David Warner Was Right To Ask Why FOX Sports Televised Counter-Strike

I was at a friend's house when I received the message: "LOL look at what Warner just posted." The vice-captain of Australian test cricket was having a quiet Saturday night, and was a touch confused. "Can someone tell me why [FOX Sports] are showing this stuff for," the opening batsman tweeted.

FOX Sports was broadcasting Counter-Strike on their main channel, something the A-League wishes it could have more of. They even set aside two whole hours in prime-time, 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM, for the $55,555 four team invitational at Melbourne's Crown Casino. You can already guess what the reaction to Warner, a man who has been trying to repair his reputation, was.

But while it's easy to heap scorn on the diminutive opener, his question is entirely reasonable. Why did FOX Sports broadcast Counter-Strike in the first place?

Who Is FOX Targeting?

When players and organisers started talking about the prospect of Counter-Strike on TV, the reaction was universally one-sided. It was unanimously supportive -- but it was coming purely from gamers, the crowd most excited about video games being broadcast.

On the surface, it seems like FOX Sports is targeting the wrong demographic. Gamers are highly unlikely to be interested in FOX Sports and cable TV generally. More and more gamers are replacing their TV viewing habits with streams and online video services like Netflix and YouTube, or refusing to watch TV altogether. And according to the latest Digital Australia survey, the average daily gaming session for an Australian is an hour long, time that 10 or 20 years ago would have been dedicated to TV.

But how much cross-over is there between hardcore FIFA fans and the gamers that are obsessed with high-level eSports, the kind who will flip between multiple Twitch channels showing League of Legends tournaments, an ESL broadcast or some chilled Rocket League action? And how many parallels do those two crowds have with the older Australian male, the one with a deep love of motorsport -- it was the weekend of the Bathurst 1000, remember -- rugby league, union, cricket, AFL and in between?

Who exactly was being targeted here? It's unlikely that FOX or Crown genuinely believed two hours of prime-time headshots would convert people with Warner's mentality. If anything, the growth of eSports shows how unnecessary -- and potentially damaging -- chasing traditional broadcast media can be. The Championship Gaming Series only survived two seasons on DirecTV, having failed to manufacture a truncated format for TV.

But it's not the first time local pay-TV has got its feet wet in the world of video games. Warner suggested that something like FIFA would have been a more appropriate fit. And he's right: earlier this year, FOX Sports roped in Andy Harper and Simon Hill to commentate the grand final of the FOX Fans League.

And if there's one connection between fans of Counter-Strike, FIFA and sport more broadly, it's that they all like to bet. A lot. The growth of trading and betting on in-game skins has been astronomical in Counter-Strike, so much so that fans were supremely upset when they learned that matches for the Crown Invitational would not be listed on CSGO Lounge, one of the most popular third-party trading and betting services.

The reason? As part of the hosting requirements, Crown wanted betting on the matches to go through their own bookmaker, Crownbet. It wasn't a great weekend financially for the bookie though: they had the North American invites, Cloud9, as a staggering $1.11 favourite over Team Immunity only for the locals to blow them away in a best-of-three that culminated in a humiliating 16-3 loss on the final map.

What's In It For Crown?

Cloud9 at the Crown Invitational, image courtesy of ESL Australia.

It's not the first time Crown has offered bets on video games -- that's been happening for a while, and they're not the first in play with Ladbrokes, Sportsbet, bet365 and Pinnacle Sports offering odds on a variety of games, including League of Legends, Hearthstone, StarCraft 2 and Dota 2.

Despite the wave of positivity from what historically has been one of the most toxic, cantankerous online communities in gaming, let's not pretend that Crown are interested in building eSports. Tickets just for the Saturday started at $55 a pop and they went like hotcakes, with organisers confirming around 800 gamers had paid entry into the venue.

That's $44,800 alone, and if every single one of those gamers bought a beer at $9 a pop -- which would be almost un-Australian, but let's keep it simple -- the total rises to $52,000. That obviously doesn't offset flying two teams over from Europe and North America, fees for the event organisers, accommodation and ancillary costs, but it's a far, far better starting base than most tournaments have.

But unlike most tournaments, this isn't a promotional exercise designed to fuel money or support back into the local scene. Let's not forget that Crown could have easily just rigged it as a local-only tournament and spun it in a similar fashion to the FIFA event earlier this year.

The TV audience watching, possibly confused as to why FOX was favouring the refined spray of virtual AK-47's to golf, would have been none the wiser. And it's not like it would have mattered internationally either. HLTV.org, the major English site for Counter-Strike coverage over the better part of the last decade, carried no coverage of the pre-qualifiers or results on the Friday.

In fairness, Australian websites didn't cover it either. And that's because they couldn't: staff on the ground, who were already in a tight spot thanks to VAC issues plaguing fans of Valve games across Australia and New Zealand, struggled to get GOTV (CS:GO's spectator service) running. The only information was delivered through forum posts, reminiscent of the old days where fans would follow matches through scorebots on IRC.

