Twitch is a video streaming platform that found its niche by tapping into the increasingly popular realms of eSports and live video. Twitch’s unique success has been in identifying the entertainment value in gameplay and community and combining the two in a digital space.

Founded in 2011 the company has skyrocketed in usership and recognition over the past five years, commanding so much of the games streaming market it practically defines it. Twitch was early to recognize the call for dynamism between media publishers and their audiences, especially in the ripe gaming community. They answered that call by creating an ecosystem for gamers that other industry leaders struggled to understand at first. Now, with 100 million users watching 800 million combined hours of eSports in a recent 10-month period, Twitch is an undeniable force to be reckoned with.

Andy Swanson is a veteran of 17 years in the gaming industry and the VP Esports Evangelist at Twitch. Andy got his start in 1998 at Future US where he eventually became publisher of PC Gamer, OXM and PSM. He moved onto Ubisoft and GameFly before landing at Twitch in 2013. As an early team member to Twitch, Andy was brought on to plan, evangelize and execute the strategy around brand sponsorships and integrations within Twitch’s eSports ecosystem. Digital Media Wire had the chance to ask Andy about Twitch, his inspiration, eSports and gaming culture in the interview below.

Andy Swanson Twitch
Photo provided by Twitch

Have you had any important mentors who have influenced your career?

I have a few for sure. Twitch’s own Jonathan Simpson-Bint, our Chief Revenue Officer, and Simon Whitcombe, Group Director at Facebook, have taught me how to sell media with passion in the games industry early in my career at Future US. I also learned from Jay Cohen, General Manager of Wargaming, how to navigate my way through a global games company (Ubisoft), working with its Paris headquarters and multiple development studios outside the US. Finally, I would say Sean Spector, founder of Gamefly and Dropoff, is the one who taught me how to harness the entrepreneurial spirit and create a successful business from a single idea.

Describe a challenge that you encountered in your work and how you overcame it.

In the early days of the Twitch Media Group, game publishers and developers struggled to fully understand the Twitch ecosystem and their role in it. They were used to traditional advertising and editorial relationships of gaming websites and magazines. It took a lot of cross-departmental conversations and education–PR, Marketing, Media, and Community–to get game companies to understand that they too have a direct role in the Twitch community. They can broadcast their own messaging via their own channels, work with broadcasters and influencers, and efficiently target their digital media spends. It took about six months within the second half of 2013 of dedication and perseverance from the team to spread this message around the industry.

Andy Swanson Twitch
Photo provided by Twitch

How does Twitch benefit the gaming community?

In its pure form, Twitch IS the embodiment of the gaming community. It allows all aspects of the industry–content creators, developers, publishers, media, and esports–to celebrate and broadcast their passion for video games. It is a place of acceptance where gamers of all types have a voice to share with the community. Nothing embodies this better than TwitchCon, where more than 20,000 tickets were sold as Twitch broadcasters and fans came together to celebrate and learn about the Twitch community and feel at home with fellow gamers. This year, we are expanding TwitchCon with an extra day and an Industry track.

Twitch and eSports have risen together in the past couple of years. eSports are projected to generate global revenue of $1 billion by 2019 and Twitch is one of the biggest players in that with 100 million users watching 800 million hours of eSports in the past ten months. How will Twitch stay at the forefront of eSports as competition for market share intensifies?

The reality is that even though global viewership for esports is enormous, it still hasn’t seen mass acceptance from mainstream media and brands. A lot of industry experts point to Twitch’s role in making esports accessible to the millennial cord-cutting audience, which I believe helps solidify our role as the primary broadcast source of esports. Traditional sports brands are trying to reach the digital consumer that doesn’t pay for cable or satellite, while esports was born as a digital-first platform and thus, it will be difficult to change its fans’ consumption habits. Nonetheless, we are excited about the mainstream coverage of esports from outlets like TBS and ESPN, as it further legitimizes what we’ve known all along: esports is here to stay.

Andy Swanson Twitch
Photo provided by Twitch

What most excites you about the future of eSports?

Probably the fact that esports is a wild west and gold rush all at once. I look forward to more professional organizational structures in the leagues, team, and players, where fans and brands know what to expect and how to best show their passion for the games they love. We are still in the beginning phases of consistent major live events, big brand sponsorships, and meaningful merchandise revenues. I love seeing the collegiate level of esports being taken seriously as well and think that it is a solid indicator that the business is on the right track.

Andy Swanson will be speaking at Digital Media Wire’s New York Media Festival in NYC on September 26-29. Purchase tickets here.

-Edward Heinrich