The days of “don’t talk to strangers on the internet” are long gone.
Tens of thousands of people who broadcast their lives and interests and the people who watch them on the livestreaming platform Twitch gathered in San Jose Friday for a three-day convention that will feature a cosplay contest, meet-and-greets, dozens of video game exhibitors and an e-sports tournament.
Traffic in downtown San Jose crawled as people lined up outside San Jose McEnery Convention Center, waiting to get inside TwitchCon. There were delays in registration Friday, frustrating some people, because of the sheer number of attendees.
At the end of the first day, event organizers said registration will be opened earlier Saturday at 7 a.m. and the show was extended an hour later Friday. Friday-only attendees will also be allowed back for free on Saturday, Twitch said.
San Francisco-based Twitch is a livestream video platform that launched in 2007 and was acquired by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million, the Wall Street Journal reported. But its popularity started to blossom in the last few years as video games and e-sports have become more mainstream. Most of the content on Twitch is individuals playing games, but viewers can also find people cooking, painting and even working out.
At the end of the day, it’s about “fostering community around something that you love. And building that relationship with the audience,” one streamer from San Jose, 26-year-old Josh Vasquez, told NBC Bay Area.
"Community" is something Twitch CEO Emmett Shear emphatized during the keynote presentation Friday. Community is what separates Twitch from other platforms, he said.
Shear announced several new features to the website, which include a new game called Twitch Sings, a SnapChat filter extension and Squad Stream where multiple streamers can broadcast together.
NBC Bay Area tested out Twitch Sings with a streamer from Texas, Elisa Meléndez, who sang "Heartbreaker" to the online audience.
Vasquez has been streaming himself playing video games on Twitch for two years, but he said he only started taking it more seriously in the past year. He streams for six hours on Monday through Wednesday, and he bartends at California Pizza Kitchen on the weekends. Vasquez said he would ask his audience questions like, "What inspires you?” to build relationships with viewers.
"I think a really valuable platform is you can interact with these viewers in real time and have these conversations in real time. And kind of create that piece of content together. It’s not just me. You see me on the screen and anyone who comes in, they see me, but we’re having that conversation, all of us,” Vasquez said.
Twitch has grown rapidly from fewer than 10 million daily visitors in 2016 to more than 15 million daily visitors in 2017, according to a Twitch spokesperson. The site is now the 14th most visited page in the United States, following sites like espn.com, Netflix and eBay, according to analytics website Alexa, which is also owned by Amazon.
Twitch might be what the future of online entertainment looks like if the numbers continue to grow.
Similar to YouTube, Twitch allows content creators to make money through their platform, but there are more ways for people to get paid on Twitch rather than just advertisements. Once new streamers reach certain requirements, like having at least 500 minutes of broadcast in the last 30 days and at least seven separate broadcasts, they can apply to be a part of a Twitch Affiliate program, where viewers can subscribe to the channel for $4.99.
And once streamers pass other particular milestones, like constantly attracting at least 70-80 viewers per stream, they can apply for the Twitch Partner program, where they’ll receive more features to help grow their channels and increase revenue.
“Anybody who’s trying to push for partner, that’s great. It’s amazing, but don’t quit your day job,” said another local streamer Krysten Wasik, 28, of San Francisco.
There are professional streamers who consider Twitch a full-time job. They get paid through subscriptions, direct donations through Twitch's "bit cheering" feature, donations through PayPal, ads or sponsorships. Ninja, one of the top streamers on Twitch who's credited with helping make Twitch more mainstream by playing the game Fortnite with rapper Drake, reportedly makes over $500,000 a month, according to CNBC.
Wasik, a small time streamer who started streaming in June of last year, has been a chef for 15 years and owns her own catering company. She does cooking streams as well as video game streams.
“I wanted to have my own cooking show and pretend to be Gordon Ramsay for a while. It was something that would kind of get me a few hours a day where I wasn’t a mom. And I met a lot of parent streamers who are the same way,” Wasik told NBC Bay Area.
Broadcasting yourself online can be tough, Wasik said. She said there have been some who threatened her and tried to figure out where she lived in San Francisco from what they see out the window of her house.
“So when I started, I just had a kid. I wasn’t thin or anything," Wasik said. "I would actually have a lot of people come in and make like fat jokes or say ‘You don’t need to eat all of that.’ I had a eating disorder when I was 7 years old until literally when I had my kid. I went into major recovery, so that was like a big whole thing to myself esteem. I kind of grew a thicker skin because of it."
The community Wasik has built through Twitch has been mostly supportive, she said. “It makes it worth it when there are trolls because for every one troll you get on your stream, you find 10 or 15 people you actually like and consider friends.”
NBC Bay Area's Jennifer Gonzalez contributed to this report.