How Twitter Succeeded Where ESPN Failed World Cup Viewers

watchESPN servers crashed under an 'unprecedented demand' during the USA-Germany match, while Twitter anticipated traffic spikes and stood victorious.


The FIFA World Cup has been a global success, in terms of viewership and social media reaction. Twitter created a World Cup media hub to centralize all the talk around the various matches, and to sort the huge stream of content a little better. However, fans attempting to stream the USA-Germany game on the official streaming service watchESPN last week, found the site was down. Why is Twitter better at managing the load?

Make no mistake, Twitter has been under immense strain throughout the tournament so far. During the opening game there were 12.2 million tweets, and when host nation Brazil achieved their latest victory on June 28th, there were 16.4 million tweets during the match. While there have been less total tweets during any one game, the World Cup is still beating out the Super Bowl when it comes to tweets per minute.

Unfortunately, watchESPN is probably more server intensive, the service faltered heavily on June 26th. 1.4 million concurrent viewers trying to watch the USA-Germany match, and the influx of traffic brought the service to a halt for many users. An ESPN representative told Variety that they were “investigating some limited issues due to unprecedented demand” but it’s hard to see why this demand wasn’t expected.

The difference between the two services is that Twitter has done this before. In 2010 Twitter staff worked in the face of record traffic to try and keep the service up during games. Over the last two years Twitter has been using more powerful server infrastructure, to better handle the load of everything from day to day tweets to media rich event tweets.

And Twitter realizes that uptime during events like the World Cup is crucial. So much so that server capacity is shifted around at key moments to make sure data moved as efficiently as possible. This allows Twitter to get ahead of the surges.

“When Japan is playing in the world cup, I know that most of the traffic [during the game] will come from Japan,” said Raffi Krikorian, Twitter’s VP of platform engineering. In that case Twitter would assign additional resources to its West Coast data centers to handle the load.

By anticipating where the spikes and surges will occur, Twitter stays one step ahead of outages. watchESPN managed to fail under just 1.4 million concurrent streams, only 10 percent of the total U.S. audience for the game.

Now that the USA is out of the tournament, the numbers may drop for watchESPN, but the infrastructure problem will remain. With more consumers cutting the cord and looking for viable alternatives, its a good idea for ESPN to be proactive about developing an infrastructure able to handle the traffic sure to come in the future.

Image credit: Eric Fischer