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The Explosive Growth of Streaming Video Games

The Explosive Growth of Streaming Video Games

Who Are the Top Video Game Streamers in the Age of Esports?

Video games have been around for decades, and they definitely aren't fizzling out. In fact, there are more than 2.5 billion gamers around the world. The competitive esports market, in particular, has boomed, with its revenue equaling $655 million in 2017. That amount is expected to rise considerably over the next few years.

As interest in video games increases, so too will video game streaming. People adore watching some of the best in the business play video games, and Twitch is often the front-runner when it comes to streaming platforms. We looked at which channels get the most play, which games are most often watched, which streams had the most viewership, and how esports compares to traditional sports. Go ahead and hit play to dive into our findings below.

Which Channels Are the Most Watched?

First, let's take a look at which channels got the most viewership over the last year. Ninja's channel nabs the top spot easily with 11.8 million followers and a ton of stream time. When we added up the collective watch time over the past year (in other words, the sum of time all viewers spent on the channel), we discovered that viewers spent 24,263 years checking out his stream. The average viewership at any one time for his channel was a very healthy population of 69,037 viewers. Even those who aren't into video games or esports are becoming more familiar with Ninja's work, as he recently appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and she later appeared on his livestream.

Most Watched Channels Infographic

The No. 2 spot went to Riot Games, which is the video game developer of "League of Legends," and their streams focus on that title. They have over 3.2 million followers, and the collective watch time of Riot Games streamers tallies up to 11,446 years. Third on the list is Shroud, whose collective watch time over the last year added up to 11,270 years. Shroud has over 4.5 million followers.

The rest of the top 10 most watched channels also have a hefty number of watch time years. Overwatch League has 7,338, sodapoppin has 6,294, LIRIK has 5,601, and summit1g has 5,294.

What does all this mean? More people than ever are spending their entertainment hours watching other people play video games. In 2017, a study found that more people around the world are watching gaming videos than the combined audiences of HBO, Netflix, ESPN, and Hulu.

Which Games Are Watched the Most?

Next, we wanted to see which games are streamed the most often. Unsurprisingly, "Fortnite" is top in this department.

Despite its recent popularity, "Fortnite" is definitely not a new game – at least development-wise. It was initially announced in December 2011 at the Video Game Awards, but nothing much happened for those waiting to play it for the next few years. A Game Informer issue revealed more details in 2014, but the game remained in development until 2017. Even then, it was an early access game. In late 2017, though, it was finally released to the public for free. It was a near-instant hit, surpassing 40 million downloads in January 2018, and a couple of months later, it was the most viewed game on Twitch. We found that the collective watch time of "Fortnite" over the last year was 129,572 years or 1,640 human lifetimes.

Most Watched Video Games On Twitch Infographic

The increasingly mainstream battle royale game had nearly 3.5 million streamers broadcasting on Twitch throughout the past 365 days. "Fortnite" mania is a thing, and it doesn't look like there will be any slowing down anytime soon. It's even made its way into NFL celebrations.

Second on the list is "League of Legends." As mentioned previously, this game was developed by Riot Games and has a collective watch time of 111,285 years. Third is "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" with a collective watch time of 60,708 years, fourth is "Dota 2" with a watch time of 53,100 years, and fifth is "IRL" with 47,174 years.

Prominent Streams on Twitch

Another way to measure the popularity of Twitch is by looking at which channels had the highest peak viewership, along with most watched games on each channel at a given time. On January 28, 2018, over 1.1 million viewers checked out ELEAGUE TV's stream of "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive." The "Fortnite" channel came in second, with close to 700,000 peak viewers, and Ninja came in third with a concurrent peak viewership of 627,784.

Most Viewed Streams Infographic

Notably, Ninja topped the Twitch record for the most viewed stream by a single player when he played "Fortnite" with some pretty popular people, namely hip-hop artists Drake and Travis Scott, as well as NFL player JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Other popular public figures are drawing in the virtual crowds, such as controversial personalities Logan Paul and KSI (both YouTubers). They met in the boxing ring to battle for the YouTube Boxing Championship Belt twice in 2018, drawing in over a million viewers at peak viewership. Also, the premier trade event for the video game industry (E3) blasted a previously set record with over 2.9 concurrent viewers on Twitch.