Gamers Are The Ones Paying And They're Paying A Lot

Screenshot courtesy of Cybergamer Australia.

FOX Sports is inextricably linked to Crown for obvious reasons: Australians like a punt on the races, footy or anything else just as much as they like pokies and scratchie cards. Five years ago, around 70 percent of Australians took part in some form of gambling. The Productivity Commission also found in 2009, sports betting accounted for approximately $200 million of the gambling market in Australia, a market totalling $19 billion.

Remember this is before smartphones and smartphone apps had penetrated our daily way of life (and also before telco companies began to value data as a priority in their phone plans).

More recently, The Economist found that Australians gamble more and lose more per person than any other country in the world. The data was collated by H2 Gambling Capital ahead of the annual ICE Gaming conference, global shindig for the gaming and wagering industry. If you're interested, H2 pitches themselves as the world's leading analysts on the sector, although the majority of their data is behind a paywall.

It's not difficult to see where this might lead. The FOX Sports audience might be no closer to accepting Counter-Strike as a professional sport as a result of the broadcast, but if there are decent enough odds on a best-of-three on Virtus.pro and Team Immunity or Some Random Name vs Some Other Random Name in Some Thing I've Never Heard Of That Looks Like A Video Game to pad out their multi-bet then they might not care.

Australians already have an affinity for gambling, and fans of eSports certainly have no problems throwing cash away. The International's astronomical prize pools are tantamount to that, but the growth of third-party trading and betting sites, ones that are wholly unregulated and undoubtedly unconcerned with the whims or fates of gamers who risk their inventories -- and then spend real cash to rebuild their bankroll, so to speak -- should bother everyone.

Crown's betting app on Android.

If you've got an Android phone you can even download the Crownbet app direct from their website and start betting within two minutes. The age verification process is as weak as ever, and you don't even need to enter credit card details to begin browsing markets.

All of those concerns might be brushed away if there was some evidence that Crown and FOX Sports had a long-term plan or at least interest in growing the local scene. But the only evidence of Crown's involvement in eSports has been ticketed events, like viewing parties for The International or packing out a bar for League of Legends. These aren't investments, and neither was the Crown Invitational -- after all, half of the $55,555 went to Virtus.pro and Cloud9, and that was only because the Americans underperformed astonishingly.

Warner was right to question what FOX Sports was doing. He didn't realise it at the time, but anyone with a passing interest in eSports as an industry should be questioning the motivations of their benefactor. What did the fans on forums and matchmaking servers get for the involvement of FOX Sports and their partners -- and does it really benefit the scene?

Feature image courtesy of ESL Australia


    last ditch effort to remain relevant prop up an out dated business model

      Licensing of live sports is one of the last remaining TV formats that makes sense as a business model, nobody wants to be fart-arseing around trying to pirate a recorded sporting event before they find out a result and streaming live-sport is still genuinely unreliable.

      Fox Sports is the ONLY reason that I have Foxtel.

      If anyone’s clutching at relevance here it’s the gamers who are obsessed with getting their games shown on the mainstream sports channels. If streaming is the future then gamers are already there.

        I use Foxtel Play on xbone or PS4 (i find the bone is more reliable, but the menu setup is not as good), and generally it is fine. Only when someone goes to d/l something and it starts buffering does it become really annoying but 90% of the time it is fine.

        But also, the only reason I subscribe is for Foxsports. With the time now taken up with adds, and the repeating nature of the ads on the channels, Foxtel is almost unwatchable. I actually wrote to Skysports to see if they were developing an app so I could subscribe to a premier league and F1 pass and just cut foxtel out of the equation all together.

        When that failed I wrote to foxtel about quality control because I cannot take hearing about either a) some random betting service, b) elite singles, c) BBQ's galore or D) some random show I don't care about (prospectors, yukon thingy, alaskan bush ppl, goggle box or bondi vet). It used to be an ad at the end of the show now its death by bull Sh*t.

          How about the fkn cougarlife ads every single ad-break the last few weeks?!

          Not sure about F1, but for Premier League a NZ/Taiwan/Philo VPN and http://www.premierleaguepass.com will do the trick.

        Sports is the reason I have Foxtel, but once we had it, we do watch series through it too. A lot of what we want is on there and the planner works most of the time...

        ...but when we find out a couple of weeks later that an episode of something didn't record because there was a lightning storm or a pigeon on the dish or something, it's off to a torrent I go... *shrug*

        Esports does seem to make more sense on new media.

        Fox Sports is the ONLY reason that I have Foxtel.

