CSGO’s ESL Pro League season has kicked off again today. We’ve heard news of roster changes to NiP, with Xizt being dropped for Dennis. We’ve seen an insane ace from Dupreeh against a full buy from FaZe on Train. However, in the launch of ESL this season, hype has been overshadowed by an unfortunate choice of streaming platforms. Specifically, the topic on everyone’s lips is the decision to make Facebook the preferred streaming platform for ESL.
Loss of Viewership
ESL made the decision to swap to Facebook as its primary streaming platform back in January. The following ESL Genting, then, should have been a telltale warning sign to ESL’s organisers. ESL’s senior vice president of media rights and distribution, Nik Adams, forecasted “[losing] 10 or 15 percent of our audience” in the switch. However, after Genting, an image went viral which compared viewer numbers to point out an 85 percent loss in viewership.
We wouldn’t fully feel the effects, though, until the incredibly popular Pro League broadcast aired today. The various recent tweets from ESL’s account leading up to the airing of Pro League have been peppered with apprehensive comments. Then, when the airing actually began, numbers were compared again to reveal a 95 percent loss in viewership. It’s important to note that this latter comparison is between viewers of the Russian stream and viewers on Facebook. Still, the fact that viewers of the main English stream are so extremely far below Russia’s primary stream still speaks volumes to the success of the switch to Facebook.
The Audience Becomes Vocal
Genting was a hit to ESL’s viewers, but now that Pro League has started the audience is really making their voices heard. Complaints have arisen about Facebook’s incorporation of extra features, covering the screen with chat and a flurry of emoji reactions (although Quiet Mode can be used to counteract this default setting). Many have complained that both the Facebook stream and the embedded live.proleague stream are inexplicably prone to buffering. And, perhaps most frustrating of all, there is no option to change quality on mobile — leading to strangely low quality and clunky viewing experiences.
The decision to move from Twitch to YouTube was, of course, also met with some animosity. After all, most audiences dislike change on this scale. However, this response is not only exacerbated by being the second ‘undesirable’ change in platform, but by having a list of problems making it almost universally worse than Twitch or YouTube.
In the defence of ESL, this was not a decision made lightly or purely in the interest of the audience. MTG, which owns 74% of ESL’s Turtle Entertainment, reported an increase in MTGx’s operating losses in their 2016 Annual Report. It’s highly likely that the decision to move to Facebook was one to reduce the damage caused by these losses. Still, this decision still incurs its own form of losses — just in the form of viewers, instead of money.
Fans of ESL will continue to watch the streams one way or another. Some will settle for Facebook the way it is now, while some have chosen to use the Russian Twitch stream instead (typically at the cost of understanding the commentators). For those interested, HLTV now offers a streaming platform to watch ESL on, acting as an alternative to Facebook.
Hopefully Facebook will listen to the criticism and adjust their streaming platforms accordingly, if they’re truly in this for the long haul. Improving the mobile performance and creating a more dedicated setup for game streaming could go a long way to improving Facebook’s viewership as a gaming site.