It’s called Discord, but the instant messaging app has actually done more uniting during COVID-19 pandemic

By Elijah Jhee, Sunny Hills High School

During a time when face-to-face interaction and social gatherings with peers seem impossible because of COVID-19 health and safety issues, students like senior Quinn Cassidy only need to boot up their computers or smartphones and launch a single application to connect with friends.

No, it’s not Zoom or Google Meet.

Neither is it FaceTime or Skype.

With the click of his mouse button, Cassidy opens Discord, an instant messaging application created in 2015 that offers voice and video calls, text messaging channels and screen-sharing, features similar to what Zoom offers.

Although the messaging system had always been popular within the gaming community, Discord recently gained attention over quarantine as a more mainstream communication platform.

“Discord allows me to talk to my friends, even during this time, so it acts as a way for me and my friends to substitute the real life interaction that we all miss,” said Cassidy, who was first introduced to Discord in 2016 while browsing the social media platform Reddit.

Before Discord, Cassidy rarely used any other messaging platforms, such as Skype. However, he now credits Discord as an integral part of his life.

Similar to the communication service known as Slack, Discord operates on a server-based messaging system in which members communicate with one another in a large group-facilitated workplace. Within these servers, members can type to one another in categorized chat logs.

However, Discord’s selling point lies in its integration of voice and video channels which allows members to verbally communicate with others in a private space, almost like the breakout rooms in a Zoom meeting.

“The ability to have everyone together while also being able to separate out to different voice channels really allows for lots of options and makes the chatting experience very streamlined,” Cassidy said. “It also has the ability to share your screen and camera to the calls you are in, so it’s a very convenient tool.”

And while other communication services such as Zoom and Slack remain crucial for businesses and schools, Discord’s main appeal lies in its marketing and functionality as a program designed for more leisurely activities such as gaming and live-streaming with friends. Discord features high quality 1080p screen-sharing, low impact on computer performance and customizable friend statuses to support the program’s recreational image.

To access the application, users can download the free program onto their computer or smartphone on the Discord website or Apple/Google Play store. Along with the program being free, Discord does not feature any ads on its application. After downloading the program, users can either create their own servers for friends, or receive an invite to join one through a shareable link. If the former, users can then control which members access their server’s shareable link by customizing how long an invite lasts and the number of users that a single link can invite.

After learning about the application in 2016 through her friends, Junior Rachel Hong runs both her games and Discord on her personal laptop.

“Playing these multiplayer games in combination with Discord allows friends to have fun together while sharing verbal emotions like laughing or shouting,” Hong said. “These experiences can make up for the lack of physical interaction between students that is currently occurring because of coronavirus.”

In addition to servicing as a program for casual messaging, she said Discord can even be useful for educational purposes.

“We’re able to share our screens, which helps us work on projects and receive help for homework,” Hong said. “I would say that doing work in-person is definitely better, but Discord is the next best thing.”

Along with this app’s functionality for group projects, the Sunny Hills League of Legends eSports team relies on it to allow its players to communicate with others during a game.

“Communication is a huge part of competing in eSports, so Discord is a really useful tool that allows the team to talk to one another,” said senior Dylan Kim, an SH League of Legends eSports player. “Discord’s simple layout as an instant messaging service is really appealing, and I couldn’t imagine using a different program to help us during games.”

He first discovered Discord’s potential in eSports and as a messaging system upon discovering the application from a friend during its release in 2015.

“Before Discord, we would use Skype and the audio quality was nothing compared to Discord,” Kim said. “I think naturally, Discord was introduced within the gaming community with the intent to appeal to people in the eSports scene since there weren’t many other communication programs already established.”

And when his team isn’t winning CIF eSports titles, Kim also utilizes the application as a means of hosting virtual hangouts with his friends after realizing that the video and screen-share features of Discord can also be utilized for more casual reasons.

“Discord is a great way to blow off some steam and play some games or watch a movie with friends,” he said. “I love joining a voice channel full of people on like a Friday after school and just spending time together, especially since we can’t go outside that much.”

Cassidy, who also regularly uses the application to watch movies and play games with his friends, agrees that Discord provides a simple method of communication that is free of any bugs or issues.

“These sorts of social activities work pretty similarly to our real life interactions, since we’re all having fun together and talking,” he said. “Sometimes, these real life activities work better over Discord since we can share screens and more easily send messages, photos or videos over to each other.”

And even when social distancing ends and students can comfortably meet up together in real life, Discord will remain a reliable method of communication between peers when in-person interaction is unavailable, Kim said.

“It’s ironic that the application is called Discord though,” he said. “After all, the application seems to generate more harmony between friends rather than creating Discord between them.”

This story was originally published on The Accolade on October 13, 2020.