The path to Twitch

The technology in 2009 was important because it wasn’t just that Graham had access to video, it was that the streaming costs were completely eliminated. Unlike the early days, where Graham had to maintain his own Shoutcast server, he now could use websites like Stickam.

Stickam was an early video broadcast site that let people livestream themselves for free.

Graham decided to use that platform to do his old Inside the Game show.

“Even though [e-sports] was kind of in this stasis state, I just did that thing again,” he said. “Over time, I tried some different technology companies, like Ustream and Justin.tv. That’s when Twitch came to me and said: ‘Hey, we’re starting this video delivery service specifically for gamers. We want you to come to Twitch and broadcast from Twitch.'”

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Graham was apprehensive at first because he didn’t really know why Twitch thought it could succeed, but eventually Twitch sold him on the fact that it was specifically for games.

“That’s also around the time that e-sports started to pick up,” he said. “Street Fighter IV got released and people were really excited about that. Myself and [GameSpot e-sports reporter Rod “Slasher” Breslau] and [Scott “SirScoots” Smith], the original hosts of Live On Three, started traveling again.”

They started attending fighting-game tournaments. Graham broadcasted the World Cyber Games finals in 2009 and 2010.

“We were sort of getting back into our old habits, but this time, we were traveling with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment because it was all video, and we were trying to figure out where this all come together.”

djWheat today

It all came together in 2011. That’s when Twitch introduced its partner program enabling popular users to put ads in front of their content and make money.

“We were empowered to to capitalize on these audiences that we were building,” said Graham. “Really, the Twitch partnership program kind of opened up doors for many broadcasters to say: ‘There’s a way to make a legitimate business out of this. This is going to be one of the first steps to doing that.'”

In the wake of his partnership with Twitch, Graham began his Onemoregame.tv network that he operates today. Under that umbrella, Graham hosts a variety of shows that include his long-running Inside the Game and the Live On Three e-sports talk show.

Marcus "djWheat" Graham broadcasting for Twitch.

Above: Marcus “djWheat” Graham broadcasting for Twitch.

Image Credit: Twitch

Twitch eventually decided to bring on Graham full-time to help build its partnership program for e-sports.

“Since I had a huge e-sports background, that was it,” he said.

So once again, Graham is knocking on company’s doors and asking if he can stream. Now, however, he has the full infrastructure of Twitch behind him to make that happen.

“That’s where I went out of the dark times and back into, ‘Wow, this is what I’ve been hoping for for years. This is what we always wished we could do,’” said Graham. “Keep in mind, back in those early days, we could get numbers. We could get 10,000 people listening to our broadcast. But there was no way for us to monetize it. No one was coming to us and saying, ‘you have 10,000 people listening? Let me put an ad in front of you.’ No one had any idea. Well, now, you cannot ignore a site, like Twitch, that has 40 million uniques coming to it every month. Even as someone who’s been in e-sports for as long as I have, Twitch opening up the partner program is probably one of the biggest reasons and factors for why I not only was I able to continue the whole streaming concept full time, but it’s also how e-sports has been able to sustain itself over the last two years and continues to grow into this behemoth that doesn’t want to slow down.”

The future of e-sports, broadcasting, and djWheat

These days, Graham is everywhere. He’s hosting his weekly shows. He’s commentating major events like MLG’s StarCraft 2 event in Dallas earlier this year. He’s still helping with Twitch’s partnership program for e-sports as seinor manager of partnerships. He also took hosting duties for Twitch’s coverage of the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show in early June.

He’s now also just one of many professional broadcasters that are helping to define how e-sports will look and sound going forward. We asked him what he wants for the future of e-sports and of livestreaming.

“[For e-sports], I would like to see three or four organized leagues, similar to how Riot is running their [League of Legends Championship Series]. I personally don’t care if they’re run by the publisher, the developer, or if they’re run by third parties and they work with a company like Blizzard to make that happen. We’ve already kind of got two established [with LCS and StarCraft 2’s World Championship Series]. I think that getting to four or five — I think that really legitimizes things.”

Speaking in terms of e-sports and streaming in general, Graham says he also wants to see pro teams and Twitch channels broadening their sponsor base.

“Right now we have a lot of sponsors that are specific to the folks who are watching the games,” he said. “A lot of headsets, a lot of memory. Intel. When am I going to see team Na’Vi Gaming sponsored by Budweiser, by Cheerios, or something like that?”

Attracting mainstream sponsors would indicate that e-sports is maturing. Traditional leagues like the NFL and NASCAR bring in millions from companies that have nothing to do with football or racing but want an association with those organizations because it could boost a brands’ reputation. E-sports professionals like Graham understand that the gaming leagues need to eventually get to that point as well.

“For example, One More Game is sponsored by Monster,” he said. “For us, it’s that first step in the right direction. We’ve talked to many of the North American bottling companies. We’ve done successful campaigns with Papa John’s and with eBay. These things are happening, slowly but surely, but I do feel that in the next three to five years, we have to have that next level of who is sponsoring e-sports for it to really take another step in the right direction.”

Finally, speaking specifically about Twitch, Graham just wants to see the company that revitalized his career continue to grow.

“I’m not only a huge fan of the e-sports content that’s up there, but also just the general gaming content that’s on there. I think that Twitch is also — In the same way that it’s affected eSports, it’s affected the general gaming community in a major way as well. I don’t go and read reviews anymore. I just go watch my favorite guys play a game for two hours, and I say, ‘Yeah, I want to buy that game.’ It’s changing the way journalism is done and how people are discovering games. We’re seeing games that people would have never heard about five years ago spread virally through the community because a guy on Twitch played it and someone said it looked like it was fun. These types of changes — that’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to see a redefining of the gaming community because of this technology and these tools that are now available to us as gamers.”

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