Live streaming has become a staple of the modern Internet, with video feeds of conferences, events, concerts, and everything else under the sun constantly sent around the world in real-time.

Justin.tv, a consumer-facing provider of live streaming services, was one of the original companies that focused on giving proper tools to anyone who wanted to broadcast their own streamed digital content online. The service exploded, and now serves video to over 15 million people every month.

And, just as YouTube has found nearly as many uses as it has participating uploaders, Justin.tv streamed content has more genres than one can count. However, in the last year, one specific niche has grown large enough to captivate the attention of the Justin.tv staff, and prompt the team to spring into action to serve its growing needs. Please, do say hello to esports.

What’s an esport?

By now you must have heard of a little game called Halo. In fact, it’s quite likely that you have played the game. But did you know that there pro circuits around the United States for the game? In fact, there are nearly a dozen games that have significant professional scenes attached to them, and the number only seems to be growing.

fbwins 520x345 TwitchTV: Justin.tvs killer new esports project

Contrary to what you might have in mind, this is no basement enterprise. The largest tournaments are held in massive conference centers, attract thousands of spectators, dozens of teams, and hand out tens of thousands of dollars in prize money. Over the last weekend, Major League Gaming’s event in Columbus, Ohio was not only packed to the gills with gamers, fans, and pros, but the live stream of its happenings was viewed in over 160 countries around the world. Competitive gaming, once the vision of a few dreamers mostly Balkanized by their hobby of choice, is quickly becoming a legitimate sport with big-ticket corporate sponsors, team fan clubs, and famous players crisscrossing the globe to compete in the biggest events.

Justin.tv is not merely engaged in the boom of esports, it’s working hard to become a central figure in the revolution. Gamers began to use the company’s live streaming power to broadcast matches, practice games, and even whole tournaments to fans on any continent. As the number of streaming gamers grew, and the viewers began to rack up more and more watched hours, Justin.tv pounced.

By reaching out and converting some of the most popular gamers in the world to their service, including the entire player roster of TeamLiquid’s Starcraft 2 team, and by building the feature set that they demanded, Justin.tv has become the household brand in gaming live streaming.

Let’s talk cash

Aside from winning tournaments and collecting sponsorship checks, how do elite gamers pay the bills? Justin.tv has in fact managed to become one of the top suppliers of income to gamers with its partnership program. TNW spoke to Jusin.tv, and according to its staff members, for top gamers, the company splits the ad revenue that the user’s stream brings in. If you have 10,000 people watching you game, a number that is not unheard of, then you might be making over a $1 CPM rate when you ‘go to commercial.’ Steam controllers have the power to show ads as often as they like, meaning that they can do so at times that are not disruptive to their content, crucial for tense moments in important games.

Popular gamer TLO recently went on a 24 hour streaming marathon for Doctors Without Borders, and raised roughly $2,500 from his Justin.tv partnership during the binge. There is real money to be made, and Justin.tv is completely happy to hand it out; I asked if the company is profitable on its gaming content, and they assured me that esports streaming, when partnered, is marginally profitable. If you don’t know what that means, please look it up.

But it was not just the cash that brought the gamers, and thus their massive fan bases to Justin.tv, but what the service offered. Following requests, the company built out live transcoding, allowing gaming content to be streamed at varying bitrates; gamers, as it turns out, demand the highest quality possible, but for their fans with slower connections, a lower quality feed was needed at the same time. Justin.tv made that possible, but told TNW that the feature had required “very hard work to get up and running.”

Hard work or not, the investment seems to be paying off.

A new brand?

The staff at Justin.tv set a threshold: if gaming related content became popular past a certain point, then the company would spin-off the gaming side of its business under a new brand. According to the team, gaming content “blew [the threshold] away handily.” The race to build a separate site for esports, with even more gaming-specific features, was on.

What traffic levels were met? Justin.tv didn’t tell us exactly that, but they did give us a few numbers that are current as of today. The site is performing at the following levels in regards to gaming:

  • 3.2 million monthly uniques for gaming streams and content;
  • The average viewer of gaming content watches 4.5 hours a month on Justin.tv. The average Internet user, by comparison, racks up a mere three hours of video watching of all genres a month;
  • The company sees nearly 50 million video views a month simply in its gaming niche;
  • The gaming side of Justin.tv has grown 400% since the company started to court the genre 6 months ago.

The company went on to call the user engagement with esports streams “ridiculous.” But what about that new esports streaming brand that the company is building? We’re glad you asked.

Say hello to TwitchTV

The name won’t make much sense if you don’t have any friends that are fans of ‘first person shooter’ style games, but don’t worry. TwitchTV is launching roughly right now, so if you mosey on over twitchtv.com, you can check out what has been released.

If that is too much work, you can simply gander gaze at the following screenshot:

ScreenShot 520x472 TwitchTV: Justin.tvs killer new esports project

Live user streams are sorted by game title, with the most popular sporting a large number of live streams at the same time. The Justin.tv team did tell TNW that the company plans on supporting, in regards to TwitchTV site presence, games of all levels of popularity; if you love something obscure, don’t worry.

The company is not launching much today that is fresh in terms of new functionality on TwitchTV for gaming content that Justin.tv did not have previously, aside from game sorting, but that will change. The company cited a desire to “get it [the website] out” as their first priority, with new features to follow.

TwitchTV is the new home of esports and gaming related content for Justin.tv, forever. And because TwitchTV is so focused, it will function as a usable portal better than the Justin.tv homepage ever has.

What changed?

What changed in esports that made it into something that an established company such as Justin.tv could not ignore? There is no quality public data on the matter, but it seems, based off of the timing that Justin.tv laid out for TNW, that the release of Starcraft 2 last year and its explosive popularity were chief drivers. The game is exceptionally watchable, even by the casual viewer, but offers infinite depth to the enthusiast.

Starcraft 2′s predecessor, Starcraft: Brood War, has been a cult favorite in the West for over a decade, and it still enjoys competitive play in the gaming Mecca of South Korea. Starcraft 2 has become popular enough in Europe, Asia, and North America that tournaments sporting ever higher prize pools have cropped up, bringing with them new talent, advertising dollars, and fans. In short, it’s a sweet spot for Justin.tv.

In fact, Justin.tv has been an active sponsor of tournaments in general in the Starcraft 2 scene for some time now, putting up cash in exchange for promotion, boosting its market image around the gaming world. The company, as they say, ‘gets it.’

But that is no accident, nor is it the byproduct of meticulous planning. Instead, the team at Justin.tv are gamers themselves, and have merely been aggressively following their noses to, thus far, great success.

What comes next

Starcraft 2 is likely to enjoy years of popularity, but Justin.tv by no means intends to put even most of its eggs into that single basket. The team is instead determined to support streaming of every form of gaming content, no matter the title or level of production. That will ensure that no matter what game breaks out next, TwitchTV will be on the forefront of its rise.

And what of competition? There are several smaller streaming services that are just getting off of the ground, such as Own3d.tv, but for now they lack Justin.tv’s capital base and technological prowess. Ustream, Justin.tv’s classic rival, has not, thus far, made a gaming push of similar size.

The market appears to be Justin.tv’s for the taking. If they can execute, and so far they have.

Never watched esports? You can’t go wrong with a little Starcraft 2, so get watching.