How Twitch's biggest names, and games, created a streaming meta
How Twitch metas developed around Fall Guys, Among Us, Pokemon, Valorant and Chess

How Twitch’s biggest names, and games, created a streaming meta

We all know what a game meta is, but streamers have built a standard recipe for success, too
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In esports, it’s almost certain at one point or another you’ve come across the magical word “meta.”

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Be it an angry social media user wielding an anime avatar complaining about how the meta is ruining their favorite game or a paid analyst on Twitch breaking down the current meta for League of Legends, the word has become a staple of the esports world. It’s inescapable.

To explain in the fastest and least boring way possible: The meta (or metagame for the fancy folks out there) in competitive gaming describes the strategies at any given time that most people agree are the most optimal way to achieve victory. It can be as straightforward as one character just being statistically stronger than another character. The metagame can also be as complex as an overall ideology of how to play the game and what style, executed at its best, is the correct way to pilot a competitive game.

For a game like the aforementioned League of Legends, the meta changes on a dime, the developers at Riot Games actively tinkering with the game throughout the year to switch up the strongest characters and items. At the start of a year, a certain champion can be wreaking havoc in the professional scene with every team either picking up or banning the character. By the end, though, that same character might be as useful as a paperweight through constant balance changes to keep them from becoming an omnipresent figure.

In complete contrast, there are competitive titles such as Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Melee. Although the game hasn’t received a single update in its 20-year history, that hasn’t produced a stagnant metagame. The players themselves have continued pushing the title to new limits, dissecting and revolutionizing specific matchups that many thought were long since figured out.

Metas don’t just apply to games either. Even Twitch streamers come together to build the best way to grow followings and entertain viewers.

While esports thrive on the gaming streamer platform, the word itself has taken on new meaning through the years. Twitch has evolved from simply a way to watch your favorite game or view the big esports tournament of the week to now being a place where personalities almost draw above all else. Twitch has become its own pseudo-TV network since allowing streamers the freedom to do more than play games on their website with the unveiling the “Just Chatting” section in 2018.

This has opened up an entirely new door for fans that will consume the content of their favorite creator regardless of what activity or game they’re playing.

As a result, many streamers have become less beholden to singular games and transformed more into daily two-to-six (or, in the case of popular political streamer Hasan Piker, 12) hour online performers. The change has forced creators to fill out these expansive timeslots and created an era of collaborative content on the website, where at times Twitch can resemble more of a reality show than a platform that was created to solely showcase video games.

The need for content from these daily streamers has created a metagame of viewership on Twitch. When a viral game or trend comes along that can fill those streaming hours, a wave of the platform’s most popular streamers enter that world for the foreseeable future, making it the meta of the platform. That game then becomes stapled to the top of all Twitch directories until, like everything else, the content becomes stale, and everyone begins searching for the next big thing.

This ever-changing metagame has never been more apparent than in the past year, as top streamers leapfrogged from game to game in the never-ending pursuit of being the first to find the next trend that will set Twitch ablaze. Millions have tried; few have succeeded.

Here are some of the marquee metas that defined the year that was 2020.

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Tyler Erzberger
Tyler Erzberger is entering a decade of covering esports. When not traveling around the world telling stories about people shouting over video games, he’s probably arguing with an anime avatar on Twitter about North American esports.