We knew that Epic vs Apple, the ongoing battle for rights to in-app purchases, would be revealing. But we didn’t expect it to be this entertaining.
Part of it has to do with where the trial is playing out. From speedy chatbars on YouTube to live commentary on Twitch, and all the tweets along the way, Epic vs Apple became the internet’s trial. The gaming industry is particularly protective, so hearing executives like Tim Sweeney air dirty laundry about the behind-the-scenes conversations and deals with executives at Microsoft, Sony, and Apple feels even juicier.
Epic vs Apple isn’t just a case with revealing testimonies and spilled secrets, though. Following Epic vs Apple on Twitch and YouTube works particularly well because it’s a trial that feels like it belongs to the internet. It may seem like this trial comes down to one multi-million dollar corporation wanting more of a cut from the other multi-million dollar corporation. But, removing that surface level fight, it also leaves players with iPhones without access to a beloved game (whether you agree that it should be beloved or not).
At the heart of this lawsuit, one that pits Goliath against Goliath, is a growing malaise, a surging discontent, from Davids around the world: players.
On the internet, a platform founded on the very ideal that everyone should have access to information and equal opportunity, thousands of people are intently watching a trial about walled gardens operated by some of the wealthiest companies in the world. The trial is less about whether Apple or Epic is in the wrong — believe me, there are opinions in every chat — and more about closed off ecosystems that remove opportunity for the everyday person.
Where better to congregate with other players than on Twitch and YouTube?
Livestreaming trials isn’t new. Neither is livestreaming news events. Political commentator Hasan Piker has developed a substantial following on Twitch for doing just this. Being enraptured by a trial also isn’t new by any means; there’s a reason that HLN throws its entire weight as a network behind covering the most salacious details of big trials across the country or true crime documentaries focused on trial hearings are popping up all over Netflix.
Shifting back and forth between YouTube and Twitch streams, one eye peeled to a quickly moving Tweetdeck column, there are a few immediate distinctions between what makes one stream better than another, and what the future of livestreaming trials can look like.
The best streams consistently incorporate three elements. They:
Foster a healthy, helpful chat
Embrace the entertainment aspect of it all
Trial breakdowns and live reactions often feel tied to cable and broadcast television. A panel of experts sitting at a fancy CNN, MSNBC, HLN, or Fox desk, finding ways to fill the time on air by having experts and pundits recap the case live on air and speculate before a verdict is handed down. Everything is polished, manicured, and the production value is obvious.
On YouTube, Twitch, and even Discord, it’s a totally different experience. It’s full-time streamers, Fortnite fans, and teens trying to discern what’s happening as it’s happening. Streams of people’s desktops changing from the main audio window to Google as people search different terms or articles that are referenced in the case happen on the fly. As Gita Jackson wrote at Vice about watching Hasan Piker on election night, a big part of the appeal is Piker sorted “through exit polls and early reporting the same way I did: clicking frantically between tabs of different news sites, YouTube streams, and various chats.” It’s the same draw to streamers and personalities on those platforms as it’s always been: discovering, learning, and reacting almost as if you’re in the same room together.
The same goes for trial coverage. There’s an intimacy and authenticity in watching streamers trying to figure out what’s happening at the same time as people tuning in. They’re providing a service, but open about not being certifiable experts on anything other than hosting a video and sharing in the moment with viewers at home. (Arguably, they could be labeled Fortnite experts.) News organizations publish breaking news as it happens, and instead of trying to keep up with everything on Twitter, the livestreams simply point it out too, discussing it in chat and trying to figure out where everything is headed as a collective.
With most YouTube and Twitch streamers, the idea of authenticity “is more an element in performance than it is an inherent quality of the mediated individual,” as described by Dr. David Giles at the University of Winchester. In this instance, the authenticity and intimacy isn’t a performance element, but what makes the stream resonate and worth tuning into.
That’s even truer in the hours long after show conversations hosted on Twitch once the trial ends. Acknowledging the lack of expertise, and leaning into experiencing it all together, in real time, while piecing together what’s happening is enticing. The level of access seen in the trial, released documents, and insight into business development and strategies from some of the most powerful tech and gaming companies in the world is a lot of information.
It’s not the best way to learn about the case. It’s not providing the most information. It is the best way, however, to experience the Gaming Trial as I’ve dubbed it.
It’s going down in chat
Like any good livestream, the wins are in chat. This is no different. Chats are full of people who already know the best memes, who have opinions on Tim Sweeney or Phil Spencer, and who just want to hang out with other hyper engaged people.
Many bars and restaurants across the US are closed (or open with restricted access). Offices aren’t really back. People aren’t really packing themselves into booths at restaurants. And while media coverage on CNN isn’t necessarily going to focus on the intricacies of the trial, Twitter remains, as for all news things, the best space for up-to-the-minute analysis. But hanging out on Twitter isn’t always fun.
Instead, in a world of Twitch and YouTube, chat reigns as king. On both Twitch and YouTube, I watched as people tried to make out the muffled answers coming through (the trial was held in-person, so masks were worn) and then spent the next few minutes talking about their woes over Fortnite not being on iOS devices.
Similar to Twitter, people in chat freely chimed in with their thoughts; unlike Twitter, there is a sense of a single serving community that creates a good setting for something like a three-week trial. Twitter feels like a constant fight for attention and conversation can get lost in a sea of tweets about a billion different topics. On a specific Twitch or YouTube chat, you’ll mostly come across the same group of people all gathered to hang out and talk over the course of those seven hours.
Single serving community (yes, a term I have lifted from Fight Club) sounds negative, but it isn’t. Trials like Epic vs Apple are a moment on the internet. The impact of the outcome may last for decades, but the actual trial itself is only going to last for about three weeks. Like a summer school class that lasts two weeks, the kids who form a group to eat lunch together probably aren’t going to become lifelong friends, but it makes the days go by faster and it’s nice to share in the misery and funny moments.
Having these chats and reacting to everything in real time with expressions of frustration with the walled off gardens created by the App Store or Epic’s decision to go to war with Apple reinforces the importance of this fight to a massive online community.
Don’t forget to laugh
The stakes in this trial are high. There’s no question. But, like the lawyer turned cat, there are also moments of true entertainment.
Hearing the judge lose her patience with Epic and Apple’s lawyers, or even reveling in questions that sound dumb but are important to the case — like “what is a Nintendo Switch?” — help make the seven hour sessions feel less like seven hour sessions.
Like the internet does, parts of the trial are already memes. On YouTube and Twitch, it’s responding to strong Epic or Apple arguments by spamming “E” or “A,” while bad arguments result in the quintessential “F” to pay respects. It’s fun — and at the end of the day, all we really want to be when we’re doing most anything online is to have fun.
I have no idea if this energy will continue for three weeks. Livestreams could die down, or people might move onto something else that catches their attention. But for one of the most prolific gaming trials that I can remember, it’s nice to have a few different YouTube and Twitch streams going on to watch as everyone hunkers down to watch together while they go about their day, learning lessons in virtual school or doing their job, but all simultaneously mesmerized.
Hell, technically people shouldn’t even be able to livestream the trial because of court rules (the website states “any recording, copying, or rebroadcasting of a remote court hearing is absolutely prohibited”). And so watching a bunch of gamers dunk on Epic through casual streams just reinforces how online it all feels.
Julia Alexander is IGN’s top streaming editor. Have a story tip? DM her on Twitter @loudmouthjulia or request her Signal number by emailing [email protected]