What is Discord?

gamer with headset playing a game on computer

If you’re wondering what Discord is, you’re probably not in the app’s core target market. Discord is a free all-in-one text, video and voice-chat app designed for gamers. It launched in May of 2015 and took the gaming community by storm, quickly surpassing the overall and daily user numbers of similar tools. Jump into any online game, and joining a Discord server comes up as one of the first methods to plug into that game’s community all around the world.

So if you don’t know Discord, you’re probably not a gamer. But that’s okay, because Discord is morphing into a platform for any type of group that needs online space and the tools to manage a community. Investing teams, fantasy football leagues, nonprofits and a wide range of other groups now use Discord to stay in touch daily. So what is Discord, and how do you make use of it?

What Is Discord?

Discord is used with PC and Mac operating systems and Android and MacOS mobile devices. It enables a group moderator to set up a common server space for a community. The app provides tools for the community to interact by text, voice or video.

Community members post text messages to the space like they would on a website forum, such as Reddit. Members can also communicate in real time by video and voice, the same way someone would use Skype. Discord can be used while a person is playing a game, enabling everyone playing that game at the same time to join in a communal voice-chat session.

Discord also serves as a hub to share game information. You can allow community members to see what game you’re currently playing, so your friends can choose to log on and play with you. It broadcasts current user information to the group much like a music app, such as Spotify, broadcasts what song you’re currently playing.

Why Use Discord?

If established websites and apps, such as Reddit and Skype, provide some of the same functionality, why has Discord become so popular? It’s a result of the app’s founders designing tools specifically geared towards gamers and based on the latest technology. Prior to the launch of Discord, gamers used a variety of apps to communicate, including Skype, TeamSpeak, Steam chat, WhatsApp and even Slack.

As games trended towards multiplayer experiences and group activities, players found that real-time communication helped with coordination. For example, if a group of players are trying to complete a boss fight requiring specific group mechanics in an online multiplayer game such as Star Wars: The Old Republic or World of Warcraft, it makes a big difference if a team leader can call out voice instructions that team members can follow in real time.

Community-building is also a key benefit of using Discord for gamers. The app provides space for a group of like-minded people to congregate, share the latest news and discuss topics of interest. Many online games have community-creation features built-in, allowing players to create guilds, leagues and other sorts of teams to play the game. Discord lets group moderators extend that community outside of the game, so players can connect at any time even when they’re not playing or when they’re playing other games.

How Did Discord Become so Popular?

female gamer with headset in front of computer alongside another gamer

Discord tripled its user base from 2015 to 2018. As of 2019, the platform had 250 million users, with 14 million active users per day. More than 315 million messages are sent through the platform per day, and the app boasts 2.5 million new users per week.

The surge in popularity of Discord as the go-to tool for gamers is linked to the exploding popularity of multiplayer games, including Fortnite and League of Legends, streaming over platforms, such as Twitch, and the growth of the e-sports market. Streamers and competitors were early adopters of Discord, using the platform to develop and communicate with their fans. If you consider that the global gaming industry is a $96 billion market, it’s easy to understand how an app catering specifically to that market can enjoy such success.

How do You Join Discord?

Unlike other social platforms, Discord does not allow you to simply join any community you want at your own discretion. You need an invite to join a group server or channel. The moderator of the group can widely publicize the invitation link, allowing anyone who clicks on it to join, or he can generate a new invite link everyday and give it only to select people. A moderator can also set the space to private and not allow any new members to join.

These group control and privacy tools have made Discord popular with audiences outside of the gaming community. There’s no directory of Discord servers that a person can browse to select a group to join at will. The invite-only model has made the app useful to communities that want to stay off the radar, including hate groups.

Discord has also enjoyed adoption by the gaming industry in general. Many gaming companies have followed their gamers to the spot where they hang out, so it’s not uncommon for a game or game developer to have its own Discord server where the game creators make announcements, chat with players and offer a forum for players to find friends to play the game with them.

So what is Discord? It’s the social platform that gamers and other communities use to voice and video chat, text chat and congregate in their own bubble away from the masses. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re probably not playing any of today’s popular online games. Jump into any popular game, and Discord is likely the first third-party tool your fellow gamers tell you to download to make your gaming experience better.