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Twitch Esports' Justin Dellario on Twitch Rivals, the Overwatch League, and more

Beyond livestreaming, Twitch has become partly synonymous with esports. To get an insight into Twitch Esports' continued growth and development, Shacknews sat down with Head of Twitch Esports Justin Dellario for a special interview.

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Over the years, Twitch has become synonymous with livestreaming. However, it's also the first name many people think of when it comes to the world of esports. On top of giving people a platform to express their love for gaming and other hobbies, Twitch has helped turned esports into a billion dollar industry. It's a field that continues to grow, with Twitch helping take the lead.

And take the lead Twitch has, with Twitch Rivals being the biggest centerpiece on display during this TwitchCon weekend. Throughout the event, Twitch Rivals has featured some of the biggest games in the world, but also gone a step further. Not only are dozens of streamers participating in Fortnite, League of Legends, Teamfight Tactics, and Apex Legends throughout the weekend, but they're all broadcasting their own individual runs to their own Twitch channels, allowing their fanbases to follow them individually. It's another example of Twitch working to innovate in an already innovative field.

The challenge of keeping up with the evolving world of esports is one that Twitch does not take likely and one that Justin Dellario, Head of Twitch Esports, is more than happy to help spearhead. Shacknews had an opportunity during TwitchCon to talk to Dellario about Twitch Esports, the development of Twitch Rivals, going beyond traditional esports, and their relationship with Blizzard and the Overwatch League.

(The following interview was conducted on Saturday afternoon, Day 2 of TwitchCon 2019.)

Day One of Twitch Rivals (credit: @TwitchEsports)
Day One of Twitch Rivals (credit: @TwitchEsports)

Shacknews: What is the current state of Twitch Esports?

Justin Dellario, Head of Twitch Esports: Twitch Esports has actually only been around for about three and a half years, despite esports being in Twitch's DNA and our growth being pretty synonomous, it was only a few years ago that esports was set for rapid growth. The business was maturing, so on top of having different functional departments that regularly participate and deal with esports in terms of partnerships, sales, and commerce, we knew that we needed to wrap a strategy around it and help make it successful even faster. So that's when we started the esports department.

In the last several years, we've focused on hands-on support of the industry. Whether that's been helping Rocket League launch their esports, [working with] Capcom and Bandai Namco, or working with existing esports producers like ESL and FACEIT to innovate the way people interact and engage with esports content.

On top of that, we're always interested in growing that pie, so we even thought about innovating further. And that's how Twitch Rivals came to be -- an esports format dedicated entirely to creators, where they get to be successful doing what they already do, with added narrative of the millions of dollars in the prize pool.

Shacknews: What's been the community feedback to Twitch Rivals? How have they helped shape it into what it is today and how are they helping shape it for the future?

Dellario: Well, like any good product, the feedback has been all over the place. We've had some events that have been like hitting the ball out of the park. Who would have thought that Stardew Valley esports was even possible, right?

But then we've had some events where people actually responded that they didn't necessarily like the format. But they're always generally glad that we're experimenting so much and that's what it's been about. We've done 82-plus event days for 29 games and we've already given out like five-plus million dollars in prizing to streamers this year. I think people are a little bit patient with us when it comes to experimenting and having fun with the format here and there, because they know we're going to continuously deliver and do something fun the next time.

Shacknews: Yeah, you've mentioned the outside-the-box stuff, like the Borderlands 3 Challenge a few days ago. What other competitions, outside of the more straightforward traditional esports, has the team been looking into for Twitch Rivals?

Dellario: Well, I don't want to reveal our secrets just yet. We've got a big Twitch Rivals show in front of us right now that's going on. But a game that you can see us do later this month is Dead By Daylight and that's going to be an all-new format for esports, so that'll be cool.

Twitch Rivals Fortnite winners: 1400Pika, Rhyx26, and TINARAES (Credit: @TwitchEsports)
Twitch Rivals Fortnite winners: 1400Pika, Rhyx26, and TINARAES (Credit: @TwitchEsports)

Shacknews: What is the process in selecting a game for Twitch Rivals?

Dellario: Generally it starts with publisher-to-Twitch conversations, like we're already having everyday. Talking about what they can do and what we can do to help each other be successful. And whether it makes sense for a particular marketing beat or just engaging the community. We slot the events in the calendar and we execute every single event like any other one: plan the content, gauge the interest of streamers, source the invites, and execute a broadcast.

Shacknews: Let me go ahead and shift over to Twitch's relationship with the Overwatch League, given that the Grand Finals are set to take place on Sunday. The Finals are set to air live on ABC, but there's more incentive for Overwatch players to watch on Twitch, given that there are Twitch Drops in it for them. So how do you work with publishers to make these promotions happen and do you feel that they give you an advantage over traditional media?

Dellario: I feel like they're definitely an advantage. I mean, if they weren't, you wouldn't see traditional media trying to figure out so many ways to interact and creating engagement like Twitch has always had organically. Whether you're talking about second-screen apps, which have never really effectively created that interactivity that Twitch has, or active polls calling out promotions on websites. These are all ways that they're trying to look a little bit like multiplayer entertainment, but Twitch is really, in my opinion, exceeding expectations on.

But when it comes to working with a publisher like Blizzard and on a sophisticated deal like the Overwatch League, that was a giant partnership that contemplated not just what would the broadcast formats look like, but what could we really do to help level up the promotion and engage the audience. That's how you got things like the All-Access Pass, which is a pretty exclusive partnership between Overwatch and us that we would love to replicate in spirit with a lot of other esports, ways to engage and earn rewards for participating.

But for such a big undertaking that Blizzard was pursuing with the Overwatch League, it made a lot of sense that Twitch would lean in and really help make it successful, as well. Because again, we're thinking about the total pie of esports and this was a great opportunity to push things forward.

Shacknews: That two-year partnership that you signed back in 2018, the expiration date is getting a little bit closer. Are you satisfied with how the partnership has gone?

Dellario: Yes, of course we're satisfied. Whether or not we've broken any records in terms of viewership, the numbers are extremely high in relation to esports. But that's not the goal, right? The goal is to push the industry forward. Whether or not this is what the general consumer audience would experience, there's been innovations in the way advertisers have been integrated, engagement with fans, just publishers and broadcast partners even working together, those are all innovations. So yeah, we're extremely pleased.

Shacknews: There's probably a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that we're not going to be privy to, but I feel it's worth asking anyway. Should we expect a similar sort of deal for the Call of Duty League that's set to debut next year?

Dellario: Well, you're right in the sense that we don't talk about the details of any deal. But Activision-Blizzard is a long-time partner of Twitch. So we'd be behind the 8 ball if we weren't already talking about ways to work together on the Call of Duty League, because even before you think about Activision-Blizzard and whatever their business goals might be around that league, that's still a community that we share, so we want to take care of that.

Shacknews: Which one esports competition are you looking forward to the most this year?

Dellario: I think that Riot is planning some really special things in Paris, but I'm excited to catch the VODs from Overwatch League and see how they've innovated, because if you remember in New York, that was a really crazy event.

And then, obviously, I'm very excited about what my team is doing with Twitch Rivals. It's a one-of-a-kind esports experience and no esport has ever broadcast 91 simultaneous streams from a room, so just accomplishing that is pretty exciting for us.

Be sure to continue catching all of the Twitch Rivals action this weekend and beyond. For the final day of TwitchCon, the top streamers in the world are jumping into Apex Legends. To catch the action live, jump into the Twitch Rivals channel.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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