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Steam.tv is live again -- say hello to Valve's Twitch competitor?

Update: Steam.tv is back, after its test server was mistakenly made public last Friday.

steam-controller

The Steam Controller. Unrelated to this announcement, but it's a nice visual way to represent Valve's gaming initatives, yeah?

Valve

Steam.tv is back online -- just in time to let gamers watch Dota 2 tournament The International while chatting with their friends over Steam.

We got an early look at the new Steam game broadcasting platform last week, when Valve accidentally pushed it live.

Last Friday afternoon, we saw a smattering of reports that PC gaming giant Valve had registered the domain name Steam.tv, speculating that Valve would soon launch a service designed to compete with Amazon's popular game-streaming website Twitch.tv. Since, you know, esports are kind of a big deal these days, with millions upon millions of dollars on the line, and Valve's own Dota 2 game is the focus of one of the biggest esports events of the year, one which just so happens to kick off next week.

So you can imagine our surprise when we found that Steam.tv actually went live on Friday, and we got one of the only first looks on the internet. 

Here's what we discovered then:

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

Valve pulled it down late Friday, telling CNET it was pushed live by mistake, but what we saw was fairly limited anyhow: the Steam.tv website was only showing off The International, which is the giant Dota 2 tournament I was referring to earlier -- so it wasn't exactly allowing any ol' Steam gamer to livestream their gameplay sessions quite yet. 

Here's what it looks like when you log in with your Steam account. 

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

But we could already see that the interface is vastly advanced compared to Steam's existing Steam Broadcasting website. It feels far more like a native web app. 

Once I logged in, I was able to access my new Steam Chat friends list and group chats -- the interface seems very similar to steamcommunity.com/chat, but with more functionality -- and invite friends to watch videos together while we chat. (hey there, @seaniccus!) The interface has room for quite a few tabs up top for additional chat windows, but weirdly, the video gets minimized when you invite friends. You have to then expand it again.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

Oh, and there's built-in voice chat right there in your web browser, at least in Google Chrome. While the Steam.tv interface works in Firefox and Microsoft Edge, voice chat isn't supported in those browsers yet -- and I haven't actually been able to log into the chat interface with those browsers as of Monday.

steam-tv-browser-limitations
Screenshot by Sean Buckley/CNET

I also downloaded the latest Steam Beta Update on desktop to see if it unlocked any new functionality, but it doesn't seem to support Steam.tv videos -- not only could I not watch The International from the desktop app, but when I started broadcasting a session of Into the Breach, and my buddy tried to watch me play via Steam.tv, it kicked him to the old Steam Broadcasting webpage instead.

A Valve representative told CNET that Steam.tv went live by accident and was meant to be an internal test: "We are working on updating Steam Broadcasting for the Main Event of The International, Dota 2's annual tournament. What people saw was a test feed that was inadvertently made public," said the company on Friday.

A new post on the official Dota 2 blog discussed "custom elements" added to Steam Broadcasting specific to Dota 2 in the lead up to The International. Valve plans to "extend" support for all games broadcasting on Steam after the tournament concludes and "expose a new broadcast Steamworks API to Steam partners".

So far, Steam.tv looks like it could be a neat place to hang out with friends while watching games, but it's not clear from that statement if it'll be an alternative to Amazon's Twitch, Microsoft's Mixer and Google's YouTube Gaming quite yet. 

"While not everything is known about what form the the final version of the service will take, it shouldn't cause Twitch, YouTube, and other gaming video content destinations to sweat," said SuperData analyst Carter Rogers, adding:

"The platform's biggest differentiator right now is an easy way to chat with friends while watching. This could potentially appeal to people dissatisfied with the lightning-fast (and potentially toxic) Twitch chat feed. However, there is nothing stopping Twitch viewers from simply chatting with their friends on another platform like Discord."

Update, 10:05 p.m. PT: Added statement from Valve that Steam.tv went live by accident.

Update, Aug. 20 at 2:17 p.m. PT: Added that Steam.tv is live once more.

Update, Aug. 21 at 11:30 p.m. PT: Added that Valve plans to extend support for all games after The International.

Update, Aug. 22 at 1:52 p.m. PT: With SuperData comment.