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Streaming platform Twitch blocked in China following surge in popularity

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently expressed his belief that the internet is headed toward a split between China and the rest of the world.
A man leaves the offices of Twitch Interactive Inc, a social video platform and gaming community owned by Amazon, in San Francisco, California
A man leaves the offices of Twitch Interactive Inc, a social video platform and gaming community owned by Amazon, in San Francisco on March 6, 2017.Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters file

Twitch’s website is no longer accessible inside mainland China and the app has quietly disappeared from the Apple App Store, according to Abacus News, an English-language digital publication focused on technology and China.

A Twitch representative confirmed the service is blocked in an email to Variety Friday morning, but didn’t explain why. Abacus said the move comes just a month after the app skyrocketed in popularity, becoming the third most-popular free app on China's version of Apple's App Store.

A large number of Chinese esports fans apparently flooded the service looking to watch the latest Asian Games. This was the first time esports were included in the international sporting event. It was featured as a demonstration sport, which means medals won during matches didn’t count in the official overall medal tally.

Twitch is arguably the most popular destination for video game streaming. Last year, it had over 15 million unique daily visitors who watched an estimated 355 billion minutes of video. This is partly thanks to the massive popularity of Epic Games’ battle royale title “Fortnite” and top streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who is the first person to reach 10 million followers on the platform.

Twitch's reach in China was limited because it was significantly slower inside the country, according to Abacus.

China is currently the world’s biggest video games market, valued at more than $25 billion in 2016, according to a report from IHS Markit. It reportedly represents a quarter of all money generated by video games worldwide.

China’s relationship with the broader internet remains strained, as the country exercises tight control over what its citizens can access.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently predicted that the internet could split into two distinct networks — one in China, and the other in the rest of the world.

"I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America,” Schmidt said, speaking at a private event on Wednesday, according to CNBC.

Schmidt alluded to the problems of a shattered internet led by individual government agendas.

“There's a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc.” Schmidt said.

Google has recently come under significant pressure over leaked plans to introduce a censored version of its search engine in China, leading to some resignations from Google staff.

In response to a question about whether tech companies are doing enough good, Schmidt said it was important to listen to outside viewpoints.

"The judge of this is others, not us.” Schmidt said. “Self-referential conversations about 'Do I feel good about what I'm doing?' are not very helpful. The judge is outside."