Twitch is the veritable king of esports broadcasting, with nearly every tournament worth its salt streaming its competitions live on the platform. Twitch is the host platform to all sorts of tournaments: from the few dozen viewers checking out a community Rocket League tournament to the over 1 million fans tuning into the grand finals of a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major.
Of course, some tournaments are broadcast on other platforms like MLG.tv, Twitter or YouTube, but they’re rarely exclusive from Twitch. Until recently, that is.
Within the past two months, YouTube has landed two exclusive deals with popular Counter-Strike leagues — ESL Pro League and the Esports Championship Series. The internet video behemoth is planting its flag in esports, and if it keeps buying exclusive streaming rights out from under Twitch, Twitch could lose its throne.
Since Twitch helped popularize live streaming in the video game world when it launched in 2011 (and arguably caused the esports scene to explode in the years since), other internet giants like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have started to double down on live video.
As Twitch grew into the go-to site for professional competitive gaming, YouTube became esports’ secondary video home, hosting uploads of matches after they concluded and eventually broadcasting tournaments right alongside Twitch. YouTube’s viewer numbers never grew past Twitch’s, though, because why switch to a different site to watch the same tournaments when you’re already used to watching them on Twitch?
YouTube doesn’t want to take second place to Twitch
YouTube doesn’t want to take second place to Twitch, so it’s forcing fans to switch over.
When YouTube and ESL announced their partnership in January, the deal didn’t look promising. Why would ESL take its CS:GO Pro League over to YouTube when YouTube doesn’t get as many viewers as Twitch? Did YouTube really think it could grab enough views with a single exclusive league — one league out of many — to justify however much money they offered ESL in the deal?
When YouTube and the Esports Championship Series (ECS) announced their partnership this week, the fog started to clear. With these two deals, YouTube has nearly cornered the market on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive leagues, and CS:GO is one of the top three most-watched esports alongside League of Legends and Dota 2.
ESL Pro League and ECS are two of the three premiere CS:GO leagues (StarLadder’s i-League StarSeries is the third). These leagues feature almost all of the most talented and most popular teams in the world, which compete over months-long seasons — roughly two per year for each league, for a total of six league seasons every year — in near-daily online matches. Outside of big tournaments, these leagues are where pro CS:GO lives. Which means YouTube is now where pro CS:GO lives outside of weekend tournaments.
YouTube already live streams most of those weekend tournaments, too, along with other big tournaments like the Dota 2 Majors, League of Legends matches from around the world and more. If YouTube can catch a whale like the North American League Championship Series or the Dota 2 International, YouTube could surpass Twitch in a heartbeat.
With the power and money of Google behind it, YouTube’s takeover doesn’t sound unlikely down the road. In the meantime, Twitch needs to do everything it can to hang onto the reins.
Twitch became the top site for esports live streams without much competition, offering a platform that allowed tournament organizers to push out high-quality live video to fans who are able to watch for free. Six years later, though, that platform needs an overhaul to keep up with competitors.
Twitch’s advertisement system can be a huge drain on lower-end computers and broadcasts require pretty strong internet connections to work without interruptions even at low resolutions and frame rates. YouTube’s live platform is generally more stable and offers the same scalable options in quality.
Twitch’s biggest advantage over the competition is Twitch Clips
Outside of technical issues, the Twitch community is notoriously vitriolic in chat, spouting racist, sexist and otherwise vulgar messages at the drop of a hat — though, unfortunately, YouTube chat is no better. There is an autoban feature for Twitch broadcasters to easily stop this in chat, but it doesn’t catch everything.
Twitch’s biggest advantage over the competition is Twitch Clips — any viewer can hit the clip button and capture the last minute of any stream as an easy-to-edit and easy-to-share videos, which often spread like wildfire on Twitter and Reddit when pros pull off amazing highlights.
If YouTube implements a similar feature, Twitch has nothing over the platform.
If Twitch doesn’t make some big improvements and doesn’t strike any exclusive deals of its own, the platform could quickly fall to the second tier of esports broadcasting.