Twitch IRL Guide: All You Need to Know
In December 2016, Twitch.tv announced the addition of a major new category: IRL.
Basic use is simple: talk to your viewers. But the potential to leverage this category goes far beyond sitting and waiting for prompts from chat.
“The Wild West”
As Twitch expands the site to include more than gaming content (casting a nod to its justin.tv vlogging roots), IRL has not been met without controversy or criticism.
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Many were quick to condemn IRL for a number of reasons. Some suspected the category could discourage work-life balance for broadcasters. Others felt it opened the door for content they didn’t want to be associated with.
My mentor (ckurtis) joked that IRL is the “junk drawer” of Twitch, and where he thinks the company “sold out as a provider of content and turned that responsibility over to their audience,” a sharp contrast to years of heavily moderated content and categorization.
All opinions aside, the numbers are pretty straightforward. At the time of writing this article, IRL is the sixth most watched category this week according to twitchmetrics.net, and the sixth most viewed overall in 2017 according to statista.com.
“IRL is really ‘The Wild West’ of modern content creation,” commented former Twitch admin Moblord, who stays active in the streaming community as a consultant and educator, working as an enabler and defender of broadcasters.
“In the past, most of the content produced for Twitch was both derivative and gaming focused,” he added. “With this new wave there have been a number of unique challenges. But not least of those challenges is… How do you entertain people unprompted?”
Browsing IRL today one could argue that much of the content isn’t really new to the site.
Before talking to viewers was the intended purpose for a category on Twitch, broadcasters still talked to viewers. They just did it while they were doing something else, or paused what they were doing.
It is the most successful in terms of viewership, though.
Variety-streamer CharlieStMonica said she suspects a lot of people who watch Twitch exclusively for gaming content stumble into IRL out of curiosity.
She relates the category to “coffee talk” and points out that IRL has a lot more viewers than Creative (where she grew much of her following).
These days, it’s not uncommon to see art, music, cooking or eating in IRL. It’s also worth mentioning that the site’s FAQ discourages streamers from using IRL to stream content with existing categories. For this reason, many broadcasters reserve IRL to chat with viewers prior to a stream, and switch to a different category once it’s time to “get to work.”
But as some streams tend to be more discussion-based than “activity” based, and in light of lesser-known categories stagnating in growth, it comes as no surprise to see such a wide and varied adoption of IRL.
It’s not always about numbers. Many broadcasters genuinely seem to enjoy the viewership of the IRL community and would much rather grow their channel there.
My talkative friend Suezan, for example, prefers broadcasting “art, music, and everything in between” on IRL because it offers a better environment to focus on viewer interaction, with expectations more in line with the type of content she likes to create.
“If I were to stream in Music, people would expect me to perform, while if I would sing a song and talk for 30 minutes in IRL, people see it as a part of what I do,” she explained.
A Day in the Life
Although it’s easy enough to log on for chat-prompted content, IRL has opened the door for much more than free-format discussion. It’s also allowed Twitch to incorporate a travel and lifestyle element to the platform.
This is where Moblord believes IRL has more potential for streamers than sitting in front of a screen waiting on prompts from chat.
“I like to be transported to locations and situations that I wouldn’t normally see, so I like to watch travel and review broadcasts where I get to live vicariously through the broadcaster,” he said.
By opening the door for more flexible lifestyle-based content, it’s not hard to imagine how a broadcaster could leverage an existing community by streaming on IRL.
Nati Casanova aka ZombiUnicorn, for example, has transitioned her success as a gamer and content creator into other opportunities — not limited to voice acting, hosting, sponsorships and reality television.
“I’ve always spent time having conversations with my chat between games on stream, only now I can use the IRL category instead of ‘Gaming Talk Shows,’” commented Casanova. “It’s really easy to keep my audience engaged if I can include them in more aspects of my life, instead of just gaming.”
For an entrepreneur like Casanova, IRL offers the ability to integrate broadcasting into her daily life, whether she’s mobile streaming from an event, sharing a behind-the-scenes glimpse of her “off screen” life at the gym or salon, or sampling new makeup products in her studio.
Ultimately, IRL is giving broadcasters an opportunity to branch out to viewers they ordinarily wouldn’t meet broadcasting within specific games or activities.
It also offers opportunities for influencers across other platforms to further leverage their fan base by building livestreaming communities on Twitch.
Viral YouTubers like Malukah and Lara6683 (to name a couple) have already demonstrated how quickly a community can adopt a new platform that better allows them to connect with and support the broadcasters they love.
I wonder how long it will take before creators across other platforms (Instagram beauty vloggers, for instance) make their way over to Twitch IRL.
A home for the “uncategorized”
Now that Twitch has a catch-all category for content, some broadcasters are finding success in unique ways.
Kitboga, for example, quickly grew an active community around the idea of exposing scammers.
“It started off as a way to record my ‘adventure,’” said Kit, who decided he wanted to investigate fake virus popups after he discovered his aging grandmother had fallen victim to scammers.
Each stream, thousands of viewers tune in as Kit baits scammers to stay on the phone as long as possible. In the process, his community learns about staying safe online (and gets a good laugh out of it, too). Sometimes, they might even witness Kit convince an employee to quit scamming.
Kitboga’s growing community highlights how IRL gives individuals an opportunity to use their own unique talents and interests as an avenue for live content creation outside of gaming on Twitch.
“In my experience, folks browsing the IRL category are looking for something interesting to watch,” says Kit. “While there are viewers who almost exclusively watch IRL, you will find gamers and members of large communities checking out IRL for new content.”
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Tips for Streaming in IRL
Are you interested in broadcasting IRL? Here are a few thoughts from those who have already done it.
Do: consider using Twitch Communities to find like-minded broadcasters and further increase discoverability of your channel, suggests CharlieStMonica.
Do: be yourself. Or don’t (hey, it’s your channel). But many broadcasters believe it’s the easiest, most sustainable and rewarding approach.
Do: take advantage of tools that make streaming easier and more interactive. I use StreamElements, partly because as an all-in-one, cloud-based service, it provides access to all the tools I need to stream from anywhere. And since the information is cloud-hosted, any changes I make are instantly available on other devices.
Do: zero in on passions and interests. “I think the number one thing I’ve learned in years of streaming different content is to do something you love and could talk about for days without getting tired of it,” said Kitboga. “For me, that’s not video games.”
Do: remember that Twitch is mostly a gaming community, and still markets itself as such. Try to keep that in mind if you receive criticism for building your channel by broadcasting non-gaming content.
Don’t: take the trolls too seriously. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like you. “But there will also be a lot of folks who do!” says Kitboga.
Do: put thought into presentation. Nice graphics can really make a stream stand out — especially in IRL, where many broadcasters rely on a full-camera scene. If you don’t have time or money to spend creating a new scene from scratch, check out SuperThemes — sets of professionally designed, customizable overlays.
Do: consider enabling “auto-mod” on your channel, and putting together a team of trusted moderators if you are concerned about harassment, says CharlieStMonica.
Do: enjoy the freedom of streaming from your mobile device. With the updated Twitch mobile app, you can go live straight from the channel feed.
Don’t: be afraid to try streaming on IRL. “Sometimes streaming the same thing over and over can create burnout or boredom,” says CharlieStMonica, “and this category is great for trying out something new.”
What do you think about IRL? Comment below to join the discussion!