The Dark Side Of Live-Streaming Video

On Sunday, tragedy struck the eSports world, as a gunman shot and killed two players who were competing in a tournament called the Madden Classic. The horror of the shooting was magnified by the fact that the mayhem was captured on video and audio, as the tournament was being live-streamed to thousands of fans watching at home.

In the footage — which has since been removed by Twitch, which had been hosting the live-stream — players are seen laughing on-camera, before the stream cuts to footage from the game itself. Shortly after play resumes, shots, shouts, and screams can be heard, and the screen flashes “controller disconnected.”

As live streams continue to gain in popularity in the eSports world and in other digital entertainment genres, the platforms that host those live streams will need to grapple with the possibility that the reach and connectivity they provide may have unintended consequences.

Every time there is a mass shooting, there is concern that the nonstop media coverage could serve as an incentive to the next shooter — a ticket to 15 minutes of fame. The rise of live streaming has the potential to amplify those concerns, as the mayhem will be seen immediately and shared across social media, just as the shooting on Sunday was. Live TV has the seven-second delay and a control room on the lookout for inappropriate content. Live-streamed games don’t have that central point of production or delay.

Every day, Twitch — the Amazon-owned video site that lets gamers live-stream their matches — sees thousands of players showcase their talents.

The platform — which sits at the center of both the eSports world and the emerging business of live-streaming — also sees dozens of eSports tournaments streamed every year, such as the Madden tournament.

It is not yet clear whether the shooter — who was also a player in the tournament — knew that the competition was being streamed at the moment he began shooting, but the aftermath was nonetheless captured and streamed live.

The question is whether Sunday’s shooting will spur on a response similar to the one YouTube saw after one of its star creators, Logan Paul, posted a video of himself and his friends discovering the body of a man who had committed suicide.

YouTube faced a severe backlash from its creators — who felt that Paul gave them a bad name — and from its advertisers, who had invited in the platform because they believed that top-level creators presented brand-safe environments.

YouTube has spent the last eight months trying to rectify those concerns, and make the platform a safe place for creators and advertisers. 

For eSports companies and organizations, for live-streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube, and for advertisers that are investing in streamed eSports as The Next Big Thing, the events of Sunday serve as a reminder that for all the potential of live-streaming video, more work needs to be done to ensure that it is safe, for the players, for the platforms, for the brands, and everyone involved.

Live-streams, of course, have the added wrinkle of being, well, live. Figuring out how to ensure the safety of its users and its brands is the question that will need to be asked moving forward.

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