If you want to watch the competitive CS:GO action of the Esports Championship Series this weekend, you'll need to fire up YouTube. ECS organisers Faceit have signed a multi-year partnership with Google to streamed ECS games exclusively through YouTube, taking them away from Twitch. Even if you've no interest in CS:GO or digital sports at large, it's interesting to see YouTube try to become an active broadcaster which curates and creates content rather than waiting for it to be dumped through their letterbox.
In January, YouTube became the exclusive streaming partner for two seasons of the English stream of ESL's CS:GO Pro League. That's not too shabby but the ECS deal announced this month, YouTube say, is their "most significant investment" in digital sports yet.
Along with hosting top teams, ECS tries to develop new talent by running 'Development Leagues' and including community casters on some streams. YouTube seem into that.
"By offering live streaming in addition to existing video-on-demand content, YouTube is burnishing its role as the central hub of esports content," says the announcement. "Additionally, YouTube will actively work with ECS league players to provide guidance to maximize engagement on their YouTube channels and build their audiences."
Many competitions already stream through YouTube as well as on Twitch and other streaming services, of course, but YouTube exclusivity is rare. While YouTube is the dominant site for pre-recorded video, it arrived mighty late to streaming. YouTube Gaming only launched in 2015, after Twitch had already become popular enough for support to be built into consoles and many games. YouTube is definitely still playing catch-up.
YouTube has already tentatively started commissioning original videos, through the YouTube Red subscription service. That's only available in a few countries so far and doesn't seem to have captured the public's imagination. I don't believe I know anyone who uses it.
"I actually think it will be a great move for eSports as a whole," Ryan Wyatt, YouTube's global head of gaming content, told the BBC, "this has been one of the missing pieces and now this gives us the one-on-one relationship that we need to have in order to groom gamers into our next YouTube stars."
Which is an interesting statement. YouTube's biggest stars are, for better and worse, known more for their big personalities than having the skills to win big in digital sports. Given the sort of context in which YouTube stars often receive mainstream attention, YouTube probably wouldn't be too upset with a Steve 'Interesting' Davis or two (though Steve is actually pretty interesting! I would watch his Devil Daggers videos).
So if you do want to watch the ECS, swing on by FaceIt's YouTube channel. Matches start 10pm on Saturday, 5pm on Sunday, and 5pm on Monday.