I’m never really a dedicated sports fan. I followed football (that’s soccer to you in North America) to some extent. Been a fan of Newcastle United since I was a little kid, mainly because my aunt bought me their jersey with Shearer’s name on the back. Newcastle this season is down in Championship after being relegated last season, and there’s no championship football airing on my local television, so no football this season for me, pretty much. But I do follow MotoGP and Formula 1 pretty religiously.
But to be honest, most sports I watch, I watch because they are a great source of white noise while you’re working on your thing. The excitement generated from thousands of people cheering their favorite team is simply the best way to get you hyped up and start working, in my opinion. And so for years now I usually play some VODs of football games in the background while I’m doing anything productive.
But since July last year, I’ve become pretty much addicted to a new form of sport. E-sports. Counter Strike: Global Offensive to be more specific.
It all started by accident. I was trying to see if there’s a streamer playing Fallout 4 on Twitch, because I’ve just started picking it up again after leaving it due to being busy with other things. And I noticed in the top stream list there’s a stream with more than 500 thousand viewers. The game is Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and the title is ESL Cologne 2016.
I didn’t know it at that time but it turns out I’ve stumbled upon a pretty special thing. Throughout the year, there’s a bunch of professional CS:GO tournaments with lots of prize money involved, but Cologne is one of the major tournament in CS:GO. It’s Major because it’s an officially sanctioned competition sponsored by the creator of the game itself, Valve, and that, of course, carries a special sense of importance to the competition, and more than one million dollar prize money.
Before you ask, yes I’ve stumbled upon some streams with a similar amount of viewers in the past, but they’re mostly DOTA2 or LOL competitions. I’m not really a fan of watching MOBAs, because they require a deeper sense of understanding than watching a first person shooter game like Counter Strike.
And counter strike is a game I’m pretty familiar with. I played some 1.6 in the past, when I was still in Junior High School, and have great memories of playing it. CS:GO is two versions younger than 1.6, and I’ve never played it before, so I want to find out how the current game plays.
Well anyway, let’s just say that I got hooked. I stayed up all night watching the stream, and even better, there’s a pretty good underdog storyline developing in the competition. Team Liquid, a North American team not expected to go deep in the tournament, got out of the group stage, and the quarter, and the semi, and to the final.
You see, North America is apparently not considered as good as the European Union scene in CS:GO. And there’s quite a bit of rivalry developed by fans from both regions, especially North American fans who became ecstatic seeing Liquid going deep in the major. And as you can expect, the crowd noise when Liquid plays are tremendous. Constant scream of “Let’s Go Liquid” can be heard non-stop when they play.
Unfortunately, Liquid lost in the final to arguably the best CS:GO team in the world at that time, SK Gaming. Although that’s a rather underwhelming end to a pretty amazing underdog story, the whole thing has turned me into a pretty big fan of CS:GO as an E-sport and E-sports in general.
To me, E-sports is a really interesting and an undeniable force that’s just gonna grow in the future, especially because the number of viewers involved is very young, and increasing very fast. Just in January, for example, another CS:GO Major, this time in Atlanta, broke Twitch records for having more than one million concurrent viewers at a single time. And that’s not even counting a bunch of other streams showing the same game but casted in a different language. And, even better, the final of that major is also aired on national television, in North America. Although to me the participation of conventional media in E-sports is neither relevant nor important. If it’s gonna grow, it’s gonna grow from new media like online streaming, not television. But the affirmation of E-sports as an entertainment worthy of being aired on national television is certainly interesting.
And recently, Youtube has forged a partnership with two very big event organizers in Faceit and ESL, by having an exclusive rights to air their two main streams on Youtube instead of Twitch.
And here is where I see the one problem coming in E-sports.
As the viewership comes in, the investment money comes in, and the conflict of interest started to become a real big factor. Having exclusive rights deal with any streaming platform this early in the game is hurting E-sports, in my opinion. It should be as open as possible, available to as many viewers as possible. Youtube as a live streaming platform itself is not terrible, but personally, it’s not as good as of yet compared to Twitch.
The problem is in the culture. People come to Youtube to watch someone’s recorded video for 3-5 minutes or follow a let’s play of something for more than 10 minutes due to the personality involved. Twitch already has live streaming culture build up to the point where the chat, to someone new, might look like an endless spam, but to someone who spends even 3 days watching a live stream of a major like me when ESL Cologne 2016 is on, helps build up hype for the game.
And the viewership for ESL Pro League is hurting because of this deal with Youtube. Last year, I see at least 50 thousand concurrent viewers watching the stream on Twitch, but this year, they’d be lucky if they see 20 thousand. And Youtube’s rate of improvement is very slow compared to Twitch, which will hurt them even more.
I don’t know if this Youtube thing will hurt or help in the long run, but I hope that any controlling interest in CS:GO or e-sports competition can be wise and quickly adapt to this conflicting interest and see exclusive rights as they actually are: a short-term gain for a long term loss. To me, developing more viewership is more important than revenue at this point, and if the problem is in investment, I’m not sure if attracting investors is really a problem, especially with Faceit & ESL being first in the game. But if they maintain this policy of having exclusive rights with one party that results in decreasing viewership, then attracting investors will definitely be in issue.