Twitch is now blocked in China. The major game streaming site is largely no longer accessible and its app has been removed from Apple’s local App Store, after it saw a noticeable boost in popularity last month, as spotted by Abacus. Twitch confirmed it was blocked in China to The Verge today but didn’t elaborate on details.
Last month, Twitch hit the No. 3 spot among free apps in China, as locals began downloading the app to watch e-sports matches at the Asian Games. Mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower told The Verge that downloads for the app on the week of August 27th rose 23 times higher than the previous week, during the height of the competition. State-run broadcaster CCTV chose not to air the Asian Games, so users had to find alternative ways to watch the competition, especially as China performed well during the event and brought back two gold medals. Although the performance wasn’t streamed through the major broadcaster, China’s two wins were later covered by state-run media.
Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, has seen a big boost in viewership this past year, especially as Epic Games’ Fortnite has exploded in popularity and top streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins has become a bonafide celebrity and the platform’s highest-earning and most-watched streamer. Twitch’s monthly active streamer count doubled in 2017 compared to 2016. But it didn’t have a lot of Chinese users, as its servers are based abroad, meaning that streams are delayed.
The latest censorship follows the Chinese government’s pattern of banning any Western media platform that seems to be growing in popularity, often as a cautionary measure before anything controversial has even occurred. Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter remain permanently banned, and Google, which has stayed out of China for eight years, is rumored to be developing a censored search engine to be allowed back in.
Many on Weibo across China responded to the initial connection disruption reports on Monday with a kind of group tally, where they would report if they could connect to Twitch’s website in their specific province. While many citizens reported they could not, the site remained accessible yesterday for some in provinces spread throughout northern and southern China, meaning that the censorship wasn’t consistent nor geographically constrained. “Why can’t I connect in [the northeastern province of] Liaoning?” one user asked, while another said, “I’m still watching now in [the northeast city of] Changchun.”
The quick rise and fall of Twitch in China, which will likely soon become a tiny blip in the history of Chinese censorship of Western internet platforms, doesn’t bode well for game distribution service Steam and its ambitions in the East. Steam’s parent company Valve announced in June this year that it was partnering with Shanghai-based video game developer Perfect World to launch a Chinese version of Steam. Few details were given about what a curated version of Steam that would abide by local laws would look like. Valve promised The Verge to keep it updated, saying “more information, including launch details, will be made available soon,” back in June, but since then has not responded to multiple requests for follow-up.