Rachel Foster
Why do teens like watching other people play games?
insight, games
8 mins
Gaming is huge. But actually playing video games is only one part of the story. The phenomenon of gameplay viewership is spiraling from watching a favourite vlogger play on YouTube, to streaming eSports professionals participating in the league on the leading streaming platform, Twitch. This doesn’t stop with just teens - adults are watching too - but for the sake of this blog (and the fact we are literally called ‘Kids Industries’…), let’s focus on the kids, or teens in this case. So the question is, why on earth would a child want to watch other people playing a video game? In short, it’s the same reason why your family might want to watch rugby or your grandparents may watch, I don’t know, a boules tournament? (Gen Z ignorance there, apologies!). The point is, they watch it because they enjoy the game and they want to be entertained.

A Little Overview Of The Gameplay Viewership Market:

So to put this into perspective, we hear so often about Ryan’s Toy Review (now Ryan’s World) (23.7M subscribers), Tiana (11.2M), and Zoella who is becoming less relevant but still pushing product (4.83M), and how successful they are in the kids space. But what about the big gaming vloggers? Because, apart from Ryan, they blow these guys out of the water. For example, DanTDM has 22.4M subscribers. Markiplier (more for older teens and teens), has 24.9M and Jacksepticeye, who has largely taken a Pewdiepie stance (a.k.a. Clickbait-y titles, humourous phrasing and a real mix of gaming and standard vlog content), has 23.2M subscribers. Pretty impressive, I think.

Pewdiepie blows EVERYONE out of the water with 103M subscribers. He is on break at the moment but that hasn’t stopped his fans posting comments and watching his last video, which currently has 18M views. While he is not an exclusive gamer anymore, that remains to be a big part of his channel and what he is known for. However, I think it is important to note that these channels, whilst wildly popular with teens (as we have learned from many qualitative research sessions), are also wildly popular with older teens and young people too, thus widening their reach further than just teens.

Looking outside YouTube, Business Insider reported the most streamed games on Twitch are League of Legends (125.6M hours watched), Fortnite (79.1M hours watched) and CSGO (44.1M hours watched). LoL has really knocked it out of the park here but that’s helped by its giant fandom and having been in existence for 11 years. These stats are from Nov 2019 so they are likely to have crept up even further since.

So, the question remains… why do teens love watching gameplay? I decided to delve further. I think it’s important to note that for this blog ‘teens’ will represent kids aged 12-16, as this is the core child audience for this type of content.

1. It’s Not Just The Game They Are Watching, They Are Watching The Gamer:

The personality and likeability of a gamer are just as important as a vlogger who is talking directly to the camera. The viewers want to engage and be entertained by that gamer and the majority of them tell jokes and have comedic elements to their video. With so many gamers around, in most part, playing the same games, it is up to the gamer to set themselves apart.

In fact, viewers can actually feel really quite attached to these personalities - like any other gamer really - but I guess the point is, just because they are playing games, gamers develop just as much of a relationship with their subscribers. When checking a few comments of Pewdiepie, this one stood out, and I think it really shows the impact vloggers and gamers can have and connections like this are what turns a subscriber into a fan.

Whilst this may feel like a relatively extreme case example - you would be surprised how many subscribers are affected and consider YouTubers as a big part of their lives. Their influence is growing too - Internet Retailing found that “more than half (55%) of teens aged 6 to 16 say they want to buy a product if their favourite YouTube or Instagram star is using or wearing it”. We even heard from a recent research participant that Pewdiepie doesn’t like Fortnite anymore so he doesn’t like it anymore. Pretty powerful stuff.

2. They Get To Enjoy The Gameplay And The Community Of The Games They May Not Want To Physically ‘Play’

There are many reasons why teens may prefer to watch rather than play. I know myself, that as an XBOX owner and not being able to play Last of Us (Playstation only), that I needed to watch and consume that content in some way, so I turned to Pewdiepie. It allowed me to immerse myself in the game and know what my other PlayStation friends were on about. On top of that, the comedic elements that Felix (of Pewdiepie) included enriched the experience further and I sometimes go back and rewatch that playthrough, even though it came out 6 years ago.

Another reason is it allows anyone to engage and join the gaming conversation, despite whether you are good or bad at games. It makes the community far more open, which is great in my opinion. They can still engage in Fortnite chats and who is playing well and that cool thing that gamer did, without even downloading the game.

Also, there are games that teens just don’t want to play (or may not be allowed to play) but still want to see and enjoy - this is especially the case for more horror-related or high-intensity games. Lastly, they may just want to enjoy the game without the stress of winning/losing and being responsible for the outcome. There is something quite relaxing about that.

3. To Learn And Build Their Own Skills

Like you would with any game or sport, you would watch, listen and learn from those with more experience and are better than you. So many avid gamers are watching their favourite gamers and learning tips and tricks that they can use within their own gameplay. So they are learning in many respects how to be better at what they enjoy. It’s also helpful for those who prefer RPGs and are stuck in a section or can’t find something, as gamers will map out where all the Dinosaur bones are in RDR II, or where all the relics are in Tomb Raider. All sounds pretty good really!

This may also encourage people to try new things and give them ideas for what else they can do in the game. I find this is especially the case in sandbox games, e.g. Minecraft, where creativity is at the core. If a gamer makes a castle with a cool library basement, they can either replicate that or draw inspiration from it and put their own spin on it when they play. It’s like Pinterest, but you are designing a Minecraft castle rather than your new bathroom suite.

So teens like watching others play games. I don’t think there is anything weird about it - they are being entertained, which is great, because realistically entertainment is the ultimate goal. There are things that parents need to look out for, such as gamers who swear or are inappropriate for children, but there are gamers such as Sceptic (14) and EthanGamerTV (12) who seem to get a really good balance between being relatable and appropriate. There is so much more to talk about too - I’ve barely touched on eSports - but that’s a whole other blog in itself!

Of course, this blog doesn’t represent the only reasons why teens watch other people play games, so I open it to the floor! What do you think is the big draw here?

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