ESL One Cologne 2016 sees record attendance but no growth in online viewership

by theScore Staff Jul 14 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of ESL

ESL One Cologne 2016 was one of the three most-watched CS:GO events ESL has hosted, according to the organization's newly released viewership statistics — but it wasn't bigger than the same event last year.

The summer Major was watched for a total of 31 million hours online across Twitch, Azubu, Hitbox and Yahoo!, down from almost 34 million hours on Twitch alone last year. Last year's unique viewer count reached 27 million, but ESL did not release an estimate for 2016, possibly because viewership has been so much more fragmented across online platforms.

ESL says that the average length of viewing sessions increased 155 percent across 68.6 million sessions this year. Though that looks good on paper, those sessions accounted for fewer total viewing hours — which means for the math to make sense, the number of total sessions has actually decreased from 2015. (Total sessions were not reported in last year's post-Cologne release, so they can't be directly compared.)

As far as live tournament attendance, ESL says Cologne set a new record for their events, with 14,000 people attending every day of the tournament at the LANXESS arena in Cologne. That's up from 2015's 11,000 daily in-person attendees.

Some of the event's online viewership may have been cannibalized by broadcast TV, which was much more prevalent in Europe this year. ESL says the tournament was broadcast to 31.4 million households in Brazil, Bulgaria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Finland and several other European countries. That likely displaced online views in those regions — except for Brazil, which according to ESL saw a 103 percent increase in online viewership over last year's tournament. (Might have had something to do with a Brazilian squad winning the whole thing.)

It's also possible that the much more crowded CS:GO schedule has sapped some of the importance of the event. With the introduction of the first U.S.-televised league, ELEAGUE, as well as new and extended leagues like the Esports Championship Series, there's more CS:GO for viewers to spend their time with than ever before. Though the Major was the only event happening that specific weekend, and likely wasn't losing out directly to other CS:GO tournaments, viewers have lots of other opportunities to see their favorite teams in action.

ESL One Cologne did see undeniable audience growth in regions that have more recently gained interest in CS:GO. In addition to Brazil's doubled viewership, China saw a mind-boggling 527 percent increase year-over-year. Spain grew a respectable 20 percent.

Not surprisingly, the event garnered a lot of social attention, with 40 million impressions on Twitter (up 135 percent year-over-year) and 69 million on Facebook (up 60 percent). Videos posted on ESL's social media channels received 10 million views, double the number from last year's event.

Whether or not online viewership has actually stabilized, the event certainly made esports history, with the first North-on-South America showdown in the Grand Final of a CS:GO Major. NA's Team Liquid made it past a tough string of opponents to get to the finals, defeating Na'Vi 2-1 and taking out Fnatic 2-0 in the playoffs. But their Cinderella story ended there, when SK Gaming, the former Luminosity roster that took the MLG Major this spring, swept the Americans 2-0 to hold onto their world champions title.

ESL has already announced next year's ESL One Cologne, which will take place July 7-9, 2017, again at the LANXESS arena.

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. Follow him on Twitter, it'll be great for his self-esteem.