Watching people play live video games from anywhere in the world has become a surprisingly huge phenomenon in recent years. Twitch is now a game-streaming juggernaut while YouTube has embraced gaming and live streaming in a big way, and seemingly everyday people have become well-paid Internet personalities because they play video games and chat.
Are you the next streaming sensation? Don’t bet on it—but you can still get in on the social fun of live streaming, and you don’t even need a high-end gaming PC or console to do it. It’s surprisingly easy to live stream Android games right from your phone or tablet using apps like YouTube Gaming and Mobcrush, or to use an Android emulator on your computer.
All you need is some decent bandwidth, an extroverted spirit, and hopefully decent skills in at least one Android game. Got all that covered? Great: here’s what you need to know.
What is streaming?
In case you’re not one of the millions of gaming fans tuned into Twitch and YouTube on a regular basis, here’s a quick rundown of the live streaming phenomenon. In short, people share live footage of themselves playing video games, often competitive online games or those that have some kind of unique hook.
This might not sound very fun, especially when you could play a game yourself, but there are often compelling reasons to watch. For example, a streamer might be an amazing player, letting you see a level of competitive play that you aspire to. Or maybe he or she does speed runs to finish games as quickly as possible, or try to find all the collectibles or secrets. In that sense, a live stream might prove informative. It could also just give you a look at real, unedited gameplay so you can decide whether or not to buy a game for yourself.
The social element is also important, as viewers can not only chat with the streamer, but also other viewers. That creates a sense of community around games, and it’s a good reminder that there are best practices to follow if you’re the one doing the streaming.
Ideally, you should use the camera and microphone to show yourself playing, and be sure to react to and perhaps even describe what’s happening in the game. Also, interact with your viewers: mention them as they come into the room, speak out responses to their questions and comments, and give them reasons to stick around. And if you plan on streaming regularly, set a schedule and advertise your streams via social media.
With all that set, your best option for streaming footage directly from your Android device is YouTube Gaming, the games-specific app from the video giant. YouTube is the home to just about everything in video, and its streams cover PC and console games alongside mobile stuff, with everything neatly categorized in the app. Note that you’ll need to have Android 5.0 or 5.1.1 or newer to use the streaming functionality.
Getting your stream up and running is a breeze: in the upper right corner, click the little upward-facing arrow with the Wi-Fi-like waves above it and choose whether you want to stream or record what’s on your screen. Assuming it’s the former, you’ll pick between 720P (HD) and 480P (SD) quality, choose the game you want to play, and give your channel a name. You can also share the stream link via social media before it starts running.
Once live, the feed will capture everything from your screen—so consider turning off notifications so your private messages remain that way. The front-facing camera can capture your mug, and tapping the image brings up the controls, letting you add visual filters to your camera feed, enter chat, see how many viewers you have and the stream quality, or pause/stop the stream.
When you’re finished, the stream is saved as a YouTube video and published for posterity, although you can always delete it if you please. YouTube Gaming is straightforward and easy to use for direct-from-device streaming, plus YouTube has a huge audience, so you might have an opportunity to reach a wide audience with your streams and saved videos.
Looking for something a bit more focused than YouTube? Mobcrush, which just recently hit Android with its public beta release, is a streaming community focused entirely around mobile games. That means you won’t have to fight through endless Overwatch and League of Legends streams to find what you want… assuming what you want are Android favorites like Clash Royale, Hearthstone, and Vainglory.
Mobcrush has a different interface than YouTube Gaming, but isn’t difficult to figure out. To start streaming, simply swipe from the left and tap “Broadcast.” Hit “Start Now” and input the game title and a channel description, as well as your preferred bitrate, and you’ll start streaming immediately.
As with YouTube, it’ll capture anything that appears on your phone screen, so keep that in mind while browsing your device—and you’ll need Android 5.0 or newer to stream. Rather than show your own image on your screen during play, Mobcrush puts a small “M” icon in view that you can drag and drop anywhere. From there, you can dig into the same kinds of settings, including video controls and chat.
It’s all pretty easy to get a hang of, and getting your stream online takes minimal effort. Mobcrush doesn’t have quite the reach of YouTube, certainly, but the mobile-centric approach and focused feeds might be useful for finding like-minded Android fans.
What about Twitch?
Curiously, as of this writing, the official Twitch app doesn’t let you stream gameplay directly from your Android device. That’s a surprising oversight, seeing as Twitch is seemingly everywhere else (including game consoles), although I imagine that will change soon. In the meantime, how are you supposed to broadcast your amazing Android antics onto the preeminent game streaming network?
One option is to use Screen Stream Mirroring ($5), an all-in-one app for streaming your Android phone’s screen to Twitch or YouTube, or mirror it to a PC or another device. The app has a lot of options and settings, which might seem overwhelming at first, but getting online with Twitch isn’t too difficult. Simply log in and find your stream key in Twitch’s settings, pick your nearest Twitch server, and then your feed should be live.
It’s worth looking through all of those options, however, as you can change the quality of your stream, enable camera and chat overlays and customize those elements, and do a lot more fine-tuning of the experience. As with the other streaming apps, you’ll need at least Android 5.0 for streaming to web services. And if your device is rooted, you can also tap into internal audio for your stream, rather than just what the microphone captures.Read more: Sony Xperia X Performance review: Sony’s most disappointing product in years
Ditch your phone?
Alternatively, consider using BlueStacks, an Android emulator for PC that has built-in and officially supported Twitch streaming functionality. BlueStacks is an interesting beast: it doesn’t rely on your Android device at all, and in fact, you don’t even need to own Android hardware.
BlueStacks runs purely on your Windows PC (the Mac version doesn’t have Twitch support), and it offers a streamlined version of Android right on your desktop. Once logged in with a Google account, you can download anything from your local Play Store—including anything you’ve purchased on your Android phone or tablet—and start playing using your mouse and/or keyboard commands.
Using BlueStacks is a bit off-putting, to be honest: initially you’re only shown Asian versions of apps until you log in, and it’s an older, trimmed-down version of Android with a custom launcher. Furthermore, Google recognized my logins on Mac and PC to be from a Samsung Galaxy S5 and Note 3, respectively, rather than mentioning BlueStacks by name. All told, the early moments are a bit confusing.
But once you’re up and running, it works… and pretty well, too. I played Alto’s Adventure on my first-gen Surface Pro running Windows 10, and streamed the gameplay to Twitch along with my face from the PC’s front-facing camera. Performance suffered just a little bit once I had the stream live, but the game was plenty playable, and my Android phone never came into play. It’s an easy way to get Android gameplay onto Twitch, even if it doesn’t really feel like the real thing.