The beginner's guide to Twitch streaming

With streamers like Ninja pulling in over 40,000 viewers every day, it's no surprise that more people want to know how to start streaming on Twitch. But it's not all about recognition and big bucks. Sharing the experience of playing games with a friendly audience is a great way to socialize, even if you're tucked away in the darkest corner of the house.

Problem is, the innocent idea of starting a Twitch stream isn't easy to take to fruition, especially if you're not the most tech-savvy person around. But don't worry, starting a Twitch stream is easier than ever, and we can break down exactly how to get started and offer some tips for building and maintaining an audience. 

Get some streaming software 

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To start off, you need a program to stream with, and there isn’t a better free option than Streamlabs OBS. It’s free, saves all your graphics and layouts to the cloud, and can do nearly everything you are used to seeing on your favorite streams. It’s also extremely easy to use to setup and customize the look of your stream (more on that in a bit).

Download Streamlabs OBS, then head over to Twitch.tv.

There are other options besides Twitch, but it has a few advantages over its competitors; It’s very straightforward and easy to use, it plays nicely with Streamlabs, and there are just simply more viewers on Twitch than elsewhere. The likelihood that someone browsing streams finds you is much higher where there are more people looking.

If you don’t already have one, make an account with Twitch and then go into the settings menu of OBS. Adjusting the stream’s preferences to fit your rig and internet connection is important, but until you have more experience streaming, it can feel a bit like punching in the dark. For now, it’s best to follow this guide on configuring OBS, which has largely identical options, for streaming on Twitch. These settings are a great baseline, and in some cases won’t need to be adjusted again. Streamlabs also has the ability to automatically configure your options based on your internet speed and a quick hardware test. It won’t configure things perfectly, but it’s a great starting point.

Get a webcam 

Above: James tests out his Logitech BRIO with a forbidden dance.

Setting up a webcam isn’t required to stream your games, but it is a feature that has become an important part of a lot of streams. A huge part of streaming is the personality you bring to the game, not just the game being played. The infamous Twitch Chat loves interacting with streamers, and having a webcam is a great way to do just that. It can be the reason people actually stick around to watch you but, if done poorly, can also be the reason they leave.

You don’t necessarily need the best webcam as long as you set it up well. Good lighting can go a long way in improving the quality of any camera. Additionally, what’s going on in the background can be just as important as your face being clear. Don’t set up a camera where other people, something embarrassing, or something distracting might show up behind you. A wall or similarly static background will help your stream seem more professional, and many larger streamers opt to use a green screen and remove their background altogether.

Find a decent mic and good tunes

Your mic has a similar role to your webcam: it can make or break your stream, and is just as easy to get right as it is to get wrong. A stream with an echo is one of the most infuriating things to watch. If you are using a desk mic or the one built into your webcam then you NEED to wear headphones. There is nothing wrong with this type of mic on its own, and in a lot of cases desk mics are higher quality than headset mics, but they’ll pick up the game sound coming through your speakers and make for a very unpleasant viewing experience. If you plan on making a quality stream, a quality microphone is a necessity. You won’t need to spend your life savings on one either—some of the best streaming microphones plunge far below the $100 mark.

Another popular stream element: playing music in the background while you game, which is as simple as playing music on the same computer you are streaming from. But this comes with a few pitfalls. Twitch has an automatic system that mutes recorded streams playing copyrighted music. This won’t affect the stream while you are live, but any VODs of your stream will be muted for a 30 minute block when an unauthorized song is played.  

A good alternative is Twitch’s royalty free music library, which currently has over 1500 songs to play, most readily available in Spotify playlists. Otherwise, you might want to stick with the in-game music.

Whatever your sound setup, balance between mic, music, and game audio is critical. You want to be able to hear all three elements at the appropriate volumes. That takes testing. Streamlabs OBS has the ability record streams which you can use to test your setup, watch the recording, and then make adjustments to each volume level. It might seem like a small thing, but having music be too loud, or a mic too quiet, can be very distracting as a viewer.

Set the scene

At this point, you're just about ready to start streaming. All that’s left is putting all the pieces in place within Streamlabs OBS.

