If you’re not into esports, then for once, it’s true: Everyone is hanging out without you.
Watching people play video games has become a bonafide spectator sport, with its own pro teams and dedicated arenas. The 2019 League of Legends world championship had an average audience of 21.8 million — almost 10 times the 2019 Super Bowl's. Even before esports outstripped football, though, millions of people watched gamers livestream their prowess on digital platforms like Twitch.
Once upon a time, Twitch wasn’t Twitch, but justin.tv, a livestreaming platform that let anyone broadcast their daily life in real time. Twitch co-founder Justin Kan was the namesake Justin, and he streamed himself around the clock — even while he slept.
"If justin.tv can succeed, then nobody has an excuse,” Kan has said. “It was a terrible idea."
“Succeed” is perhaps a strong word for what justin.tv did. Constant Justin surveillance didn’t take off. However, users loved a vertical within justin.tv, where anyone could livestream their virtuosic video game moves.
This vertical, called Twitch, had an unusual format. Its livestreams showed both the video game screen and, in an inset square of video, the player, who could explain their strategy or answer questions that fans submitted via Twitch’s chat function. The chat function, which allowed for real-time interaction, meant that “being on Twitch became an activity in and of itself,” according to one analyst.
Twitch engagement skyrocketed, as did the profile of esports. Ultimately, Twitch subsumed its host. In 2014, Justin.tv renamed itself Twitch Interactive. That same year, Amazon bought it for $1.1 billion.
Since then, Twitch has evolved into a more general purpose livestreaming platform. Esports remain wildly popular, but artists also use Twitch to livestream their creative processes. One Twitch user just streams marathons of Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting.
What’s it like to work for this rapidly-evolving company? We toured Twitch’s San Francisco headquarters to find out. (In hindsight, we should have livestreamed our tour — next time.)
Situated on Bush Street in the financial district, or East Cut, Twitch’s headquarters occupy a historic building. Back in the 1920s, it was the San Francisco Mining Exchange, a place where traders swapped mining stocks. Today, a restored version of the original facade remains, though the building has been built up into 19-story office building that’s both modern and convenient — located near the Montgomery Muni stop and stops for assorted bus routes, including the 1AX, 1BX, 3 and 8.
About 1,000 of Twitch’s 1,500 global employees work at Twitch HQ. Engineering has the highest headcount, and Twitch has invested particularly heavily in infrastructure engineers. They keep the site up and running around the clock, which is no easy task. In 2018, Twitch users streamed a total of 434 billion minutes of video; at any given moment, more than a million users were streaming something.
Since it’s HQ, almost every role is represented here. The office houses user experience designers, communications and marketing professionals, and more.
Twitch’s 185,000-square-foot office spans nine floors, and the aesthetic shifts as you ascend from the lower levels. The bottom floors have a more cave-like aesthetic, whereas the upper floors' decor references outer space, Twitch’s University Programs Manager Tom Tessier told Built In. What unites the whole office, though, is an industrial, stripped-down aesthetic: exposed brick and pipes, concrete floors, etc. Makes sense, in a way, that a company that prides itself on digital infrastructure shows off its physical infrastructure, too.
Highlights of life at Twitch HQ include…
It’s obvious that gaming is baked right into Twitch’s DNA. The office’s first floor hosts a high-ceilinged gaming library. Comfy couches face an array of “almost every console system that has been out since console systems were developed,” Tessier explained. In one corner, a bookshelf overflows with board games; in another corner lies Flynn’s Arcade, whose name is an homage to Tron — a classic movie that became, you guessed it, a video game. The arcade houses a constantly rotating array of games like foosball and Killer Queen, a joystick-based game in which hives of pixelated bees go to war. (Fun!)
The Twitch cafeteria serves employees three complimentary meals a day, plus snacks. Built In visited on the tail end of breakfast, where there was a smorgasbord of chilaquiles, poached eggs and smoothies. The kitchen also served up a choice of two porridges: oatmeal and breakfast jook.
Tessier reports that the food is “delicious,” with enough options to accommodate any dietary restrictions. At lunch, there’s a full salad and sandwich bar; the culinary team also whips up themed meals around holidays. Since no Twitch space would be complete without a gaming reference, a Pac-Man graphic devours a string of dots on the cafeteria’s concrete floor.
The grab-bag of employee perks
Twitch HQ may reside in a historic building, but it’s a distinctly 21st century office. It has all-gender bathrooms, soundproof pods for phone calls, and a wellness suite where employees can get on-site dental care. That’s right: Twitch employees don’t have to go to the dentist, because the dentist goes to them.
The ‘wisdom, mystery and magic’ of purple
Twitch HQ bursts with purple, the company's signature hue. (Updated in 2018, Twitch purple is now Pantone’s #9146FF.) Why purple?
“It’s the only color weird enough to represent our creativity, wisdom, mystery, and magic,” Twitch explains on its website.
The science of purple really is weird. We’ve all seen it around, but purple doesn’t have its own wavelength of light. Everything that looks purple really emits a mix of red and blue light. This means that, by some extremely light-oriented standards, purple doesn’t exist. (Google “purple doesn’t exist” to find a vast community of purple truthers. It will make you see Twitch, and humanity, through fresh eyes.)
The streaming studio
“A lot of our employees are streamers themselves,” Tessier said. At HQ, they’re welcome to stream from the in-house studio, outfitted with Twitch-purple chairs that have the company name emblazoned on the back. (To the uninitiated, these chairs might look like folded car air fresheners, but they’re actually standard esports equipment, designed to enhance game play.) The studio also boasts mics, cameras, customizable lighting and its own green screen.
The art installations that honor gaming (and Twitch stars)
The installation by multimedia artist Josh Short, pictured above, tracks the evolution of gaming devices through layered cardboard cutouts, arranged in a timeline that sits right on the cusp between 2D and 3D. Other installations include Lish Dawn’s taut, floor-to-ceiling ropes, which encircle the ground-floor gaming couches — they’re inspired by Tron, and the idea of “entering the grid,” she has said. The office features murals from Twitch streamers, too, like Niku Senpai.
The Stranger Things conference room
Plenty of companies have quirky conference room names, but Twitch went the extra mile with its Stranger Things conference room. Not only is it named The Upside Down, but the show’s aesthetic informs the decor: a clump of Christmas lights dangles in one corner, and a shrine to Barb, a fan favorite, decorates one wall.
It’s not just The Upside Down, either — every Twitch conference room reference pop culture. There’s a Harry Potter conference room, too, called the Forbidden Forest, and though didn’t get a chance to see it on our tour, we imagine it contains a spider civilization and actual magic.
Images courtesy of Twitch and Google Maps.