in video games, direct winnings from streaming are best illustrated by the success of the Dota 2 yearly tournament called The International. Starting in 2011, The International represents the largest scale that eSports has yet accomplished, with winners taking home more than even the champions at Wimbledon. The largest prize pool achieved by this tournament so far has reached $40 million while still on an upward trajectory.

Funding the prizes for The International is achieved via a special battle pass system called the Compendium. The pass gives regular players access to special features in Dota 2, while also pushing a quarter of the funds directly into tournament payouts. As one of the most popular games of all time, and with so much on the line, it’s only natural that streaming would play a big part in this equation.

Thanks to Twitch, players have been able to tune in on an expanding level, with each year setting new standards for what streaming can achieve. According to ES Charts, viewer participation doubled from 2017 to 2021, with peak numbers in the latter year exceeding 2.7 million concurrent viewers.

Working just as closely with the concept of streaming has been the advent and now significant popularity of the various forms of Games Done Quick. These annual events are demonstrations of video game speed runs, where highly practiced players complete titles as fast as possible. By including the games many of us grew up with, and then breaking them apart with skill and new tricks, GDQ has rapidly gone from being hosted in basements to requiring theatres to meet demands.

The part streaming plays in GDQ comes from how the events are built around raising money for charity. Tickers constantly run during play, showing how much has been generated in total and allowing players to vote for their wallets to see different games or have the runners show off special techniques. The first event, Classic Games Done Quick, raised $10,500 in 2010. The most recent event in 2022 raised more than $3.4 million.

Streaming events for direct pay for competitors often come in the form of specific challenges. Sometimes these can be speedrun related, such as a bounty for the first person to beat a game or level in under a certain time. Other times, like with the recent $20,000 bounty placed on Halo 2 as reported by Kotaku, the prize results from completing an absurdly difficult challenge. In this case, a player needs to finish the game on a customized hardest difficulty in a single life, a feat nobody has been able to prove they achieved in the 18 years since the title’s release.

Finally, we have to talk about the heroes who would go unsung without the use of streaming. This story comes from 2022’s Elden Ring, where the most difficult boss named Malenia would routinely act as a roadblock for players aiming for 100% completion. Enter a player going by “Let Me Solo Her”. This unusually dressed character would allow himself to be summoned into other people’s games, to complete the fight for them. Seen on many different streams, this player became a legend, ending up gifted with a customized sword from the developer for what they did for the popularity of Elden Ring.

The effect that streaming has had on game winnings has been one of collaboration. Streaming wouldn’t be as popular without the prizes it helps generate, and prizes wouldn’t be as massive without the popularity afforded by streaming. Over time, this niche curiosity has grown into a hugely influential force in the gaming industry, helping players, developers, and even unrelated charities. Whether you enjoy streaming or not, there’s no denying its positive impact, or the coming influence it will have in the future. As for what new forms it could take, who knows where the imaginations of players and developers will take interactive entertainment next.