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Why — and how — ESL/FACEIT Group is spinning up its own esports streaming platform

Why — and how — ESL/FACEIT Group is spinning up its own esports streaming platform

By Alexander Lee  •  February 21, 2024  •  6 min read  •

As esports companies large and small look to monetize more effectively, one of the industry’s leading league operators is standing up its own livestreaming service in a bid to capture eyeballs — and ad dollars — from the space’s pre-existing players.

ESL/FACEIT Group, the Germany-based, Saudi Arabian-owned esports giant, launched its streaming platform, FACEIT Watch, on Feb. 8. The service comes loaded with a suite of relatively in-depth viewing tools, including multi-perspective viewing featuring the points of view of active players, a kill cam and a custom sound mixer.

EFG’s streaming platform is one of the first attempts by a major esports league operator to create a livestreaming product independent of competitors such as Twitch and YouTube. In 2019, Riot Games partnered with broadcast company Znipe Esports to develop Pro View, another in-depth streaming service sold as a premium subscription product, but the company sunsetted Pro View in 2022. EFG has similarly partnered with Znipe to launch FACEIT Watch — but unlike Riot’s past experiment, FACEIT Watch is free to use.

Esports companies are still trying to figure out how to make competitive gaming profitable, and it’s encouraging news for a major league operator to dip its toes into the livestreaming game in order to more effectively monetize its core product. But EFG’s announcement also raises questions about the technology powering the venture.

To learn more about FACEIT Watch, Digiday spoke with ESL/FACEIT Group svp of product and digital platform Warren Leigh to put together this annotated Q&A.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

On ESL/FACEIT Group’s monetization plans for FACEIT Watch

Warren Leigh: “We have no aspirations to stick this content behind a paywall in any shape or form. We will introduce advertising at some point, but there’s no way, mid-match, we’re going to slap an advert in the block, right? It’s not going to happen; we’re focused on that viewing experience. But there will be some natural breaks, and finding those natural breaks and making use of them to actually get some monetary returns, not just for us, but for the partners as well — we need to think about those things.”

Digiday: The fact that FACEIT Watch is not a premium subscription service makes it clear that EFG will be leaning into the platform’s value as advertising inventory in order to monetize it. Leigh is correct that introducing advertising in a manner that is non-intrusive to gamers is a challenge — but FACEIT is up to the task, having similarly introduced ads to its game launcher in 2022. In fact, there are already ads on FACEIT Watch streams, which sometimes mark players’ POVs with small, center-of-screen logos for sponsors such as Intel.

On the importance of broadcast rights deals for EFG moving forward

Leigh: “I don’t think we’re looking for an exclusive model, in terms of content. I think we’re just purely focusing on the customer at this point in time — the fans and esports players out there who want something different from this, right? And, hopefully, we’ll find out what that is. We hope we’re offering some of it right now, but we hope through feedback that they’re going to tell us more, and we’re going to develop this even further.”

Digiday: Leigh’s comment demonstrates his understanding of the fundamental dynamics of the esports industry. The lucrative broadcast rights that form the backbone of the traditional sports industry simply aren’t a viable option for esports right now, making it crucial for companies such as EFG to branch out into products such as FACEIT Watch. Leigh’s outlook on broadcast rights lines up with the opinions voiced by the leaders of other prominent esports companies, such as Riot Games.

On the utility of FACEIT Watch for properties across EFG’s esports inventory

Leigh: “To be discovered right now. We’re looking at ‘Apex [Legends],’ in terms of a beta, and there were a few early-stage events that went up last month just to make sure that the video stream quality was there. But whether we take on new games, and how it grows, is to be told, right? It’s partly not on us; it’s partly on the publishers and the developers to actually seek an interest in what we’re doing.”

Digiday: FACEIT Watch launched during the play-in stage of Intel Extreme Masters Katowice, a major “Counter-Strike” tournament operated by EFG in Poland in early February, and attracted over 100,000 viewers, according to numbers shared by the company. The platform’s multi-camera view is a natural fit for the frenetic energy of “Counter-Strike,” but EFG’s esports portfolio extends into other genres where this type of viewing experience may or may not be as ideal.

On the technology powering FACEIT Watch

Leigh: “The actual video feed comes in from ourselves, just off the broadcast feed from ESL. The video streams are sent to Znipe, who then encode them and store them on the cloud server, distributed by CDN back into their player — and then it’s all their own proprietary player technology. So, yes, we are doing that part of the infrastructure using cloud-based technologies, as everyone does nowadays.”

Digiday: FACEIT Watch represents an alternative to dominant streaming platforms such as Twitch — but it’s possible that Twitch and its overlords at Amazon may still be reaping the rewards of EFG’s new venture. It’s been reported that the insurgent Twitch competitor Kick runs on Amazon’s Interactive Video Service, essentially a white-label version of Twitch’s streaming infrastructure. While Leigh didn’t explicitly acknowledge that FACEIT Watch also runs on the service, his statement tacitly makes it clear that FACEIT Watch uses a cloud server “as everyone does” — and when it comes to that, Amazon IVS is the only game in town.

https://digiday.com/?p=535329

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