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The ultimate guide to Twitch streaming

Twitch streaming guide
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Twitch streaming is bigger than ever, especially now that more people are looking for entertainment — and a means of providing it — while stuck at home. The Amazon-owned streaming giant boasts close to 40 million monthly viewers, who tune in around the clock to watch broadcasts of video games, live music, talk shows and much, much more.

The top Twitch streamers are today's celebrities, streaming their clutch Fortnite plays , live podcasts and everyday vlog exploits to millions of fans around the globe. Many of these personalities have a litany of sponsors and millions of social media followers, and they're joined by an increasing number of actors, athletes and musicians who are discovering Twitch as a new platform to stream to their fans. 

Better yet, it's easier than ever to start your own channel and stream to Twitch yourself. Read on for our ultimate Twitch streaming guide for everything you need to get started, from basic hardware requirements to tips from the pros on keeping viewers happy.

Twitch streaming guide: What you need

A good computer

Although there are a few exceptions I'll outline below, you'll likely be doing most of your streaming from a gaming laptop or gaming desktop PC. As far as specs go, Twitch recommends having at least an Intel Core i5-4670 processor (or its AMD equivalent), 8GB of RAM and Windows 7 or newer. (Don't worry; you can stream from a Mac, too.) More important than your PC specs are your internet connection; you'll definitely want to stay wired via Ethernet for the best possible bitrate. 

If you're streaming PC games, you'll need a graphics card strong enough to support whatever you're playing and, ideally, one that supports DirectX 10 and up. The faster your Internet connection, the better — you should probably aim to have an upload speed of at least 3MB per second, which should be attainable on most home Internet connections or even via mobile.

While we recommend streaming from a desktop if possible, going live from a laptop is totally doable with the right specs. If you want to go the mobile route, our friends at Laptop Mag have a handy guide to streaming from a laptop.

...or just your phone

If you want to stream yourself cooking, playing music or simply hanging out (Twitch has a popular "IRL" category full of people doing just that), you don't need any fancy gear -- just your phone! You can stream directly to Twitch from the official iOS or Android apps, which is a good way to do non-gaming streams or just test the waters of Twitch before diving in.

One PC or two?

While Twitch's core system requirements are pretty forgiving, streaming and playing graphically intense games at the same time can put quite the load on your computer. Some popular streamers remedy this by using two PCs at once — one for gaming, and another for broadcasting. If that sounds too complicated, you can check out desktops such as CyberPower's Pro Streamer, which houses two complete PCs in a single body.

Fortunately, thanks to to recent strides made by Nvidia, creating a high-quality stream from a single PC is becoming more feasible. If you own a gaming desktop or laptop with one of Nvidia's new RTX graphics cards, you'll be able to take advantage of Nvidia's dedicated hardware encoder that's built into each card. This essentially relieves your CPU of having to do too much of the heavy lifting.

Open Broadcaster Software, which we'll touch on below, is optimized for the new Nvidia cards, meaning that it's quite easy to get a smooth single-PC stream going so long as you've got OBS as well as a system with an RTX 2060, 2070, 2080 or 2080 GPU.

A Twitch account

You can visit Twitch.tv to join for free, and you should probably add a custom avatar, banner and description so that viewers can learn a little bit about you. If you want to make sure that all of your broadcasts are temporarily archived for later viewing, you can head to Settings > Channel & Videos > Archive Broadcasts.

Streaming software

The most essential part of any streamer's tool kit, broadcasting software lets you show your gameplay to the world. The two most commonly used streaming programs are Open Broadcasting Software (OBS), which is completely free, and XSplit, which has a free tier but requires a paid subscription in order to use its key features.

Regardless of your choice of software, setting up your stream consists of the same general steps: picking your sources (such as your computer monitor, gameplay feed or webcam), laying out how they'll all appear for the viewer, and finally, syncing up your Twitch account and going live.

Twitch also has its own streaming software dubbed Twitch Studio. Currently available in beta, Twitch Studio is built to be an all-in-one streaming that, like OBS and XSplit, lets you create multiple scenes with different video and audio sources, but also packs in a variety of built-in layout and on-screen notification options.

