We need CS:GO TV right now!
Valve made a step in the right direction with the recent spectator user interface update in CS:GO, but the journey to please the spectators is still far from over. Although streams are, and will be the main way to spectate matches, they still need the support from CS:GO TV in order to help the game grow competitively.
First off, it must be pointed out that no real info on Valve's progress and plans regarding a spectator client for Counter Strike: Global Offensive is available to the public at this moment, so CS:GO TV (or whatever it might be called) could already be finished and ready for release at the time this article was published. Under the assumption that that's not the case, this article will point out why Valve should focus on getting that spectator client out there as soon as possible.
Since there is no information available regarding when, and even if, such client will be released all we can do is to infer from the facts that we do know. For example, we know that Valve recently updated the spectator user interface with health bars, weapons and other info. They also added one of Sal "Volcano" Garozzo's suggestions (X-Ray mode) from his blog "Improving the Spectating Experience", which could all mean that they are putting down the foundation for CS:GO TV.
Another hope giving fact was the release of DotA2's standalone spectating client a few weeks ago, which was mentioned in interviews with Valve spokesmen as a starting point for a similar feature in CS:GO.
Step in the right direction with recent in-game spectating updates
On the other hand, we also know that they released the full version of the game without any kind of spectating client, which shows that it doesn't really sit near the top of their list of needed features. Also, a rumor coming from within the developers' camp that creating CS:GO TV is on an "if anyone has time, please do it" basis doesn't inspire much confidence either.
Some might say that such an approach is fine, that other things need fixing first, especially when we consider some requests that most players agree on, such as restricted movement, the money system, and maps not being suited for competitive play. But despite of that, in order for the game to turn into a real E-sport title, it will need to continually attract an audience, and to do that, it will need CS:GO TV's help.
Make no mistake, live streaming is the present and the future of the spectating experience in CS:GO and any other competitive game, but adding CS:GO TV would take nothing away from that, whereas implementing it to work together with streams (like DotA2's spectating client) could significantly aid the development of CS:GO into a true electronic sport.
What it's like without CS:GO TV
Although the game was only released a few weeks ago and there've just been a handful of tournaments, the "stream only" spectating scenario that we were exposed to so far has shown why we desperately need CS:GO TV.
The event that attracted the most attention so far was SteelSeries GO which featured NiP battling with some other Swedish teams. Even though the official stream had some issues, it drew a solid amount of spectators for a local event, especially on day one when around 7,000 people watched the Swedish superstars in action.
However, there were several problems for the spectators due to the lack of any alternative to the official stream, especially for the people who were unable to catch the action live. The main issue was that because the official stream had some problems at the beginning of the grand final, the first map between NiP and BuggIT now practically has no recording except for some bits and pieces.
Aside from a map lost forever due to stream problems (which granted aren't very frequent), some other faults were exposed too. For example, since two matches were played at the same time up until the final, the matches that were not streamed also have no recording of any kind. In addition to that, it was quite hard even keeping up with the scores from those matches.
SteelSeries GO revealed some issues that CS:GO faces without a spectating client
Two conclusions can be drawn from this experience:
- Spectators need to be given a choice to watch whichever match they want if several matches are taking place at the same time.
Unless tournaments severely cut down the number of teams in attendance in order to prevent this, two or more matches being played at the same time will most likely happen at every bigger event. This can rarely be resolved by simply adding another stream channel, as good streams are hard to come by as it is.
Therefore, CS:GO TV is needed to mend this problem, even to the length of providing an alternative to the official stream, not just for the other matches, be that due to personal preference or a language barrier, giving the spectator a choice is important.
- Not having a recording (demo) of even one match from the tournament is unacceptable.
People might want to watch several matches that are taking place at the same time, but they are forced to choose just one, so they will later need a demo or a VoD of the other one.
And even though it was due to a different reason at SteelSeries GO, the fact remains that the first ever grand final of a CS:GO LAN tournament can now never be relived. Imagine having something similar happen with the grand final of ESWC, or DreamHack Winter. That is not acceptable and that's why we need CS:GO TV as soon as possible, before the really big tournaments commence.
Even having a Video-on-Demand available but no demo can be frustrating as well. For an example of that, we just need to look back to WCG 2006 and the grand final between NiP and Pentagram. Some moviemakers (and not just them) will never forgive WCG organizers that one of the best rounds in the history of CS, Dennis "walle" Wallenberg's 1-on-5, will never be recaptured or reinvented with an edit of the highest quality because they didn't have HLTV for that match.
