It was a big year for Twitch.
The popular streaming platform was bought by Amazon for close to $1 billion in August and continues to just grow and grow. But while the big dollar numbers might interest outsiders looking in, the users on Twitch have a much more specific interest: the streamers who provide the actual content that powers Twitch.
Those streamers are a diverse group, covering a wide variety of games and approaching their streams in wildly different ways. While it would be easy to list the 10 most popular streamers on the site, we want to highlight the wide array of personalities and talent who really make Twitch what it is. Some are popular, some are less so. But combined, they are Twitch.
Michael “Imaqtpie” Santana made his name as a professional League of Legends player. Santana spent more than three years with Dignitas, and as recently as this fall was taking part in Riot’s League Championship Series playoffs.
Since his team’s elimination from that competition, Santana has switched his focus to streaming full-time on Twitch. And that’s proven a successful switch. Santana regularly draws audiences of over 20,000 viewers as he grinds his way through repeated solo queue games and talks his way through playing a variety of champions.
Santana’s skills are an obvious draw to his channel, but it’s his laid-back attitude that keeps his viewers around. Never taking himself or the game too seriously, Santana’s willingness to joke about anything and everything, himself included, makes him well-suited for a role as Twitch host.
In fact, he seems so at home on Twitch that it’s hard to imagine him coming back as a pro.
Jeffrey “Trump” Shih is no stranger to streaming. But it wasn’t until the release of Hearthstone that he found his true niche.
Shih’s popularity skyrocketed along with Hearthstone’s own. His analytical approach makes for a perfect match to the game, which at its heart is about strategy and probabilities. Shih is happy to walk viewers through his thought processes, even while he agonizes over a difficult decision.
His relative lack of competitive accomplishment doesn’t stop tens of thousands from flocking to his stream to watch him strive get the best value out of each play. And his pull is strong enough to set trends, as he has helped to popularize multiple decks for ladder play and is looked to as an authority on card strength in arena play.
It doesn’t hurt that, for all of his mild manners, his reactions to unexpected situations are often pretty funny.
Like Shih, Jason “Amaz” Chan has built up a massive following through his play in Hearthstone. But while Shih’s success has come largely through his unique personality and prolific arena play, Chan has pursued his interest in Hearthstone through a wider array of avenues.
He hosts numerous guests to discuss game theory, formed the competitive squad Team Archon, which most notably features reigning Hearthstone world champion James “Firebat” Kostesich, and even directs his own tournaments.
And that’s saying nothing of Chan’s own play, which was good enough to earn him a runner-up finish at DreamHack Summer. His style has also been highly influential in the game, particularly his trademark Priest decks.
Speedrunning is one of the most popular categories on Twitch. Speedrunners show off their fastest times in their favorite games, pushing themselves and the games to their limits.
Puncayshun stands out for his mastery of the lauded Super Mario 64.
Speedruns through Super Mario 64, one of Nintendo’s hallmark titles, feature numerous tricks and maneuvers that require impressive dexterity. Through untold hours of practice, Puncayshun is able to move through each of the game’s worlds as if granted a greater degree of control over Mario than your or I.
His world record runs look quite a bit different than what most who once played Super Mario 64 will have ever seen.
His feats are representative of what speed runners strive for and represent, and his viewers’ fascination with his abilities shows that the highest levels of gaming will always draw an audience, even when it’s just one game being played over and over again.
It’s not every streamer’s goal to race through a game like a madman. Some just do it to keep you entertained.
Take Matthew “Lethalfrag” McKnight. He specializes in games such as Faster than Light and The Binding of Isaac. And while McKnight’s time spent in these games has conferred to him a strong command of each title, he doesn’t play on a timer. He just plays.
Gaming voyeurism isn’t so strange an idea for anyone who has spent time watching a friend work their way through a game on the family sofa. But turning the practice into a piece of broad entertainment is still relatively new, and McKnight has been able to make a living out of it.
McKnight also stands as an example of the lengths to which streamers must sometimes go to build their audience, at least at first. He streamed every single day for two years before scaling back his schedule to just five days per week, and he is quick to remind viewers that he has managed to broadcast his stream on schedule for over 900 consecutive days, in sickness or in health.
That’s dedication, and it’s an answer to the question of just what it can take to build an audience from scratch.
Even in its brief existence, Twitch has had its share of controversies.
The biggest may have been when the website updated its set of rules earlier this year to prohibit streamers from showing too much skin.
The rule seemed to be a reaction to streamers such as KneeColeslaw, who happen to make a point of showing a certain amount of skin each time their stream goes live, ostensibly as a grab for viewers.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with streaming while scantily clad, but Twitch’s official position on the matter only served to further highlight the space these streamers occupy. And there’s no arguing that they are a part, if a small one, of what Twitch is today.
Not every streamer plays to win.
The hugely popular game Minecraft is more about creative expression than anything else, and it serves as a great outlet for streamer Bacon_Donut, who peruses a wide range of game modifications and content packs to explore all that Minecraft has to offer.
The packs’ many features can layer so thick that the action might seem confusing to a viewer unfamiliar with the game. But Bacon Donut’s affable personality and his dogged persistence in keeping positive have a way of making you linger, even if you have no idea what’s going on
Bacon_Donut also sets himself apart by promoting a chat experience that is both open and friendly, a tough combination to come by on most streams that play host to thousands of viewers, as his often do.
This StarCraft 2 player’s goal is to make a career out of streaming, to play video games full-time, and she’s kind of a perfect representative of this demographic on Twitch.
The daily grind of ranking up through game after game can be tough. But Kaitlyn’s stream and those like it show how Twitch has actually made it easier to put that kind of work in, because it might not seem like such a slog when you have a thousand people watching you every step of the way.
TeamSp00ky exists for one reason: cover everything that happens in the fighting game scene. The TeamSp00ky channel might not be as big as official channels like those run by Riot Games or the Electronic Sports League, but its place in the competitive community is equally important.
When tournament organizers have no idea how to broadcast, or just lack the means, TeamSp00ky shows up and takes care of things, enabling fans to watch their favorite players do battle and show off the latest strategies.
A product of the community that it now serves, TeamSp00ky shows how Twitch has allowed fans of different games and genres to follow their favorite games like never before.
Mike “Shroud” Grzesiek is one of many esports pros who looks as much to Twitch for his livelihood as he does tournament winnings.
The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player is among the world’s most popular in the game, and that popularity is largely a result of his prolific streaming. Grzesiek’s exceptional skill, which earned his way into the Cloud9 roster, is always on display. And he approaches the game with an unusually relaxed attitude that’s welcoming to new viewers unfamiliar with the game or his accomplishments in it.
Grzesiek also shows off new ways players and fans can communicate, thanks to Twitch’s interactivity. While he streams, Grzesiek’s viewers ask him all types of questions regarding his team, especially when it is in flux.
When rumors began to fly over potential changes to Cloud9’s roster, fans were quick to flock to Grzesiek. And when those changes finally came through, to took to his stream to offer some details on the how and why.
Just as Twitter allowed professional athletes to connect with fans more directly, Twitch has allowed professional players to immerse themselves in the communities around them and express themselves—better than any highlight reel on YouTube ever did.
Illustration by Jason Reed