Microphone and camera

While you can technically get by with a gaming headset, you'll want one of the best microphones to allow viewers to hear your clearly so that your viewers can hear you clearly. The $129 Blue Yeti is our favorite USB mic thanks to its crisp audio quality and adjustable pickup modes. If you're on a tight budget, consider the $36 Samson Go Mic; for something more portable, check out the $99 Blue Yeti Nano. 

You'll also want one of the best webcams so that your viewers can see you clearly. The Logitech HD Pro C920 is our top overall pick thanks to its sharp 1080p capture quality and wide field of view. If you want something higher-end, the Logitech StreamCam offers 1080p and 60 fps capture while also touting the ability to work in portrait mode for mobile-friendly video. There's also the $99 Razer Kiyo, which is similarly sharp and offers a built-in ring light for illuminating your face.

Streaming from consoles

If you're wondering how to become a Twitch streamer without any fancy PC hardware, both the Xbox One and PS4 let you stream directly from your console, without any extra devices or software. On Xbox One, you'll just need the free Twitch app; on PS4, you can go live right from the system's Share menu. Folks on Xbox can also stream directly to Microsoft's Mixer platform, which is just as easy to set up. While you won't get to customize your stream the way you would from your PC, console streaming is still a great way to get your feet wet.

If you want to stream from your Nintendo Switch or any other console (or just want more control over your broadcast), you'll need a capture card that records your console gameplay to your PC.

One of the most popular capture card options out there is the $179 Elgato HD60 S, which seamlessly records and streams 1080p, 60fps video from Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and just about any other system with an HDMI output. 

Twitch streaming guide: Quick tutorials

Whether you need a step-by-step breakdown of how to get your stream up and running on a specific platform or just want to get the most out of Twitch as a viewer, check out our handy list of tutorials.

Twitch streaming guide: Tips from the pros

Source: twitch.tv/trumpsc

Source: twitch.tv/trumpsc

Twitch is home to a growing stable of bona fide gaming celebrities who make their living broadcasting — but not just because they play the latest games or have a fancy stream setup. The top Twitch streamers are true entertainers; some are known for their incredible Call of Duty headshots, while others are famous for blowing through entire Zelda games in 20 minutes. But more than that, they're just great personalities.

"[Our top streamers] are humble, friendly, highly interactive and treat the people in their chat as if they are the stars of the show," said Chase (yep, just Chase), Twitch’s director of public relations.

If you're looking to get into the finer points of growing an audience, popular Hearthstone player Jeffrey "Trump" Shih's "Streaming 101" video is an excellent place to start. Shih neatly breaks down the core components of streaming into an acronym he calls OPTICS (Opportunity, Presence, Technology, Interaction, Consistency and Skill), noting that focusing on any number of these factors could help you make a name for yourself.

Grow big enough on Twitch, and you just might be offered a partnership, which allows you to get a cut of broadcast revenue and offer your viewers exclusive perks in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. No matter what level of Twitch stardom you're shooting for, here are tips from some of the streamers who do it best.

Find Your Niche

How do you stand out among Twitch's 2 million streamers? For Burke Black, all it took was a pirate hat and lots of patience. After two years of steady streaming, Black is now a partnered broadcaster with more than 23,000 followers that tune in to catch his late-night, swashbuckling-themed antics.

Source: twitch.tv/burkeblack

Source: twitch.tv/burkeblack

Fire up any of Black's broadcasts, and you'll see him in full brown-and-beige pirate garb, complete with a skull-and-crossbones bandana and an epic beard to match. The 36-year-old is the farthest thing from imposing, though, as he giggles and cheers his way through anything from Grand Theft Auto V to Pirates! (naturally) while enthusiastically chatting with his viewers.

"I consider it a show, not just some dude streaming games," Black said. "People come in because they like the atmosphere … [it's a] nice friendly environment where they can come and have a good time with some cheesy pirate stuff going on."

Becoming a pirate isn't the only way to stand out on Twitch. Perhaps you're exceptionally skilled at the world's most obscure platformer, or you have a really cute dog you can put in front of the camera while you blast through Counter-Strike matches. Find your specialty, and run with it.

Be Consistent

Consistency is crucial — just as people tune in to their favorite TV shows at the same time every night, they should know exactly when you'll be live on Twitch. Whether you broadcast in the afternoon or the wee hours of the morning, stick to your schedule, and make sure it's prominently displayed across both your Twitch page and social media sites.

