A Look Back at the IRL Backpack Inspired by LiveU Solo
The team at LiveU, had it in mind to create a future proof product when they planned, designed and built LiveU Solo. They saw the need for a small, portable cellular bonding encoder that could easily reach online platforms reliably. The only problem? At the time they made those plans, Twitch wasn’t even on their radar, and they didn’t know what “IRL” meant (at least in the context of streaming!).
But starting from “not knowing each other” didn’t change the eagerness to work with the community of streamers who create content for Twitch (and similar platforms) once they were kindly introduced to the world of IRL streaming by one of its founders. And the wild ride since then has brought many, many new friends and of course, hours of amazing content. Not just hours: months and years worth of content – certainly more content than a single viewer could ever consume!
Heading home from TwitchCon 2023, the five-year mark since LiveU’s first TwitchCon, they thought they would look back at all those who helped them learn about this community and hopefully express a bit about what it has meant to them. Plus, look at the tech that makes up the original IRL Backpack, and give you some important guidance if you want to give IRL streaming a try!
Before We Begin: What is IRL Streaming?
IRL or “In Real Life” streaming, is basically just what it sounds like – streaming things from real life. If you are not deeply familiar with the Twitch platform, this might sound a bit strange – isn’t all live streaming about streaming real life?
What we see now as Twitch started as Justin.tv – an early pioneer in the online live streaming landscape. Founded in 2007 by Justin Kan and Emmett Shear and a handful of others, the platform started as a project to broadcast Justin’s life 24/7, an endeavor referred to as “lifecasting.” Justin wore a camera on his hat and streamed nearly every aspect of his day-to-day life, live on the internet. Over time, Justin.tv expanded to allow other users to create their own channels and stream their own content, making it a more extensive platform for live broadcasting. With time, gaming content became a primary traffic source for Justin.tv, eventually being split off into Twitch.tv in 2011. A few years later, Justin.tv was shut down to focus efforts on Twitch.
Twitch has grown over the years into a platform largely focused on the world of video games and the personalities that play them. Content creators there are often streaming themselves playing games by themselves or with others, and if you check out the homepage, more than likely the first content you see will be a game. Justin.tv and Twitch pioneered distinctive features in the live streaming realm that set them apart in the industry. While other platforms had introduced these concepts, Twitch was the first to master them. A prime example is the chat feature, which allowed content creators to do more than simply speak to a camera during live broadcasts; it enabled them to interact directly with their community. Twitch’s emphasis on chat as a primary mode of interaction with creators swiftly became one of its signature triumphs. In recent years, monetization tools like Subs, Donations & Ad-based revenue made Twitch a mainstay for the live content creator. Anxious to use these tools to create a new experience for viewers, but also anxious to provide content other than games, the IRL Streamer was reborn – using the Twitch platform and its core concepts of live and interactivity, but for content other than gaming. Indeed, the resurgence of IRL streaming on Twitch reflects its historical roots, harking back to the platform’s origin as Justin.tv
Gunrun, A pioneer in the IRL space and founder of the “Gunrun backpack”
LiveU has had a long history in mobile broadcasting – founded in 2006 – primarily serving customers in Sports and Broadcast markets. Our journey with the creator first “IRL Streaming” style of content began in 2018 when Justin Ignacio, popularly known as Gunrun (@theGunrun on Twitch/Twitter), then a Twitch employee, began experimenting with the LiveU Solo as an encoding solution and the “nucleus” to what would become the ‘Gunrun’ IRL Backpack – a solution combining hardware and cloud tools to become the defacto method to accomplish high-quality mobile IRL streaming.
Long hours of working with Justin ensued, including testing all around the world, from the Twitch building in San Francisco to the streets of Tokyo. At the time, the Solo was limited to two cellular 4G modems (Solo PRO can now handle 4!), and Justin pioneered the technique of using two additional MiFi-style devices to add even more connections – using the LAN and WiFi capability of the Solo – which allowed for more bandwidth, greater reliability, and redundancy wherever the content took the IRL Streamer.
UnlimitedIRL, Our Partner
Following his departure from Twitch, Justin embarked on several new ventures, one of which was co-founding UnlimitedIRL alongside Taylor Webb, a friend and collaborator who had previously worked with him on the Gunrun backpack project. The team at UnlimitedIRL has been enabling IRL streamers since those earliest days, and over these past five years have worked tirelessly to support content creators, now on the 7th version of their fully integrated IRL Backpack. Every generation has had LiveU Solo at its core (of course!), and every version has gotten more integrated, easy to use, and rugged. We lost count of how many backpacks we saw at TwitchCon this year, and that is just counting the bags that streamers brought themselves, not the fleet of backpacks UnlimitedIRL deployed to let streamers who had never tried IRL streaming before giving it a try.
By the time Twitch’s annual conference, TwitchCon, came around in 2018, they had learned enough from Gunrun and the early users that we were curious to see what TwitchCon was all about. LiveU arrived in San Jose not sure what to expect, but certainly with plenty of experience with trade shows in general. This gave them an impression of what would happen – they assumed a mid-sized show and had planned a small kiosk in a streaming area to introduce people to the product, plus facilitate a few special moments such as a cosplay reveal from cosplayer Emily Rexz.
Totally unprepared for what ensued – the size of the crowds, the enthusiasm for streaming, the crowd around our little kiosk. We got the first chance to meet some users in person we had previously only spoken to virtually: streamers like DasValdez from Kerbal Space Academy, AwkwardsTravel, jakeandbakeLIVE, Xocliw (now working at UnlimitedIRL), joeykaotyk, and theRealShookOn3, just to name a very few. They met content creators with a focus on travel streaming (sometimes called travel vlogging), fishing, playing chess, tabletop gaming, roleplaying (like Dungeons and Dragons), and even beekeeping.
LiveU would go on to attend TwitchCon 2019 and the very first TwitchCon EU held in Berlin, before the COVID pandemic put a pause on in-person tradeshows.
The State of IRL Streaming
Over the years, we have seen content creators take the IRL Backpack and LiveU Solo on so many cool adventures – deep sea diving, bungie jumping, mountain climbing, and race car driving just to name a few. We have seen IRL footage taken with drones, at rocket launches, and even from the perspective of an IRL Backpack-carrying dog.
Now, finally past the travel restrictions and limits of the pandemic, we see a huge explosion of IRL Streaming across Twitch, and many other platforms such as YouTube and Kick. We have even seen Twitch’s CEO Dan Clancy use the IRL Backpack personally.
They continue to work to improve the IRL streaming Experience – with support for worldwide data plans and unlimited data to enable easy global travel, support for more modems and the HEVC codec in Solo PRO for higher quality and more reliability, and with 24/7 tech support and warranty coverage of your hardware to keep streamers creating content even when the going gets tough. UnlimitedIRL continues to improve the backpack and complete setup with access to the most proven camera tech, better security for the unit, and external batteries tested with the PRO.
Now when we see streamers like HasanAbi, Cooksux, JayStreazy, Hitch, AndyMilonakis, EsfandTV, Awkwards_Travel all using the IRL Backpack from UnlimitedIRL, powered by LiveU Solo – LiveU feels a ton of pride in the work it took to get here, but more importantly we feel gratitude to those that showed us the way: Gunrun, UnlimitedIRL, and the early streamers that worked with the Solo long before it was the core tech driving IRL Streaming.