Comparing Stats

Finally, let's take a look to see how viewership for esports compares to viewership for traditional sports. While the NFL's 2017-18 Big Game got the top spot with over 103 million viewers, it was followed by the League of Legends 2017 World Championship with 80 million viewers.

eSports vs Traditional Sports Viewership Infographic

The NBA Finals were pretty far down on the list at 17.7 million viewers and were eclipsed by several esports competitions, including other "League of Legends" clashes.

So does this mean people are more interested in esports than the NBA Finals? Well, no, not totally.

Viewership for esports and viewership for traditional sports is not exactly comparing apples to apples. Nielsen data, which is used to gauge TV viewership, is based on the average number of viewers who watched from beginning to end. In other words, they're not looking at peak viewership at any point during the event, or the number of people who clicked to the channel at some point and then clicked away. Also, Nielsen doesn't count international viewership, either, while esports looks at the numbers worldwide, which also means any comparisons here are really just "for funsies" and not to be taken completely at face value.

Biggest eSports Live Event Callout Infographic

Another interesting tidbit we can't forget to mention is that esports events don't only garner attention online. The Intel Extreme Masters tournament in Katowice, Poland, drew the biggest number of on-site attendees ever – 173,000. That's a ton of people who were on hand to view the competition in real life!

The Future of Streaming

Ultimately, the explosive growth of esports and Twitch viewership metrics is nothing short of impressive. In an interview discussing the platform's evolution, Twitch's VP of Developer Experience Amir Shevat said the service wishes to tap the potential of interactive livestreaming. Creating an experience where viewers have the chance to influence gameplay will be an essential feature of modern video games and a surefire way to retain current digital audiences.


To identify the most watched Twitch channels over the past year, our team of researchers requested and pulled viewership metrics from sullygnome.com. We ranked teams by total watch time for the past year on October 8, 2018. The collective watch time per channel was displayed on the data source website in hours and was converted to years watched for more tangible figures. Likewise, stats for the most watched games over the past 365 days were analyzed in the same fashion but included the number of streamers broadcasting each game as well as the number of average viewers. To calculate the number of human life spans by watch time, we pulled North America's average life expectancy from statista.com (79 years old) and divided it by the total number of hours watched for each Twitch channel and video game.

Additionally, stream time, average viewership, and the total number of followers for the most watched channels were scraped in a similar manner but were not adjusted. The top 15 most watched streams were determined by using the channels, or streamers, with the highest concurrent peak viewers ever, and data were pulled from twitchstats.net.

When comparing esports and traditional sports viewership metrics by event type, we compiled a list of the biggest and most recent events over the past year for each field. From here, we used metrics from esc.watch, statista.com, and lolesports.com to find the total unique viewer count for the esports tournaments analyzed. For traditional sports, we used numbers from statista.com, sportsmediawatch.com, and nielsen.com to pull TV ratings for major sports events and championship games.


The main limitation of this study is that sullygnome.com and twitchstats.net are unofficial websites with no affiliation to twitch.tv. Both websites utilize their own APIs to gather and present data and are subject to bugs because they are still in development. Due to the ever-changing nature of viewers, followers, and stream times, the figures presented in this study are only representative of metrics between October 17, 2017, and October 17, 2018.

We also acknowledge that comparing TV viewers to digital audiences is an unfair measure. Nielsen TV ratings use the total consumed minutes of events/total minutes of events or average concurrent viewers (ACV) to determine viewership metrics, while esports events typically go by the total unique viewers, which accounts for international viewers and fail to release the total minutes consumed per event. In short, digital unique viewer counts, or viewers, are not applicable to TV ratings.


Fair Use Statement

Are you preparing to binge your go-to Twitch streamer? We share your passion for gaming and supporting broadcasters, and we encourage seeing the results of our analysis or the graphics displayed on your site for any noncommercial distribution. The only thing we ask is that you're mindful of our findings and include a link back this page to level up our viewership metrics.