"You will never get the same viewers if you stream at random times when you are just starting out," said That's Cat, a 26-year-old streamer that specializes in survival games and has almost 30,000 followers.

Make Some Friends

Sonja "OMGitsfirefoxx" Reid is one of Twitch's biggest stars, with more than 631,000 followers and her own merchandise store. While much of her success can be attributed to her unfiltered sense of humor and constant interaction with her viewers, one of her biggest breaks came from working with others.

"We started a daily Minecraft stream, with the idea of just playing some Minecraft with friends and hanging out," said Reid of "Mianite," a series in which she and other popular Twitch stars broadcast their daily hijinks in the popular crafting game. "It blew up, and turned into a huge series, which is going into its third season."

Source: twitch.tv/thatscat

Source: twitch.tv/thatscat

That's Cat also made a name for herself by playing with other broadcasters. In fact, the streamer had 500 Twitch followers before she even went live on her own channel, simply because she made plenty of friends beforehand.

"I ended up having over 80 viewers [on] my first stream, because of my presence in the community prior to streaming," said Cat, who got offered a partnership after just three months of broadcasting.

Be Interactive

What sets Twitch streams apart from other forms of entertainment is that the audience is almost always a key part of the experience. All Twitch broadcasts are accompanied by a chat room, which allows streamers to interact directly with the people who support them. The more you make your viewers feel like they're sitting on the couch with you while you play, the better chance you have at building a loyal following.

Reid affectionately refers to her fans as her "foxx family." Even with hundreds of thousands of followers, she makes sure to keep things personal.

Sonja Reid talking to her Twitch fans. Source: twitch.tv/omgitsfirefoxx

Sonja Reid talking to her Twitch fans. Source: twitch.tv/omgitsfirefoxx

"I get to know a lot of my [viewers], and remember what's going on in their lives and chat with them about it in stream," she said. "Having a community that really feels like a family is really important to me."

Audience interaction is a top priority for Black, who has a monitor dedicated solely to viewing his Twitch chat. Black also does frequent giveaways, which, according to the streamer, helps encourage fans to come back every night.

That's Cat's following has grown so loyal that she can count on having viewers no matter how obscure the game she's playing.

"I literally played Barbie's Dreamhouse and still had my entire community cheering me on," she said. 

Don't Stress About Your Gear (At First)

Just because your favorite streamer has a super-sharp webcam and a fancy green screen and streams from two high-end PCs at once doesn't mean you have to — at least at first. Twitch's system requirements are quite lenient, which means you should focus on growing an audience before you spend thousands turning your bedroom into an all-out studio.

"I started streaming on an old HP laptop that overheated to the point of burning my hand, and an old foldout chair from Walmart," said Reid, who's been able to upgrade to a decidedly better setup as her channel grew.

Be Patient, and Have Fun!

As with any type of success, "making it" on Twitch takes lots of patience and hard work.

"If you're doing [this] just to make money, you'll usually fizzle out in the first three or so months," Black said. "For the first six months, it was just awful because I didn't know what I was doing. Try not to get discouraged, because everyone's been that way."

Black's patience is now paying off; the streamer is closing in on 24,000 followers, and his Twitter feed is full of pictures of loyal fans wearing T-shirts with his name on them. Black, who currently works in photography, is considering becoming a full-time streamer once he hits 500 paid subscribers.

Reid stressed the importance of relishing every viewer, no matter how few there are in the beginning.

"Even if you have three viewers, or 30 or 300, there are people that are choosing to hang out and watch you," Reid noted. 

In the end, it's important to remember that we're all still playing video games. Whether it's a hobby or something you hope to make into a career, streaming should be fun — the more you enjoy yourself, the more everyone watching you probably will, too.

  • zat_boi
    Really helpful! I want to try twitch streaming out! I'm glad this was here to tell me about it.
    Reply
  • tobias.graeven
    There is an error in your article. For the bandwidth requirements you wrote at least 3MB per second. The capital letter B is generally associated with Bytes but the requirements for twitch are 3-6 Mbits per second as stated in their Broadcast Requirements. Please correct this, thanks.
    Reply
  • draagon.slaya10
    Actually, Elgato Game Capture card does not record PS3, unless you have an HDMI Splitter.
    Reply