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National ESL: roughly 70% of the [Counter-strike] audience isn’t available to sell advertising to

in glhf

My previous post, once it finally hit twitter (apparently too much Bieber fever struck this afternoon), got a pretty quick reply from David Hiltscher over at ESL. It wasn’t as complimentary as his reaction to my other piece on the CPL ownership, probably because it seemed I was taking a pot-shot across the bow of his ship. This wasn’t necessarily intended.

My view of the gaming scene isn’t necessarily as worldly as it probably should be. I’ve been singularly focused on supporting the scene in the states through live coverage since I started out in competitive gaming a few years back. We’ve certainly had enough problems here as of late, that I figured I should try to be as loud a voice of reason as possible in trying to get our own house in order. So, for future reference, if I don’t provide ample context it’s far more likely that I’m speaking of the national scene than the global.

In any case, I’ve pledged to get my stuff straight and read up on how the ESL operates to see if I erred in lumping them in with the CPL, and I hope maybe he might find some time to chat with me sometime regarding their operations and strategy (please? :)).

Anyway, this discussion comes as ESL seems to have planned a larger push into the US scene, putting Midway at the helm of the operations on this side of the pond. Now free from the non-compete obligations he had with MLG, he’s certainly a safe pick for this position, and doesn’t bring with him the sort of operational baggage that we’ve seen out of other organizations lately. Carson over at fnatic has a pretty comprehensive interview with him here.

What I took away most from that interview are two things: ESL has their sights set on SC2, which is a good move but is definately going to be pitting them up against MLG very quickly (in a scrum I hope ESL wins, honestly); and that Counter-strike’s days as the preeminent team FPS game might be numbered in the states. For a guy that had a very pivotal role in making the game a keystone of the scene last decade, there’s a certain poetic justice in the notion that he may be just as pivotal in ushering it out.

I think the biggest problem with Counter-Strike is HLTV.

Do my eyes deceive me? Is there someone at the helm of a prominent league that understands there’s a big problem in the CS spectator base? Midway continues:

[…] the CS scene still focuses on HLTV and rightfully so, as it’s a much better product for the hardcore fan. The problem is the revenue stream. Without the potential revenue stream of advertising on streaming video it’s hard to get additional revenue to build CS eSports. So what happens when you put up a CS stream? The audience is divided, 70% or more watch HLTV, the other 30% watch streaming video. You can’t really claim the HLTV viewers in your streaming video numbers, because you can’t advertise to them in the same way. So here’s the problem, roughly 70% of the audience isn’t available to sell advertising to. That’s a huge issue and one that CS may never be able to solve

Ok, close enough, I suppose. When you get right down to it, there’s nothing stopping leagues from running competition-specific versions of maps with strategically placed advertisments all over it. Yes the game engine itself makes it pretty difficult to interrupt your view of a game through HLTV and serve you up video ads. But this is the same issue that soccer faces and they solve it easy enough with a row of plywood billboards or LED screens lining the far sideline; why couldn’t the same principle be applied here?

But even if you did approach and solve that issue, that still doesn’t remedy the fact that most people will still prefer to view matches through the game’s engine, sans any additional multi-sensory sponsorship messages you might deliver over a stream to actually pay the bills. It’s at least promising that Midway realizes that the thousands of people that may show up to watch a match over an HLTV are worthless compared to a fraction of that audience showing up to watch something else on a video stream.

Bottom line: it’s damn difficult to watch CS if you don’t play it, and I think it’s time to put the game to bed. I’ve heard plenty of arguments to the contrary and I’m still not convinced. One of those guys who I’ve had that discussion with is Jeff ‘Smeagol’ Dickinson, who I’m going to try to pick this very topic up with again, here on this blog, as he’s approached me wanting to publish some things here. In the meantime, I’m interested in your thoughts: is there a more ‘watchable’ FPS game out there that ESL might do well to run with, or should they focus on trying to solve the issues within CS? I have my opinions but I’d be interested in seeing some outside opinions first.

I’m also holding off on the second part of the ‘prize circuit’ post until I hear more from some potential participants on that discussion. There may be some more interesting stuff to publish in the short term anyway…