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The truth about Steam's new records

Over the weekend, Steam set a new record for the largest number of concurrent users in the history of the platform. At one point, over 20 million people were logged in at once. That's a massive number, but there are a few things worth noting about this figure. Let's break this number down and look at some of the reasons why this record may have been set.

First of all, not all of those 20 million users were actively gaming. This number encompasses all Steam users who were logged in at the time. In other words, many of these users may have simply logged in to see if there were any notable sales or updates. Others may have been running a download or installing a patch on a game they intend to play later on in the day. 

During this peak gaming time, only a little over 6 million out of these 20 million users were actively playing a game. However, breaking this number down even further yields some interesting results. Over 1 million of those players were playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, with the second-highest player share going to Dota 2. It seems that, with social distancing in effect, players are turning to multiplayer games in droves. Even Grand Theft Auto 5 brought in a staggering 173,000 players.

It's always exciting when a gaming record is broken. However, there are some cases when the record itself is indicative of a larger problem. In this case, the reason that so many people are logged in can likely be traced back to the coronavirus outbreak. To put it quite simply, a lot of these people are probably staying home from work due to social distancing strategies that are being employed to slow the spread of the virus. The coronavirus has had a major impact on the gaming industry, causing several delays in production for gaming's biggest companies. Nintendo has slowed production on Switch consoles, while Sony and Microsoft may be expecting setbacks in the production of the PlayStation 5 and the X Box Series X, respectively. 

Meanwhile, several professional gaming tournaments and events have been outright canceled or postponed, like the League of Legends Pro League. Larger gatherings are being discouraged as people are taking public health concerns very seriously. With that in mind, it's not a surprise that more people are staying home and playing games. 

In fact, this is going to be even more prevalent going forward, as many postponed pro gaming events have been moved to online venues for the foreseeable future. For example, the Overwatch League has announced that its championship matches will all be held online starting March 21. 

As the Overwatch League explained, this was done in an effort to keep the season's momentum going while simultaneously keeping its players safe: "We're currently working on a revamped match schedule that will allow all teams around the world to begin competing in March while minimizing latency concerns," read Overwatch League's press release regarding the situation.

Again, these player records are certainly nothing to sneeze at, signaling big business for Steam. However, as Kotaku's Luke Plunkett explains, we should expect these records to be broken again in no time, especially as people continue social distancing. "[These] are big, big numbers," Plunkett writes. but as this coronavirus lockdown continues to deepen, we can probably expect them to be broken in the days ahead. Then broken again, repeatedly."

When looking at some of the reactions from Steam users on Twitter, it's easy to see where a lot of these players come from. Aside from the folks playing some of the larger games like Grand Theft Auto 5 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, it seems that there are plenty of gamers who are excitedly diving into games that they either haven't finished or picked up years ago on sale.

As pro Dota player IceIceIce tweeted, "It's time to finish all the steam games bought randomly throughout the years." Honestly, that's a fun and attainable goal for people to set for themselves, especially if they're going to be self-isolating for a while. 

However, despite some of the darker reasoning behind why everyone is suddenly gaming at the same time, this shouldn't be looked at as a bad thing. It simply means that gamers are finding ways of getting the social interaction they may be missing out on in their daily lives. By turning to online gaming and hopping on squads with their friends, it can help pass the time in isolation in a much easier way.