ELEAGUE A Hit With Bettors While Twitch And Broadcast Numbers Paint A Mixed Picture

Written By Will Green on May 28, 2016

[toc]The ratings for the first national television airing of Turner and WME | IMG’s esports league are in, and they did not impress.

The ELEAGUE’s Group A final from 10:00 p.m. ET to 1:00 a.m. ET Friday night scored an overnight rating of .21, according to Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand, who said the score was one-third of the time period for the previous three weeks on TBS. (The rating is an estimated percentage of all TV households tuned to a program at a given time.)

Ourand also reported that the broadcast’s most popular market was San Antonio, Texas.

TBS’s re-run of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ at the same time last week, for example, was the third most-watched show on cable, and scored a 0.8 with 18-49 year olds, pulling in some 2.1 million viewers.

The three-and-a-half hour match between Luminosity and Cloud9 on Friday was up against the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup between Cleveland and Toronto over on ESPN, but that alone likely does not account for a figure as small as .21. 

Group A final attracts sizable betting handle

As expected, the ELEAGUE’s popularity on Twitch, a platform whose users are heavily involved in the gaming community, correlated with heavy betting action on the games.

On popular skins betting site CS:GO Lounge—where Cloud9 would have paid out 6.05 to 1 if it had completed its upset bid—32,270 people wagered more than 99,000 skins on the outcome of the Group A final.

That skins wagering figure was the second highest of any ELEAGUE match, with only Thursday’s semifinal between Cloud9 and Renegades (111,783) registering a higher total.

A bit of context for those numbers:

  • According to analysis by ESBR, the average value of a skin is roughly $10. Judging by that figure, estimates of the real-money value of Friday’s betting handle would approach $1,000,000 in terms of total market value of skins wagered.
  • The average number of skins wagered on an ELEAGUE match this past week was 59,126.
  • Exact totals for the average number of people who wagered on a match were unavailable, but that figure is believed to be in the 20,000-30,000 person range, again underscoring strong engagement from fans compared to their wagering on other CS:GO matches, such as those in the Esports Championship Series.

If $1,000,000 seems like a high figure for a handle, it is. But it’s also known that the real-money handle of skin betting sites (which allow for the wagering of cosmetic weapons alterations that can also be sold on third party sites at their real-money value) dwarfs that of traditional, sportsbook-style esports betting.

A spokesman for cash-based online bookmaker Pinnacle Sports told ESBR that limits for Friday’s Group A final would rise to around $5,000, but for matches earlier in the week hovered around $1,000. Pinnacle did not release specific handle figures for ELEAGUE matches.

The book first started taking bets on CS:GO two years ago and said it’s their second-most popular title, behind Dota 2.

Broadcast production excels…

The low television ratings belied the quality of the broadcast. TBS’s production was met with generally positive reactions on social media, and did a strong job of juggling several variables and alternating adeptly between 10 different player POV camera angles.

As expected, the main difference between TBS’s production and Twitch’s stream (which almost constantly promoted the TBS airing of the game both on screen and on Twitch above the video) was the cable giant’s use of explanatory features about the game.

This represented TBS’s attempt to educate viewers who might not be familiar with CounterStrike about how the game works, and therefore, make it more relatable to certain viewers.

Within 90 seconds of the broadcast’s beginning, host Richard Lewis stared into the camera and said, “Don’t worry, we’re gonna explain it for you.”

It’s unclear from Ourand’s ratings report if such a tutorial made any difference. Nonetheless, TBS made strong use of the ELEAGUE’s robust video library: 

  • Attempts to explain CS:GO included tutorials on the game’s key terms, “Bomb Placement 101,” and how the game’s “Economy” works.
  • The broadcast also aired “soft” features that made key players like Luminosity’s Fallen and Cloud9’s N0thing more relatable, introducing them to the world by showing them joking around in the studio and ambling around greater Atlanta.

TBS also featured advertisements on screen on top of game play. Ads for Arby’s and CreditKarma took up residence in small, centered stamps at the bottom beneath player names during game action.

Arby’s even aired a custom CS:GO ad in which a sandwich detonates like a bomb and the deep bass of actor Ving Rhames muses that “it’s time to invest in a diffuser,” referencing the bomb diffuser kits in CS:GO.

…But will anyone watch future broadcasts?

One element of the broadcast that many believe is crucial to its success is its ability to explain the game and make it accessible.

Aside from a slight technical difficulty at the beginning of the second map that forced both teams to go back and reset, the broadcast was executed well, and Twitch viewership and fan engagement were both high. Without a critical mass of people tuning in on TV, however, it remains to be seen how or if the television component will succeed.

TBS is likely intending to plant a stake in the ground, so to speak, so that it is seen as a leader in esports. The fact remains, however, that people need to tune in in order for a broadcast to make money. If TBS can make more money airing a ‘Big Bang Theory’ re-run, it’s likely to do that on television, and continue investing in esports on other platforms and in other ways.

On the other hand, Friday night was just one broadcast. It’s entirely possible that ratings could go up over the following five Friday nights, during which TBS will air the five remaining group finals.

The Twitch picture

The TV ratings contrast with the viewership on online casting platform Twitch, which showed a live “observer” feed of the games with a separate audio commentary.

Per data released by Turner, Twitch broadcasts during ELEAGUE’s first week generated peak concurrent viewership of over 92,000 and “regularly averaged” in excess of 50,000 concurrent viewers.

Two notes on those numbers:

The ELEAGUE announced a partnership with Twitch just days before the league began, stipulating that the round robin and semifinal matches of each group stage would be cast on the streaming platform.

The partnership also stipulated that Twitch would air a concurrent “alternative viewing experience” on Friday nights up against the TBS broadcast.

Image credit: ELEAGUE media gallery.

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