        Me too. But I'm about to get rid of it once the World Series finishes. I get the league passes for NFL, NBA & NHL. And now I have a VPN I'll get them for the EPL and next years AFL and then the only things I'll really miss out on will be overseas Test matches and darts - oh well, I'll make do.
        Foxtel has finally become redundant for me.

    Gambling is the one vice I'm very glad I don't have.

      Same, I dabbled as a teenager and sat there after blowing $250 on the pokies aghast at what I'd done. Never again!

      Definitely a rabbit-hole I wouldn't advise going down. I've given up on punting on the horses but still throw the odd sports bet on.
      P.S. Patriots at -7.5 versus Indy this week is free money!

    Did they actually televise it? every time i turned it on there was either an ad break or just a bunch of guys talking.

      Sounds like Channel 10's Formula 1 coverage then.....


        I'd reply to you but we're just going to go to a quick ad break, stay tuned for more of the great action here at Kotaku Australia... *KFC ad plays*

          Welcome back from the break. Just before we get back to the action, lets get a quick update on all the odds from our buddies over at Crownbet... Bob, hows it looking over there?

            Thanks Steve.

            We have the blue team on $2 to win, while the red team are currently sitting at $5

            Game crapping itself because of VAC servers is currently running at $1.01

            Back to you Steve

              Those odds really are juicy, arent they Bob? As always though, gamble responsibly.

              So for those just joining us, here's a brief 10 minute update on all the action from the past 12 hours of play. Stay with us, things are really heating up down in The Arena.

          Well hopefully when you get back you're going to be sitting on the couch talking to a couple of ex reality TV stars from your station which will be followed by interviews with current reality TV personalities from your current series of cooking/renovations/wanking reality TV.

            before you write off what you saw, consider this - you had a mainstream outlet allow a relatively new crew (most were ESL crew) fill their airtime without a lot of interference- no waiting for ad breaks to finish before they bounce the ball (like footy) no dictating how the games should be played to suit TV audiences.
            I worked on the gig, as well as for horse racing and many of the ball sports etc, and from the industries point of view, gaming just got legitimate.
            I was impressed by the crews ability despite their relative inexperience, and when other sports are getting cheap OS crew (cricket) or having major budget cuts (many), gaming is on the rise.
            Foxtel see the value of IP that they can tie up like other sports, and gamers can be a new audience- while I don't think this is necessarily a good thing, but it happened to all the other sports sometime in their development

            Why not fox sports? Where else? They have to build an audience before they can have their own channel

    I watched about two matches before my other half made me turn it off.

    As a semi-layman (I’ve played CS, I don’t rate it as a FPS but I get it) I thought it was pretty bad.
    I can see a market for games as competition in perhaps a more game-showy format, but as a pure “sport” it wasn’t good watching.

    Too much downtime which was full of embarrassing white guys, short games and a general sense that those types of games aren’t made for casual TV viewing.

    They should just stream it IMO. People who care are computer types anyway.

      My thoughts too with watching esports, I think CS whilst a great game is not the best for TV viewing. Without playing the game your interest will be minimal. I think RTS' are still good viewing as there's at least a visual feast but even then without knowing what's going on it's hard to get involved.

      It will change however, how many people are iffy on a sport then start watching it and learn the rules because they enjoy the spectacle? I for one have done it with quite a few!

        How long do you have to play an RTS before it’s fun to watch someone else play it though?
        One bunch of strangely designed units killing off another bunch… and that’s the most exciting part! Watching people clicking through menus, making obscure upgrades and collecting resources…. That’s some confusing and boring television!

        Games are made for playing. That’s what they were designed to do, it’s what makes them awesome in the first place!
        I’d rather play a fast paced game that was designed for the players than a dumbed down game that was nerfed for a television audience.

        We need to be mindful that we don’t sacrifice the complexity of the games we love in a lame attempt to achieve mainstream recognition.
        The games we have now don’t, which is why I love them, but also why they make for shit TV.

          I've never been into watching e-sports, I definitely don't get the twitch streaming craze. I would always say "why watch someone else play it, when I can play it myself". Surely playing myself is more fun than watching, even if I'm not at a pro level.

          I think that's still the case for most games, however I've been playing a lot of Heroes of the Storm lately, and that means I have a higher interest in that than other games. I recently watched the NA and European championships (not every match but few of the major games) and really enjoyed it. Got to see lots of things you just don't get exposed to in normal play. The level of co-ordination and tactics was very impressive.

          That being said, you had to know the game pretty well to have any idea what's going on and to really enjoy it. I think that's the case for most e-sport games. Competitive gaming is always going to be fast and complex.
          The real question is "is that any different from any other sport"? some people hate motor racing, most people can't stand watching golf, while others dislike footy and cricket.

          So perhaps the real issue is this: Are there enough viewers to warrant putting on a show. I think we'll see plenty more e-sports televised as long as the advertising revenue is there.

    i just find competitive FPS matches hard to watch because you cant see everything at once, where with an RTS/MOBA/Fifa/Fighter game you can (for the most part) see the whole thing unfold at once, where with an FPS you have to worry about map geometry and object obsuring the view

    The "coverage" was pretty disappointing.

