CS:GO’s latest massive tournament has left players a bit worried as to the health of the game. According to ESL’s numbers, viewership for ESL One Cologne peaked at a million, while MLG Columbus - the last major, which took place in March - hit 1.6 million. Meanwhile, a look at player numbers on Steam reveals that peak player numbers have declined massively since March, dropping from a peak of 640,000 the Saturday before the major to 480,000.
Which great FPS have they all moved on to?
This data is based on SteamDB’s numbers for players, which is gathered via Steam’s API, and ESL’s VP of Pro Gaming giving a viewership number on Twitter. In-game reporting tells a similar story, via Reddit.
The question, of course, is why. There’s a massive number of theories for both. Blizzard’s massive early success with Overwatch is one factor, bringing a huge-budget, well-marketed, PC-focused, competitively viable and multiplayer-centric FPS to the platform for the first time in a long while. That will have affected both viewership and player numbers as general interest in the game is taken away. Valve's own improvements to TF2 in response may have also had an impact.
Purely on the audience front, there was a lot of competition for eyeballs this weekend. Along with the usual eSports butting of heads between all the large games, real-world sport had a bumper one too, with Wimbledon reaching its finals at the same time as the European football championship, a British F1 Grand Prix and the Tour De France all getting TV time. Note that all of these are in the same time-zone as the major. Summer Games Done Quick also reached its conclusion, with 100,000+ of its own Twitch viewership.
The tournament itself likely had some impact too. While there were a number of massive upsets, it meant the most popular European teams went out early, while the South American and North American audience would have had a very early Sunday morning to catch the finals between their two representatives. It was also a bit of a stomp, and a predictable one, as Team Liquid’s somewhat-underdog story finally came face-to-face with the most dominant team in the world in SK Gaming. The finals were also broadcast on harder-to-measure TV in SK’s home country of Brazil.
As for player count, there’s recently been massive cheating issues in the game, followed by the introduction of a prime matchmaking group which means hackers usually end up playing against each other. This, combined with the recent downturn in the skins economy and related scandals, could have left some disinterested, or so goes the theory. It's also no longer possible to gift the game, having an impact on third party sales. It could also just be in a moment of natural decline after years of growth, which is nothing to panic about, and both of those figures are still absolutely ridiculously massive versus what you might have expected a few years ago.