The Success and Future of Go on Twitch: Interview with Stephen Hu

The Success and Future of Go on Twitch: Interview with Stephen Hu 1

Today we have a very special guest who is part of all these people on Twitch contributing to spreading Go. This is really a success in my opinion and if anyone would like to contribute in some way, please do it !

I hope this interview will reveal the potential of Twitch about spreading Go and show how much work these guys put to make this happen.

Q: Tell us about you?

A: My name is Stephen Hu and I am currently a 21-year-old student in university. I grew up in Beijing, China, but now I am mostly based in California (USA). In the Go community, I also go by the alias “xhu98”. I am known as an independent Go promoter, Twitch content creator, book author and community organizer. People may also recognize me from various English-language Go videos and tournament broadcasts.

The Success and Future of Go on Twitch: Interview with Stephen Hu 2
2018 US Go Congress in Williamsburg, VA, with Yoonyoung Kim 4p

Q: How long is it since you stream (Twitch)?

A: I’ve streamed on my personal channel xhu98 since February 2015, produced content for the 2016-2018 US Go Congresses, and hosted broadcasts on the EGF official Twitch channel since October 2018. While xhu98 is currently the 2nd-most-followed individual channel in the Twitch Go category, my current focus definitely puts more weight on EuropeanGoFederation, which has more than 4.200 followers as of February 28, 2019.

Q: What are some of the lessons that you learned during that journey?

A: I believe that my experience working as a Twitch streamer has definitely helped me grow not only as a Go player and public speaker, but also as a person. My transition in these past few years is something I would not trade with anything else in the world…I battled my inner demons, learned to speak English to a very fluent level, and overcame challenge after challenge. Just like the way Go forges strong characters, my Twitch story also shaped me into becoming someone who’s unafraid of making mistakes and intrepid to dream, despite imperfections along the way. It has taught me to become a better decision maker, a more effective team leader, and a more confident personality who is capable of presenting his lifelong passion to the world. Go has never been mainstream in western communities – despite the AlphaGo waves, far fewer people choose to play Go over video games or even chess, although there are certainly some overlaps. We’ve still got a long journey ahead of us, and it won’t be accomplished overnight. Yet, I suppose we are all familiar with this, in the great quest for knowledge on the 19×19 wooden Go board 🙂

Q: You are currently in Europe (for how long?) helping the European Go Federation with streaming, how did that happen?

A: I’ve been working with the European Go Federation since September 2018, and will continue to do so until my estimated departure in early August, 2019. Of course I will continue producing content after I return to the US to finish my studies, though, so the trip doesn’t end here! Initially I came to Berlin, Germany only as an exchange student from UC Santa Barbara, and naturally thought that it would be cool to visit Go communities in Europe. Just before the start of my program, I attended my first-ever EGC in Pisa, Italy after a successful week of broadcasts at the US Go Congress in Virginia. There, by coincidence, I met Sebastian Berghoff and Mieke Narjes, the main directors of the EGF broadcasting program, as well as Kasim Cinar, the TD for the 2018 German Go Championship in Bremen. Although my German wasn’t that great (haha), we quickly got along and I decided to join forces with them in this project. That was the beginning of my European mission, but things really kicked on earlier that year thanks to the “Twitch Plays Go” broadcast at the Twitch headquarters in San Francisco, CA, which garnered 17.500+ concurrent viewers at peak time and almost 1M overall viewers during the full program (with Will Lockhart, Cole Pruitt, and Hajin Lee 4p). I think Twitch’s incredible support of the Go community really made us believe that we could try our best to bring the beauty of this game to the masses, and we should all be tremendously thankful for that.

The Success and Future of Go on Twitch: Interview with Stephen Hu 3
“Twitch Plays Go” special stream, April 28, 2018, with Cole Pruitt (top left), Hajin Lee 4p (top middle), Will Lockhart (right)

Q: You have played several European tournaments, how are they comparing to American tournaments?

