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Was ELeague's First CS:GO Season A Success?

I’m not the first to ask this and I won’t be the last, but with so many eyes on the performance of ELeague - from eSports fanatics to mainstream media pundits - it’s perhaps important to get as many perspectives on this as possible. Because ELeague was a bold move. It was the first real sign that mainstream media - and by that I mean TV, I mean newspapers and online news journalism - was beginning to take competitive gaming. There’s still a stigma attached to pro gamers but this isn’t about whether we call them ‘athletes’ or not, nor about acceptance - we’ve trundled along just fine without the recognition of the media for years. But it is important that eSports is taken seriously as part of mainstream consumption. Not because we want the millions of cheering fans tuning in, nor the openness to talk about our favourite teams without a scorning look. We need the official regulation, the across-the-board standards, the quality of production, the security and protection of people’s jobs - and not just the pro gamers but everyone involved. We’re still hearing of controversies in these areas, and if a mainstream audience was watching the eSports industry would be a much better controlled environment for everyone. And in that regard, was ELeague’s CS:GO season a success? eleague-final

First, the ELeague Numbers

165,800 concurrent viewers on Twitch; 3.4 million new viewers to TBS; 5 million video views across Twitter and Facebook; 19 million total viewers on TBS; 25 million video streams on Twitch; 897 million minutes of video consumption. Most people can see marketing spin for what it is these days, and the numbers Turner has released since the close of ELeague are an exceptional case of hiding the real facts. Look through the spin, however, and you’ll find a great set of numbers. Check out Manny Anekal’s reports for a deeper insight into these, but for a first attempt at a full broadcasting of an eSports league the numbers are positive. The initial week averaged 386,000 per minute, the weakest weak was number 3 which only managed 153,000 while the overall average was around the 250,000 mark. I’m not going to pretend to know I have a deep understanding of the numbers (seriously, check out Manny’s insight), but these are good when compared alongside key American sports and accounting for the late Friday slot, a supposed ‘dead’ slot for TV.

Data from Manny Anekal Cou7s4TXYAAPvrT

Is That Important For TBS?

Spin is in inevitable in this situation. TBS was testing the water, sure, but there’s no denying that it was a risk, one that other media institutions were certainly keeping an eye on. But I think it’s less about the viewer numbers, really. Nor is it about just how many of those viewers actually watch the whole tournament, or even a full match. Because - as Turner puts it - it’s about engagement. That 897 million minutes of video might seem like hyperbole and chest-beating, but that’s 897 million minutes where a viewer was engaged with the show. And what that really means, in the broadest terms, is that this is 897 million minutes where a sponsor, of one form or another, was exposed to someone in the world - whether that’s via TBS’s own broadcast or on Twitch. And that’s important. Viewer numbers count, sure, and for long-term catchment it’s integral that more and more tune in for the full show and not just for singular minutes, but engagement and total reach will be how TBS persuades the money to come to them. And in that vein, it’s important to point out the demographic that has been tuning into ELeague. That elusive 18-35 group - which has been increasingly avoiding traditional TV for the likes of Netflix, Twitch and other online streaming - has been coming back, tuning into the CS:GO tournament. That, in particular, is hugely rewarding for TBS, proving that televised eSports may well be the way to capture such an audience.

The Schedule Of ELeague

Much has been said of the time slot that ELeague filled, and there’s no denying that there were issues surrounding the tournament. While many eSports fans will want to watch each of the matches for their favoured games - in this case CS:GO - or at least get the highlights, that wasn’t always possible for TBS’s limited schedule space. The slot it filled is considered a pretty awful place to air anything, which will have limited the potential number of visitors. With 3.4 million new viewers coming to TBS, it’s likely that those watching were already invested in CS:GO and will have likely been the ones tuning in, out of curiosity of TBS’s approach as much for the games themselves. Had it have been at a more appealing time slot, who knows, maybe it would have captured a newer audience? But decisions had to be made about what could be aired, and not all the matches would have made it into the limited time slot. Only the Fnatic versus Na’Vi match was shown during the semi-finals, for example; the obvious choice considering Virtus Pro’s previous lacklustre performance and the unlikeliness of Mousesports placement in the finals. But as it turns out the Mousesports and Virtus Pro match might have been a better option due to a little more closeness in some of the matches, and the storylines that were being woven by TBS. It’s things like this that ELeague has had to suffer because of its limitations, and a problem it will need to find solutions to in the long-term if it’s to better provide solid coverage of an event. Elements such as the player storytelling that went on is necessary - and a more rounded part of sports coverage in general these days - but it needs to be in addition to a complete coverage if it’s to give the whole story. eleague-studio

The Future Of ELeague... and Mainsteam eSports Coverage

It takes something like ELeague to take off before real change can happen, and already we’ve seen ESPN renew its interest recently by hosting the finals of Street Fighter 5 at EVO 2016. And to its credit, TBS has confirmed that it believes eSports is the future and it will continue to focus its efforts on presenting competitive TV both on Twitch and live on broadcast television. It’s already announced that there will be a second season for its CS:GO ELeague tournament, partnered with FACEIT to help run an Overwatch competition and confirmed that ELeague won’t be limited to FPS games - suggesting it could expand to Dota 2 or League Of Legends among others. That FACEIT partnership needs some analysis, of course, since it’s not quite providing the same full-fat offering that it did with CS:GO, perhaps as a means of testing Overwatch’s potential as an eSports or, more likely, using it as a means to get further data on what works for eSports coverage and what doesn’t. Either way, it’s a good thing. So there will be more ELeague, that’s for certain. That in itself should tell us that its CS:GO Season One was a success - in whatever way TBS was measuring the success of the competition. As discussed already, changes to the format and scheduling will help the ELeague get further gains in regular and return viewers (though the viewership was mostly stable, it did drop off over the course of the competition until the finals). It will need to adapt the format to ensure full engagement, but perhaps this is just something that comes with time as more and more become used to the new approach to eSports coverage. But more than anything it should look to drag it out of the ‘dead’ slot and into something more demanding. If it wants to truly use eSports as viable programming then it needs to stop looking at pro gaming as filler and instead use it as a showcase. If nothing else it can at least then be confident with the data it gets about how tempted a mainstream audience can be into watching competitive gaming.