We played with the Android app before the launch, and here’s how it works. When you open the app, you are presented with a search bar at the top, a few featured channels and a feed of the most popular channels. The current featured channels don’t focus on esports like most Twitch channels. Right now, you can find a 12-hour stream of NBA 2K15, and official stream of Metal Gear Solid V, a speed run of Until Dawn and an Eve Online live show.
The app also features to other tabs, a “Games” tab and a “Channels” tab. When you browse by game, you can see the trending games and popular games — the latter selection is one of Twitch’s most popular feature as Twitch’s homepage features a grid of the most popular games right now. It’s a great way to know if there is a big event or competition happening for a particular game. You can favorite games and add them to your games at the top of this list.
In the last tab, you can find a list of featured channels divided in two. The first half features current live channels ordered by number of subscribers, while the second half features a list of offline channels ordered by subscribers as well. Similarly, you can favorite a channel to add it to the top of the list. This way, you know in just a few seconds if your favorite streamer is live.
Interestingly, it looks like many popular traditional YouTube channels are now YouTube Gaming channels as well, such as Machinima. And this is key to understanding YouTube’s advantage in the streaming game. YouTube is already a popular video site for gaming videos. These popular YouTubers can seamlessly become popular live streamers and take advantage of their existing audience.
When you select a channel, you get a live video and a chat. There’s nothing groundbreaking in the video screen, but YouTube provides a better live streaming experience as you can pause a live stream and timeshift.
The interface is very similar on the web. Instead of having three main tabs, you get two popover menus on the left and on the right, with trending games on the left and trending channels on the right. If you go on a game page, you can also find popular YouTube videos. The company is taking advantage of its huge backlog of gaming videos, and this is smart.
In the end, it all comes down to content. If YouTube can convince Riot to stream its League of Legends competitions on YouTube Gaming instead of Twitch, it could make millions of people tune in YouTube Gaming overnight. Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone and Dota 2 are going to be important games as well.
These competitions boost Twitch’s incredible long tail. When there isn’t any competition, hundreds of thousands of people are still watching streamers. For many people, game streaming means Twitch — if they want to watch something, they browse Twitch.
YouTube has definitely put a lot of resources into this launch with a service already available on the three main platforms. We will see whether old habits die hard, but YouTube Gaming looks like a heavyweight and Twitch’s most serious competitor to date.