A: I have participated in more than a dozen European tournaments, and was lucky enough to win in Berlin and Essen, Germany (hey, I can still play a little bit!). I definitely think that the European Go scene is very impressive; at the moment, there are many more 2-day-and-longer tournaments in Europe than in the US. Even for the weekend tournaments, it’s quite normal to get 75+ participants, where as in the US we only get to see that at a small number of events. While geographical and cultural reasons do contribute to this difference, I do think that Europe should be proud of this current status. Being a broadcaster, I also get to witness those major EGF tournaments for top European players, which provide remarkable opportunities for those who wish to reach the top echelons of competitive Go. I hope that the AGA will support a similar effort to support homegrown strong players. No rush; we’ve already got a pretty full calendar this year!

Q: The Twitch channel of European Go Federation reached 3,6 million views ! What did it take to reach that and what are your future expectations?

A: I am very happy to witness the continuing growth of that figure, which has never been accomplished before by a Go channel on Twitch. The vast majority of these 3.6M views come from our feature on the Twitch front page, which is an awesome way to introduce the game to large amounts of spectators who’ve never heard of the game. Sometimes it’s a matter of luck: if we get a great spot on the front page carousel, we receive more pass by traffic and therefore a higher viewer count; typically on weekends, we tend to catch more late-night viewers from North America as well as European viewers who also enjoy their days off. To be honest, I have no clue how many more views we’ll get to see until EGC 2019; my priority is focusing on the details so that we bring as many high-quality events to the audience, and do the right things to ensure the longevity of this broadcasting project. But I can name a couple of events which I look forward to: the European Grand Slam, the European Pro Qualification, the European Championship…

Q: The Go community really appreciates the work of you and your team, could you tell us more about your team?

A: Perhaps it’s fair to say that my teammates deserve even more recognition than I do. While I am lucky enough to have most of my contribution shown live in front of a camera, many members of my team work for hundreds of hours behind the scenes without a regular salary, just for the success of these broadcasts. I always reserve the last segment of each broadcast for them, if that could qualify as their “5 minutes of public glory”; I’ve also sat behind the computers at the US Go Congress, so I know how much skill, patience and perseverance a production requires. The list goes on and on: while Sebastian and Mieke (mentioned before) have laid foundations for this project and researched options for a brand-new setup, Vincenz Schmid from the HumboldtInitiative in Berlin and Quentin Bateaux from Rennes, France have helped produce various tournament broadcasts in Rennes, Berlin, Olomouc and Vatra Dornei. We also have to thank the commentators, tournament organizers, technical support staff, game transcribers, remote Twitch chat moderators, the EGF board members, and just about everyone who contributed to these precious streams! However – in fact, everyone can join our team in some way! We are always looking for help in the Twitch chat, and perhaps even more (I’m doing this the Wikipedia way): if you would be so kind to donate what you would spend on a drink, a visit to the museum, or a concert ticket to our broadcasting project, you can help us significantly and boost our hopes of keeping these efforts alive for as long as possible!! Remember that our content has always been FREE for everyone to enjoy, but it costs money to run these things…

You can donate via PayPal at: https://paypal.me/xhu98

Q: What happens behind the scenes ? (We want to know!)

A: Well, you experienced this a little bit with me during one of the VaDo Cup streams 🙂 And the short answer is, a lot. First we have to assess the quality of internet connection at the venue, as well as financial capacities (donations would really help relieve this problem!). Then we have to ship our equipment to the destination in the most secure, punctual, affordable way, spend several hours on site to set up everything, arrange commentators, stay up late to prepare graphics, and send out the announcements to the Go community as timely as possible.

