10 years of Twitch: Early streaming pioneers

by Mitch Reames

Ten years after Twitch was launched as a shoot-off of Justin.TV to house the site's rapidly growing gaming content, it has become a platform where stars are made. From esports champions to retired pros to casters to homegrown content creators, the faces of Twitch over the last 10 years have come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

To celebrate Twitch’s 10-year anniversary of the site’s launch in June 2011, Nerd Street Gamers is doing a series looking back on the games, channels and moments that helped make Twitch what it is today. The biggest games on the platform from every year of Twitch was the first article, this is the second and will look at the faces that came to define the platform’s early years.

Data in this article has been primarily sourced from SullyGnome and will be cited where applicable, but with data hard to find from 2011 to 2015, we relied on the people who were watching and working on the site during that time.

Read more: Average Jonas explains value of co-streams for VALORANT

You can see the most followed Twitch channels over time in this graphic, and below are the pioneers who drove Twitch forward and opened doors for the next generation.

Saqib “LIRIK” Ali Zahid

LIRIK is still a popular streamer on Twitch by any metric. A true variety streamer, LIRIK averages well over 20,000 viewers no matter what game he chooses to play. He is one of the few major Twitch streamers who can trace his history back to 2011, the first six months after Twitch launched.

Lirik began as a World of Warcraft streamer and then transitioned into DayZ. He was instrumental in the battle royale explosion with playing PUBG and now plays really any game he feels like.

“Back then, Twitch was very different, most of the people who were big on the platform were esports players,” said Ben Goldhaber, one of the founding employees of Twitch whose original title at the company was senior manager of partnerships, leagues and events. “LIRIK is the first quintessential, giant, uber influencer on the Twitch platform that was more of a casual variety streamer, as it was eventually called.”

In addition to pioneering the genre of variety streaming, LIRIK’s other big contribution to Twitch was consistency.

“You have to point at LIRIK as someone who not only had crazy success but also identified the model of streaming 10 hours a day, six or seven days a week,” Goldhaber continued. “With that level of consistency, you experience rapid, rapid growth over years and years and years.”

LIRIK’s 2.7 million followers are now good for 53rd on the platform, but he was a mainstay in the top five individual channels for years. Although LIRIK might no longer be the face of Twitch, plenty of the biggest stars today are variety streamers who can directly point back to his influence. Plus, he’s still popping off in random games.

Sean “Day[9]” Plott

Fun fact, Day[9] was actually the first Twitch streamer to receive the subscribe button on his channel. Back in 2010, the Starcraft player, caster and personality was struggling to pay for grad school, so some of his viewers organized a donation drive and helped raise the money. In an interview with InvenGlobal, Day[9] wrote:

“At this time, Justin.TV was beginning to transition to Twitch.TV, and the Twitch.TV folks like (co-founder) Kevin Lin asked what features we'd like to see. We shared the idea of "subscriptions" as a potential idea. The grad school donation drive experience suggested to us that viewers were happy and eager to support content creators, they merely lacked a clear method to do so. Twitch were immediately receptive to the idea and launched subscriptions a few months later with my channel as the first."

Day[9]’s channel rolled out the feature and it became available to more streamers a few months later. Incredibly, some of the viewers who subscribed to his channel back then are still subscribers as Day[9] has the top six longest subscriber streaks on Twitch dating back over 120 months according to Twitchstats.net.

StarCraft was core to Twitch in its earliest days, and Day[9] was one of the game’s biggest faces. As StarCraft fell from the top games on Twitch, Day[9] switched over to being a variety streamer. He was a key face in Magic: The Gathering and the early days of Hearthstone. In 2017, he also hosted Dota 2’s The International. Lately, Magic and Age of Empires are his primary games of choice. Much like Starcraft, he isn’t as relevant today as he once was, but the route of caster-turned-streamer was popularized by Day[9].

Steven “Destiny” Bonnell

The most popular channel on Twitch right now is Felix “xQc” Lengyel, and it’s not a stretch to say that Destiny walked so xQc could run.

“Destiny was a pioneer of the spicier, drama-filled streams,” Goldhaber said. “And having that, like, cult following, Destiny was one of the first people to do that.”

That content is hard to quantify, but it has become a staple of Twitch. Wherever there are big creators there is often drama between them, with their audience or with Twitch itself. Channels like Tyler “Trainwrecks” Niknam, Mitch Jones, Paul “Ice Poseidon” Denino and more encapsulated an entire era of Twitch in the middle of the site’s 10-year run.

Some of those creators were straight up banned and others are self-proclaimed to be reformed creators. Destiny himself was called out for using racist and homophobic slurs. He has placed a big focus on politics in his channel while describing his personal politics as moving from libertarianism to more left-wing policies.

His controversies continue today. He’s certainly a polarizing figure on Twitch but the story of the platform wouldn’t be complete without the drama-fueled controversial actions of Destiny over the last 10 years.

Ben “CohhCarnage” Cassell

In an age when most content on Twitch was drama-filled, CohhCarnage provided positivity. As a true variety streamer who started in 2013, his delivery was different from many of the other top streamers during that period of time.

CohhCarnage is a proof of concept that you can have thousands of people watching and have a non-toxic community,” said Chase, Twitch’s director of PR from 2013 to 2019 who doesn’t publicly divulge his last name. “People have always said, ‘oh, Twitch is this toxic platform,’ but I always felt that, yes, toxic people are on it, but creators can, if they use Twitch’s tools and their moderators correctly, they can at least minimize how much of that toxicity get through to their audience.”

Especially during the Fortnite boom in 2018, many streamers also put an increased focus on positivity. Given that audiences were generally young, trying to capture a positive audience became imperative. In addition, more brands were turning toward streamers every day, and being positive came with increased brand-friendliness. Creators like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo and Nicholas “Nick Eh 30” Amyoony all embraced positivity in their streams. CohhCarnage was arguably the first major streamer to not only be positive but to make that positivity a cornerstone of his channel.


Rumay “Hafu” Wang

Twitch has always been a male-dominated platform in general, but more female creators are breaking into the upper echelon of channels. For years, Hafu has been one of the most famous female faces on Twitch.

She’s a talented player who has had success in a wide variety of different titles including World of Warcraft: Arena and Bloodline Champions in the days of Justin.TV. She won Blizzcon 3v3 in WoW and DreamHack Summer in Bloodline Champions in 2011. From there, her livestreaming career took off as one of the best Hearthstone players during the game’s time as a top-five title on Twitch.

She primarily plays Teamfight Tactics now but also won PogChamps 2, a chess tournament put on by Chess.com featuring top streamers in 2020. During the Among Us craze, she was also one of the players known for big-brain plays, often playing with other talented players like Jeremy “Disguised Toast” Wang and 5UP.

As one of the most popular women on Twitch, Hafu had to deal with plenty of toxicity. In 2017, she said in a video interview:

“When you have 70,000 people watching a stream, and all you see are terrible things being said about you, it’s like, ‘why am I competing?’ [Viewers] know to press where it hurts, right? And when you show where it hurts, people will just keep pressing.”

There are still issues with toxicity on Twitch, and the problem is more pronounced toward female streamers. As one of the first women to become a well-known figure on Twitch, Hafu dealt with the brunt of it for years. Throughout the years, her channel kept growing and she proved herself as one of the top players in a variety of different games on Twitch, regardless of gender.

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