This past week, especially the weekend, was great for the entire competitive CS:GO scene, except, maybe for the ESL One Cologne 2018 live stream.
It had nearly everything. 15,000 eager fans packed out the LANXESS Arena in Cologne to watch the best CS:GO teams to compete against each other. We saw upsets as Astralis and FaZe Clan were both dumped by less fancied sides. FaZe Clan’s match vs local team BIG, in particular, was astonishing to watch. On paper, BIG didn’t have a hope in hell but turned around after a game 1 loss to take the series and secure their berth in the finals. Finally, we had Natus Vincere, who won the competition with great performances from players, specifically the tournament MVP Oleksandr ‘s1mple‘ Kotsyliev and Denis ‘electronic‘ Sharipov. But, as awesome as Natus Vincere’s coming of age tournament was, there was a good chance you didn’t see it.
In fact, not a lot of people tuned in to the ESL One Cologne 2018 live stream. Why? Because, this year, ESL penned a lucrative deal with Facebook, granting them exclusive rights to live English broadcasts of their tournaments.
With viewership down across the board and a growing backlash from the community what should have been Na’Vi’s crowning moment was overshadowed by questions about the direction of the sport.
ESL One Cologne 2018 Live Stream: By The Numbers
Now that the tournament is over we can pour over the numbers and it makes for startling reading not just for ESL, but for fans of the sport as well. Put simply if people are not watching, the sponsorship money will dry up and the professional teams will look elsewhere to compete, maybe in another game entirely and that could spell the end of high-end competitive CS:GO.
So let’s take a look at the numbers
We have decided to compare this year’s number with the corresponding event last year to give the closest like for like comparison.
ESL One Cologne 2017 (Top) vs ESL One Cologne 2018 (Bottom)
If we look at the overall peak numbers, it doesn’t initially look like there is much cause for alarm. Dropping 32,000 viewers isn’t that huge in the grand scheme of things and is perfectly understandable with the ESL One Cologne 2018 live stream switching to a new streaming platform.
An Alarming and Worrying Trend
If you delve deeper into the ESL One Cologne 2018 Live Stream and subtract the Chinese market, you’ll see that there was a huge fall in viewership — going from just under half a million viewers to just 214,000.
What’s even more alarming is that the English stream plummeted from 343,500 viewers to only 32,000! It makes for truly dismal reading. The overall numbers were only boosted by a huge uptick in the Chinese streaming numbers from 446,410 to just under 600,000, an increase of 150,000.
It gets worse, though, as the Russian stream on Twitch increased by over 50,000 and anecdotally having watched part of the tournament on there myself, there were a great many English speakers in the chat. So that means one of two things, either committed viewers would rather watch a Russian language stream than migrate to Facebook or they simply didn’t know the English language was streaming elsewhere.
More worrying still, the deal to take CS:GO to Facebook also included the rights to ESL’s DOTA 2 tournaments and numbers for those tournaments have plummeted too.
ESL have tried to put a positive spin on all this by saying that the Facebook numbers were not accurate. Stating that the numbers recorded did accurately represent those watching as Facebook doesn’t record viewers who aren’t logged in or those who watched it as an embedded video on a website such as HLTV.
Facebook massively outbid the other two streaming giants for the rights as they attempt to establish themselves in the game streaming ecosystem. ESL choose Facebook not only because of the huge huge contract on the table but also the potential to tap into the social networks 2 billion active users.
Going by the numbers, it’s safe to say that the deal was a massive flop.
Why Didn’t the Viewers Migrate?
Since ESL announced in January they had struck a deal with Facebook fans have been voicing their concerns. So the numbers we are seeing today should come as no surprise.
The issues raised were varied. Many simply prefer Twitch, a place that gamers consider the home of eSports. It’s where they have built up communities around their favourite games and events. They have invested time and money, and generally feel comfortable expressing their love for games on a platform designed with that in mind. For many Facebook operates a different place in their lives. A place to keep up to date with family and friends, not somewhere you watch CS:GO while spamming “FaZeSuckDICK” in chat as you let your emotions get the better of you.
ESL also didn’t do enough to convince the current fanbase why the move was good for them. Nik Adams, ESL’s senior vice president of media rights and distribution, when speaking to Polygon said: “We may lose 10 or 15 percent of our audience, but then we grow because we reach a new audience.”
It’s safe to say this statement went down like a lead balloon. To dismiss 10-15% of your audience was a foolish thing to articulate. Gamers value loyalty above everything else and the optics of this statement were all wrong.
On top of that Facebook has had its own share of PR disasters since the deal was announced with fears around privacy and the sharing of information related to the Cambridge Analytica leaks.
For a community of tech-savvy gamers, the ESL One Cologne 2018 live stream, and others, was a perfect storm of, “Nah, we good bro.”
Was The Viewing Experience Really That Bad?
Obviously, the view count wasn’t great, but for those that tuned into the ESL One Cologne 2018 live stream on Facebook, what was it like?
Well, for starters, the high production value that ESL always brings to their tournaments pretty much remained the same. But, there was something not quite right about it. Because people were watching it from their Facebook accounts when they were interacting in the chat you could see their real names. Seeing real people’s names in the chat just didn’t seem right and for once I had nothing to say, which is very unlike me.
Another big drawback of the ESL One Cologne 2018 live stream was actually finding the stream itself. I was relatively lucky in the sense that I got a sponsored post appearing on my feed. But, then you could say I was unlucky in that Facebook trawls my search history and knows exactly what I am doing at any given time. Yikes.
One of ESL’s main goals when migrating to Facebook was to find new untapped audiences. Which will be a difficult task considering Facebook makes it so difficult to find the live streams on their website. Facebook’s primary function is not to stream content and it shows.
Finally, the stream quality was meh most of the time. Often, the stream would drop in quality every 10 minutes before correcting itself. This is an issue that I never had with Twitch. Also, god help you if you were watching on mobile; you could not select the quality, making it very easy for the stream to eat up all your data plan.
What’s Next for ESL?
“Where do ESL go from here?”
That is the question on everybody lips and it was one that was put to Ulrich Schulze, ESL’s Senior Vice President of Product the day before the final in Cologne. Ulrich didn’t pull any punches stating his disappointment in Facebook, who had failed to meet their expectations in performance and feature set. He noted the community’s disappointment and says they are working hard to resolve the issues and seems willing to leave the deal with Facebook if there aren’t improvements saying “Maybe it can be fixed on the platform, maybe not, that is something we will see.”
Valve has yet to weigh in but there have been rumours that they themselves are considering ESL’s position in the hosting of official tournaments. With two of their biggest games losing their audiences and losing them millions it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Valve putting pressure on ESL to fix these issues and quickly.
Will the failure of the ESL One Cologne 2018 live stream be the final straw that prompts ESL to actually do something about it? Or will it take yet another “viewerless” tournament for them to take action? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.