The Success and Future of Go on Twitch: Interview with Stephen Hu 4
2018 German Go Championship in Bremen, with producer Sebastian Berghoff (left) and Benjamin Teuber 6d commentating

Nothing runs always perfectly, and sometimes we run into problems: a camera goes dark, the microphone stops working, our commentator had to leave due to an emergency, a troll ruins the Twitch chat, the tournament organization runs into some speed bumps…These are just some examples of things that could happen, despite our earnest efforts to have everything ready by the first second of session #1. The truth is, one can only solve these problems by staying calm, tackling the problem head-on, and restoring as much order as possible. So next time you come across any of these temporary glitches, just remember that we are making these streams for your free entertainment, and we also want to do our best! Having said that, I really enjoy the Fridays & Saturdays of a broadcast, especially during a 4-day weekend event. If Thursday was the first hectic test, and Sunday was the almost-nostalgic wrap-up as the party comes to an end, then those two days are the epitome of happiness – when I go live into a broadcast, knowing that we’ve mostly sorted out our technical problems and that we just need to enjoy the process of commentating, there are fewer emotions that come better than that.

Q: In about 2 weeks, there is The European Pro Championship that you will also stream in Jena. Tell us more about it, who will be commenting, who do you expect to win?

A: Yes! We plan to broadcast all five rounds of the European Professional Championship in Jena on March 6-8 this year, along with a bonus weekend event on March 9-10. So far I’ve got some really great commentators lined up, such as Benjamin Teuber 6d, Jeff Su 6d, and Youngsam Kim 8d, so it shall be a good week! Judging by the records in the past few major European tournaments, it’s once again likely that Pavol Lisy 2p vs. Ilya Shikshin 3p will become the decisive match. Based on what I’ve seen at the European Grand Prix this year in Olomouc, I would slightly lean in favor of Ilya, but Pavol (along with 4 other crazy strong professionals) are definitely more than capable of winning this championship as well! Let’s hope that we’ll see some intense, high-quality matches.By the way, don’t forget that the inaugural Transatlantic Professional Championship will also be streamed on Twitch – we’ll have more details on that later, but set your calendars for an exciting April! 5 AGA pros vs. 5 EGF pros in a Nongshim Cup style event, should be a lot of fun!

Q: You told me that it is possible to mess up a stream in under 10 seconds. What should a beginner try to avoid doing when streaming?

А: I suppose we are referring to the actual commentary here – I definitely didn’t mean that to be intimidating, but it’s true. I think if you interpret streaming as more than just a simple conversation about the current game, then you’ll put a lot of unnecessary burden on yourself and stop enjoying the whole process. But you managed very well in Vatra Dornei; it was an excellent first stream that exceeded even your own expectations, and you should be proud of that! Man, everyone’s doing better than my first stream, or my first year of streams… Other than getting the technical details right, it’s always so important to show genuine enthusiasm, and to be fearless of mistakes. (Imagine doing my job without the enthusiasm…impossible, right?) In fact, these qualities will set you up not only for success on your Twitch broadcast, but also life in general. Once you worry less and don’t put negative stress on yourself even when you make a mistake, and instead convert that into positive energy to improve next time, you will become a more passionate and confident person. It certainly pleases me to see that many strong players are now interested in taking the role of the commentator, or even the host. Actually, being an exceptional figure in either role does not require a professional rank certificate; as long as you are eloquent and have enough strength to understand what’s going on in a game, you automatically enter what I call the “Go Player’s Zone” – that is, you manage to articulate and elaborate on your thoughts in a clear and engaging manner, and read deeply into the game’s variations. Once that happens, it no longer matters how many viewers there are, as you’ve followed the right track already!

Q: How do you feel when you know that you help for spreading Go really fast due to this Twitch success?

А: I feel ecstatic when I reflect on the success we’ve had on Twitch. It’s not just about the numbers; there has been evidently an increased volume of discussion on the subject of EGF tournaments and Twitch streaming, and today we have more Go streamers than ever! Since the level of engagement in the Go community is the direct metric of measuring our project’s success, it matters a lot to me and I take it quite seriously. But once again, I know that our success has also been accompanied by sacrifice, adversity, and we owe a lot of thanks to those who’ve reached out a helping hand to us, including the awesome folks at Twitch.

