How Twitch turned livestreaming video game play into big business

Max Gonzalez settles into his home studio, where the former Home Depot cashier now makes a living playing video games full time.

He makes his final preparations before live-streaming his latest exploits over Twitch, the gamecasting service that has emerged as one of Silicon Valley’s hottest start-ups. He checks the lights, adjusts the three computer monitors on his desk, and looks over his shoulder at the green screen.

Gonzalez, 23, launches the live stream and starts playing “BattleBlock Theater.” He cracks jokes, provides running commentary, mocks his online opponents, makes funny noises. More than 1,800 fans are watching him online.

They respond with enthusiasm, typing comments into a live chat box that Gonzalez acknowledges with a friendly greeting or a snarky reply. Every couple of minutes, a “ping” sounds, announcing that another viewer has paid a $5 monthly subscription fee to support Gonzalez.

“It’s like a kind of talk show,” Gonzalez says. “Some people are watching just to hear me riff on the game. Some people are trying to pick up tips. It’s great, because Twitch has really exploded.”

Although Twitch has become a phenomenon in the gaming world, it flew under the radar of even many tech insiders until last weekend — when rumors surfaced that Google’s YouTube was in talks to buy it for $1 billion.

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