    President's Cup ran long and cut into a massive chunk of what would have been shown. Coverage started into the last few rounds before the tie breaker and then we got the 2nd match which was a flogging. That was it. So of the 2 hours scheduled time for it, maybe 30-45 minutes was all we got.

    The video quality of the game was potato quality as well. Dunno what it was like for those with HD, but on SD, meh.

    Sure, the live stream was there. But for those with internet turns shit at the drop of a hat or without internet to stream it. Was pretty disappointed with what was available on Fox Sports.

      The coverage was basically an exact duplicate of the twitch stream, and what was being shown on the main screen at the event.

    I understand that its not really suitable for a sports channel, but isn't this a good way to get it to the people who probably don't know thats its even a thing? I know most people watching that channel won't give two shits about it, but there will be the odd one that see's it, likes it, and gets them interested in the whole e-sports thing.

    Last edited 15/10/15 3:01 pm

      These same sports channels also show things like poker and darts

      How is this any less suitable?

        While I agree with you that poker isn’t a sport, a hell of a lot more people know the rules to poker than they do Counterstrike.
        That’s without factoring in that as far as broadcastability (I made that word up), poker is a LOT easier to capture and follow as it’s happening.

        Darts though… darts is a legit sport! If you don’t agree I’m sure ‘The Wizard’ Whitlock would be happy to throw a dart through your cornea from 7ft 9.25inches.

          one hunuunnnnnnnndred and eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiightyyyyyyyy.....

            So what’s that? Two shots to the corneas and one shot to the………
            You know what? I don’t need to know.

          and if that fails, they can broadcast the massive spectator brawl

        Hmmm, valid point! To me i think any publicity is good publicity, even if its not best suited for that channel.

    I think the question is, why would they put it on Fox Sports 1, and not on one of the alternate channels that are normally the domain of football replays and other various crap that doesnt have a lot of interest.

    They were one of the major sponsors of the event though, maybe thats part of the reason.

    Whatever the reason, there appears to be a big push for eSports to become bigger in the country, and its being fueled by the sports betting companies, because there is very little regulation in these areas, make an app and watch the money flow in, the more crap you can get people to bet on the better.

    Of course there may be other reasons that these guys want to tap into the eSports market too.

    Then there is the fact that there are still people with the "Video games are for kids" mentality, maybe this might go a little towards helping dispel that? (probably not)

    Do you remember that kids show, amazing in the 90s? I loved it so much, i would hang out just to see what snes game they would play.

      I actually applied for my school to go on that, but we got in at the wrong time and ended up on the other show they ran called Time Masters.

      they should bring amazing back.

    I'm not overly sure what the fuss is about myself, apart from the channel it was shown on. Fox Sports have shown plenty of table sports over the years, so why is this any different to showing poker, or chess, or the World Championship Monopoly?

      Monopoly is not a real sport and the nerds that play it should get off my TV!

      Unless it’s Fallout Monopoly.

    I have to say, if I played cricket then I really wouldn't be throwing stones about what constitutes a sport....


        Not entirely serious, although I think attendance would drop sharply if they ever banned alcohol at the 'G... ;)

      Same thing, really; boring idiots slowly going at it for six hours.

        or 5 days..... who thinks of a sport that goes for 5 days? Seriously.

          English upper-class twits, I guess... golfing was Scottish, and therefore too lowbrow, so they needed something equally lazy to play.

    Am I the only one who is completely disgusted with the mainstream proliferation of all these online betting companies into the mainstream.

    Betting agencies (like TABs) used to be just a slight step above pornography theatres as a destination but somehow now betting is promoted to all and sundry during sports broadcasts

    It's gotten to the point where my older kids know what every one of these betting companies is offering just dei being within earshot of a television

      You’re not the only one, but what can you do? Too much money flying around so they’re here to stay and will certainly get worse.
      Maybe the country will get taken over by totalitarian religious nuts and they’ll ban all form of gambling (and cut people’s hands off). You won’t get rid of it in a capitalist society!

      Just drill it into your kids “it’s a mugs game” a thousand times like my old man did and hopefully they won’t take it up.

        Why not have the best of both worlds?

        A country run by totalitarian religious nuts that control every facet of you life and belief system but are also open to being influenced by corporate lobby groups and think tanks for economic decisions...

    The obvious answer for best televised esport is Splatoon. Why?

    1. Games last 3 minutes. Which means you could easily do a best of 5 series in a half hour. To hour broadcast.
    2. The goal/objective is incredibly obvious and easy to keep track of. For an uninformed audience
    3. Lack of blood/gore and fantasy/magical elements makes it accessible to all people groups.

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