The Success and Future of Go on Twitch: Interview with Stephen Hu 5
Current EGF record: ~11.200 concurrent viewers, commentated by Fan Weijing 3p of China (top left)

As a child I’ve dreamt of becoming a moviesque superhero, and I’ve always wanted to do something epic. It’s quite unlikely for Go players to get recognized on the Berlin S-Bahn, of course, but even so I do feel like a hero without a cape. There’s still a long, arduous way to go, but we clearly have the potential to become a popular strategic game in the Western hemisphere, and I believe that broadcasting is one of the most effective ways to do that, along with school education and grassroots-level promotion. In my free time I enjoy following the game of snooker, and snooker certainly restricted itself to a gentlemen’s club pastime in the UK & Ireland before receiving top-level coverage by the BBC and catching international popularity. So I know that it’s been done before, and I believe that we can accomplish the same for Go if we try!

Q: Some streams in Vatra Dornei reached over 7000 live viewers and over 100k views per stream, can you tell us what these statistics might mean?

A: Haha, now we are talking about numbers again. First of all, I must say that Vatra Dornei was hands down one of our best events ever – the level of intense fighting and dramatic twists-n-turns at the VaDo Cup was just breathtaking, and Catalin & Mihaela Taranu did a wonderful job organizing the whole event and allowing us a space to broadcast! I believe that at peak time we reached close to 8.000 live concurrent viewers – again, it does depend on what time we are featured and perhaps, the other events running on the Twitch front page as well. To me, the exact amount of live viewers is not so important: we don’t expect all of our viewers to immediately fall in love with Go and join as an active member of the community, and only a portion of the viewer base actively engage in chatting anyway. What I can say, though, is that the statistics we have now show a significant stride compared to one or two years ago. It used to be breaking news when a Go stream reached more than 150 viewers, but now we are getting to meet so many newcomers who have been fascinated by the distinctive subtlety of our sport. And by the way, we have also thousands of new followers and millions of minutes spent on a Go stream – although we can’t analyze on an exact case-by-case basis, it’s still amazing to watch these numbers grow!

The Success and Future of Go on Twitch: Interview with Stephen Hu 6
Channel statistics from Romanian Winter Go Festival 2019

Q: You such a positive and energized guy, what does Go mean for you?

A: Everything.

I know this feels strange, coming from someone who’s never received professional training at a dojo, but yes, Go means everything to me. It is the fuel to my rocket ship, that lifted me out of the worst chapters of depression and made me believe that I could be a positive force in a community; it is the passport to my wanderlust mind, that brought me to teach in the schools of Kuala Lumpur, the halls of Boston, the streets of Berlin, and the riverside parks of Melbourne; and last but not least, it never ceases to provide me hope and faith, whenever I stumble upon a couple of passionate young players conducting a game review on a night train, listen to the gentle clash of slate & shell stones on a kaya board, watch tens of thousands of people react to a clip of Go Seigen’s interview, or simply look back on how it all happened… I’ll probably never end up being a professional Go player, and Go is never my only commitment in life, but I know that we are onto something really, really special. Our generation will be responsible for the future of Go, whether it slowly sinks into an anonymous memory of the past, or rises up to a new, ever-changing era, we are the ambassadors for the game that we’ve all come to love, and it’s completely up to us to contribute to its future. And as of now, I think I am proud to say, I’m already doing my part.

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4 responses to “The Success and Future of Go on Twitch: Interview with Stephen Hu”

  1. Interesting article!
    One question though: are the videos of the streams saved somewhere? I couldn’t seem to find them on EGF:s Twitch channel…

    • Thank you ! I also cannot find them, they were originally being uploaded there, but it seems like now they are not there. Probably they will end up uploading the content which was on Twitch, on their youtube channel. Looking forward to check their Twitch on Professional Championship Tournament !

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