The Ultimate Guide to Twitch Streaming

Who wants to sit and watch people play video games all day? Millions of people, it turns out. Live-streaming website Twitch is one of the biggest things in video games, with more than 100 million unique monthly viewers who come to watch the wealth of professional tournaments, gaming talk shows and casual solo sessions that the site's 2-million-plus broadcasters offer.

Twitch's biggest streamers are a new breed of Internet celebrity, with legions of dedicated fans who tune in daily to watch them dominate League of Legends matches or hilariously scream their way through horror games. Many of these personalities have a litany of sponsors and hundreds of thousands of social media followers — two traits more typical of a pro athlete than someone who plays video games for a living.

Image Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's GuideImage Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's GuideBut while only a lucky few make it to the NBA or the NFL, anyone with a decent PC or modern game console can be a Twitch streamer. If you want to take a shot at Twitch stardom, here's everything you need to know, from basic hardware requirements to tips from the pros on keeping viewers happy.

What You'll 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 computer. 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.)

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.

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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.

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 highly intuitive interface 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.

Microphone and Camera

While you can technically get by with a gaming headset, you'll want a dedicated microphone 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 Razer Seiren X.

If you don't already have a webcam and want to show your face, the $49 Logitech HD Pro C920 is our top overall pick thanks to its sharp 1080p capture quality and wide field of view. The $99 Logitech C922 offers the same quality but with automatic background removal, which allows you to superimpose yourself onto your game without the need for a green screen. 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 have an Xbox One or a PS4, you can 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. 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.

The most popular capture card option out there is the $129 Elgato Game Capture HD, which seamlessly records 1080p video from Xbox One/360, PS4/PS3, Wii U and just about any other system with an HDMI output. It also has a Component adapter, in case you want to stream from one of your dusty retro consoles. If you want smoother, 60-frame-per-second streams, you can step up to the $151 Elgato HD60.

Twitch 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.

Building an Audience

Source: twitch.tv/trumpscSource: 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/burkeblackSource: 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/thatscatSource: 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/omgitsfirefoxxSonja 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.

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"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.

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