TBS’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Championship and Televised League

[From 1/6/16: https://plus.google.com/+ChristinaKelly/posts/CrQ5UnqKpLC]

Tomorrow, at CES in Las Vegas, Turner Sports and WME/IMG will be hosting a $50K Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Championship. It’s not a bad chunk of change for the teams that battled their way from a pool of 1,100 in the qualifiers in Dec 2015 (although it’s a far cry from the prize pools in top-tier professional DotA and League of Legends tournaments), but the more exciting part of the championship is the opportunity to take part in TBS’s brand new televised CS: GO tournament. There will be two 10-week tournaments in 2016 in what TBS is calling the ELeague, with a combined prize pool of $2.4M. Tournament content will be mostly available online but some will be televised as well. Check out more details here: http://fortune.com/2015/12/17/turner-esports-ces-2016/. The finals of the Championship, Lounge Gaming vs. OpTic Gaming, will be broadcast on FACEIT’s Twitch channel: http://www.twitch.tv/faceittv.

CS: GO had a pretty great year in 2015, with the August ESL One: Cologne tournament drawing over 27M unique viewers with 1.3M peak concurrent viewers. Valve, the developer of CS: GO, typically sponsors several events known as the Majors during the year, each with a $250K prize pool, and those tend to be the biggest events. However, in 2015 there were multiple events with comparable prize pools that weren’t Valve-sponsored (in addition to many smaller events) – the first year in the CS: GO eSports scene’s history for which this has been the case. It’s looking like 2016 is going to be an amazing year for CS: GO, especially since Turner isn’t looking to lock in players and teams into any kind of exclusivity. Let a thousand frags bloom!

This is fascinating for me because it seems like it’s finally time to get eSports on US television in a consistent way – not because it desperately needs legitimacy in terms of viewership or money, but because it’s established enough online that the television audience truly represents a new frontier. Back in 2007-2008, there was a league called the Championship Gaming Series which was owned and operated by DirecTV, but that was back when eSports needed more exposure overall to really explode in growth. The CGS folded, most likely due to M&A activity with DirecTV, but ascendant digital video platforms like Twitch provided a more likeminded medium for eSports to grow. In 2015 there were a few one-off events that were televised, like the Heroes of the Dorm tournament championships on ESPN2 featuring the Blizzard game Heroes of the Storm, but nothing like a league with 10-week seasons.

TBS is apparently starting off with CS: GO because it’s a first person shooter with a very established and growing fan base – FPS games tend to be easier to get into right off the bat as far as spectatorship goes, unlike, say, a complex RTS game like StarCraft II. That being said, StarCraft has been televised in Korea for more than a decade, so the idea of televising a video game with more involved game mechanics isn’t unheard of. I’m really interested in seeing whether TBS decides to follow up its CS: GO initial foray with a game like League of Legends, whose World Championship this past Oct had 36M viewers online and sold out the 17K seats in the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin.

If you’re particularly interested in the CS: GO scene and what’s to come for 2016, check out this great article on TeamLiquid: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/cs-go/501359-2016-preview.

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