When you open Steamlabs, click the Editor tab where an empty scene should already be made. You’ll first want to add the game you’ll be streaming, so launch it now. Then, alt-tab back to Streamlabs and click on the add sign above the Sources list. Select Game Capture, then name the source and select the game you want to stream from the Application dropdown list and hit OK.

To add your webcam, make sure it’s plugged in, start adding another source, and select Video Capture Device. Name the source and select your webcam from the device dropdown list. If you want to adjust the resolution to something specific then you can do that here, otherwise hit OK as you’ll be able to resize the webcam in the scene viewer. Drag your sources around the stream until your happy. When you click a source, a border will form around it signifying that you can click and drag from the corners or sides to resize any window. Hold ALT while clicking and dragging to crop a source.  

Overlays should be added now too, but they're optional. An overlay is just an image or text superimposed over your stream, and can be as fancy as reskinning a game’s UI or as simple as putting your twitter handle on screen. To add an overlay, add another source and list and select Image. Pay attention to the order in which your sources are listed. Sources at the top of the list will appear on top of sources below them, so if something disappears, the list just probably needs a quick shuffle. 

If the image is a PNG the transparent parts will remain so, which is how many streamers add frames to their webcams and other cool details.

Be sure to consider what game information your webcam and overlays are covering up. Even blocking small UI elements can be frustrating to viewers. If you are planning on streaming multiple games, you can make different scenes that vary slightly in webcam size and placement to ensure everything is always in the right spot. Scenes are a great way to switch your stream up on the fly.

Making habits 

Tweet that you are streaming, tell your Facebook friends, yell it out your window.

At this point you should have a functional stream, but that doesn’t mean anyone is going to be watching. There are a lot of tricks to getting viewers, but one of the most important things is consistency. Setting good habits every time you stream is important to building an audience. Even if you just want to stream for fun and hitting the front page of Twitch isn’t your goal, there are certain things that can only help.

This may sound simple, but tell people when you are streaming. It’s great to go live. It’s better when people know you are live. Tweet that you are streaming, tell your Facebook friends, yell it out your window. You may not have many followers, but that’s because you just started and the only way to get support is to make your presence known. Viewership can sometimes have a snowball effect, so even if your first five viewers are just your friends, the next five won’t be.

Another good practice is to turn on Panels on your Twitch page and write a short bio. Tell people who you are (without revealing anything confidential) and why they should bother to watch you. In the same vein, try to read and respond to chat if possible. Twitch has a built in delay of roughly 20 seconds, but people enjoy being heard and engaged with. Once again, even if you aren’t trying to become the top channel on Twitch, these habits will help you become a better streamer in the long term.

Tips and advanced tools

Last but not least, we have some extra features to help improve your stream. If you manage to get a following and find yourself with more people in chat than you’re used to, the following things are the logical next steps to take.

The more viewers you have in Twitch Chat, the more out of hand it will start to get. So if you’re Twitch Chat starts to spam Kappas or raise Dongers at you, you’ll want to enlist the help of some auto-moderators. Streamlabs OBS has built-in bot support, so consider giving it a try if you’re already using the program. Moobot a simple chatbot that’s easy to learn but retains plenty of depth. Nightbot is another go-to chatbot for streamers, though we’ve yet to test it ourselves. 

Additionally, if you ever watch a stream and wonder how they get those on-screen pop-ups each time they get a follower or subscriber, look no further. Even if you are just tracking followers, people like seeing their name on screen, and giving viewers tangible feedback of their interactions helps encourage more. We recommend—surprise—Streamlabs OBS! It has built-in support for widgets, from alert boxes to bit jars to spin wheels for contests. It also has an app store, where you can buy things like layouts, music libraries, and stat overlays. Considering it does just about everything you need to start streaming and then some, using it for trying out widgets is a no-brainer. 

Streaming can seem intimidating at first, but starting is the hardest part. The easiest way to get better is to just start doing it. Let yourself make mistakes and let other people know you are streaming. We also recommend cats. The audience loves a good stream cat.