Everyone is watching Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) it seems, as the CS:GO Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2020 tournament managed to set a new viewership record last Friday. Over a million people tuned in to watch Natus Vincere (Na’Vi) face off against G2 Esports in Katowice, Poland. Na’Vi won in a clear 3-0 sweep.
At their peak, the ratings for the match reached 1,002,132 viewers. This set a new record, managing more viewers than any previous Intel Extreme Masters event. As impressive as this may be, the numbers did get a boost due to… the coronavirus.
CS:GO wash your hands
The ever-present threat of a global pandemic caused the Polish health authority to shut down the event. The 11,500-seat Spodek Arena in Katowice was almost entirely empty as Natus Vincere and G2 Esports took to the stage for the tournament’s grand final. As such, a large number of spectators who had planned to watch the match in person had to settle for streaming instead.
The empty arena was just one symptom of the shutdown. The entire Intel Extreme Masters Expo was canceled amid concerns posed by the coronavirus. This mirrors similar moves in recent weeks, such as the decision to postpone GDC 2020 until later in the year.
The cancellation of the IEM Expo also led to a similar StarCraft II tournament playing without a live audience of spectators. With so many live events closed off to the public, the organizers of the expo are offering refunds to those unable to attend. Premium ticket holders will even receive their promised goodie bags in the mail.
Coronavirus and the viewership record
Concerns about the wide-reaching effect of coronavirus continue to grow. It’s likely that, over the coming weeks and months, more live events and conventions will be delayed in the interest of public safety.
This presents an interesting turning point for esports in general. Live spectators are a big part of the industry’s public image. Crowds of cheering fans were important in the early days of esports, helping to add legitimacy to events and tournaments. It’s possible that coronavirus fears could undo much of this work as fans are no longer able to rally together in person.
At the same time, the new viewership record for IEM Katowice 2020 suggests that CS:GO is on the rise in popularity. Online viewership could continue to rise as esports take on a more prominent role as streaming entertainment.