This also brings up the question of highlight clips, which have bloomed in recent years, spreading all over YouTube and further popularizing the game. Those highlights are made from demos, as that gives the editor complete freedom and allows for best possible result, so there's another reason why we need CS:GO TV to exist.
Lastly, some minor online tournaments that have been held in the past months, even throughout the beta phase of the game, have been impossible to follow as most of their matches don't justify setting up a stream. That is also not acceptable, since there is a certain amount of people who would tune in, which would further help the development of the scene as spectators become more and more familiar with new teams and players.
What history taught us
Seeing how CS:GO is looking to continue where CS 1.6 left of, at least in the professional circuit as the main FPS title at major tournaments, it needs to learn from all of the previous versions of CS to see what else helped make the old games so big, aside from the gameplay.
And the main other thing that helped Counter Strike expand was that it established itself as a spectator sport almost from the get-go, with the first classic match dating back to CPL Winter 2001 between NiP and X3. Although its spectating client HLTV has been far from perfect throughout the years, it was a huge reason why the game reached the level it did. In the early days, HLTV was the only way for spectators to see the teams play and to enjoy the excitement live. Later, streams stepped into that role and improved on that experience, but HLTV still had an important purpose.
ESWC final had around 20,000 spectators on HLTV during its last two events
For example, ESWC didn't force stream-only broadcast of its final match, and that showed that a significant amount of spectators still prefers to control their own viewing experience. The 2010 final of the French event drew over 21,000 spectators on HLTV, while in 2011 over 16,000 watched that way (around 30% of total viewership).
Besides watching the excitement live, HLTV helped CS in another way to become such a prominent spectator sport and to build such a big community. It was the option to watch demos of the best teams and players as many times you want, to watch the best matches from anyone's perspective and to analyze every little detail of every match. That helped each new generation of players to learn quicker and better, and it also helped push the best teams to reach new heights since they were forced and inspired to invent new tactics and tricks all the time, which kept the metagame evolving as well.
Just how much of an influence demos have been we can see from some numbers in HLTV.org's database. When Valve created Half-Life TV (HLTV) in 2001, it certainly was a revolutionary concept in live broadcasting of computer games, but it was hardly expected that demos of those broadcasts would become such an important factor, so much that the best matches today sit at over 50,000 downloads. Furthermore, POV demos (recorded from a player's point of view) have had an even bigger influence and it's somewhat mindboggling that one such simple file could reach over 200,000 downloads.
Therefore it was truly a big surprise to see that when the official release of CS:GO hit the shelves, it didn't contain CS:GO TV and its POV demos were (and still are) practically unusable. Namely, even though it is possible to record a POV demo, watching it is a different story as it is bugged in several ways, having no HUD, often times displaying a blurred screen, and furthermore being rendered unplayable after every update to the game due to protocol version changing.
The reasons behind the omission of CS:GO TV and lack of effort in the POV demo department are unknown, and with no official hint that changes are coming anytime soon, we can't help but fret for the future of the spectators' experience in CS:GO.
Why it's so important
If Valve do in fact have plans to give CS:GO TV a good amount of attention, it could surpass everything we have known so far with HLTV. A DotA2-like spectator client where streams and the game are intertwined, and where the casual player can watch a professional match after just a few clicks within the game, could not only help bring the FPS genre back to its former glory, but revolutionize the spectator experience and establish CS:GO as a new big game on the block.
DotA2 spec client allows you to choose which stream to hear and to let the stream direct your view
But with no sign from the developers, we don't even know if they really want CS:GO to become a major competitive title. So we must tell them that we do want that and that they should want that because this game does have potential. And we must tell them that we, community that helped shape CS 1.6, know what is needed for that to happen.
We must tell them that we can't miss out on any ESWC or DreamHack Winter matches, especially not the grand final if the stream runs into problems and there's no backup. We can't miss a round-winning 1-on-5 because there is no demo. We need to be given a choice which match we want to watch. We need to be able to watch all previous matches, in order to learn from them, to improve ourselves and to bring our game to the next level. For all that we need CS:GO TV, and we need it right now, before any major tournaments begin.
Your opinion on this matter can help a lot as well, so don't be afraid to share it here in the comments and help us tell Valve what we need from them to help CS:GO become a major e-sports title. If you have a twitter account, you can also help us reach out to them by tweeting to @csgo_dev, and who knows, perhaps we get some info out on the plans for CS:GO TV.