When it comes to watching esports competitions online, many people turn to Amazon’s popular streaming platform, Twitch. It’s the largest streaming service among Western audiences, with 9.7 million daily active users. For many in the esports industry, livestreamed video and Twitch are synonymous. ESL, however, made the curious decision to sign an exclusivity contract with YouTube Gaming, granting the platform exclusive rights to stream ESL Pro League (EPL) in 2017.
In January of this year, ESL announced this partnership with YouTube, committing to full exclusivity for Seasons 5 and 6 of their CS:GO Pro League. In the announcement, ESL highlighted YouTube’s ability to stream 360/VR video as well as 1080p quality at 60fps. While this departure from Twitch might have been unexpected, and some fans have complained that the move to YouTube is “splitting the community,” this partnership may still prove to be advantageous for ESL and, in turn, avid viewers of CS:GO.
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It should hardly be news to anyone that YouTube has a lot of money to offer to their partners. After Google became Alphabet Inc., the company’s price per stock shot up to $1000, which should tell you something about how much financial support they can offer to their partners. The specifics of ESL’s exclusivity contract remain unknown, but the total prize pool for the 2017 seasons of EPL has increased from $1 million to $2 million. It’s entirely possible that YouTube, as part of their bid to convince ESL (and WESA) to drop Twitch, offered to supplement the prize pool. Despite this, some fans remain unconvinced that the partnership between ESL and YouTube will be beneficial for viewers.
YouTube Gaming vs. Twitch
The most important difference between the two streaming platforms is, ultimately, popularity. If you asked a gamer about the best streaming service, almost all of them would say Twitch. People use YouTube to watch videos and Twitch to watch streams, be it tournaments or indivuals. Personally, I believe that Twitch is rooted so deep in streaming culture, no other website could overtake it. Whether you’re talking about infrastructure or iconic chat emotes, Twitch is the undisputed king. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that viewership numbers for EPL have decreased significantly since ESL made the switch to YouTube.
In March, the Esports Championship Series (ECS) followed in ESL’s footsteps, cutting ties with Twitch and announcing their own partnership with YouTube. The journalists at HLTV noted that “YouTube has also vowed to work closely with the ECS players to provide guidance on how they can grow the audience of their channels.”
While it’s unlikely that these partnerships spell certain death for Twitch, given their size and market dominance, it definitely sets the stage for YouTube to become a sizable competitor in the streaming business. Fans may complain as they adjust to an unfamiliar platform, but as time goes on, they will inevitably become more comfortable with YouTube. It will be interesting to see if any other companies go the way of ESL and ECS. Twitch no longer has a monopoly on esports streaming for Western audiences, and competition in any industry is healthy.