This past weekend, the 2nd annual Overwatch World Cup concluded with South Korea winning back-to-back championships. Each match displayed Overwatch at its highest level of play, especially matches like China/France and USA/South Korea. There were outbreak stars throughout the tournament with the likes of Jake “Jake” Lyon from the USA team, Félix “xQc” Lengyel from the Canadian team, and Yeon-oh “Fl0w3R” Hwang from the South Korean team. With high-level play combined with breakout players, the professional Overwatch scene seeks to establish itself as the next biggest esport.
Following Overwatch’s release on May 24, 2016, Blizzard sought to capitalize on its popularity by announcing the Overwatch World Cup on August 4, 2016, with the playoffs during Blizzcon 2016. During Overwatch World Cup 2016, many skeptics believed that viewership will be low due to an undefined spectator mode (i.e. difficult to follow plays, which team activated their ultimates, and how to tell mirror matchups apart). Despite these skeptics, Overwatch World Cup 2016 had a viewership peak of 638,206 viewers worldwide. Although these numbers are not League of Legends or Dota 2 viewership numbers, the fact that a newly released game can pull these many viewers are astounding.
SInce Overwatch World Cup 2016 and the announcement of Overwatch League at Blizzcon, Blizzard stayed quiet with details regarding Overwatch League. This led to many players lacking confidence in the future of Overwatch esports.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, OGN established Overwatch APEX. Professional players such as Brandon “Seagull” Larned, Kevyn “TviQ” Lindström, Je-hong “ryujehong” Ryu, and Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangchod established a fanbase with their gameplay and personality. From their popularity, they were able to accrue thousands of followers on social media like Twitch, Facebook, and Twitter. Currently, APEX is comparable to GSL, where it is the premier league for Overwatch.
While there are no viewership stats for the inaugural season of APEX, the second season fared well reaching a peak around 173,000 viewers. Considering it aired overnight in North America, these numbers are astounding. Season 3 and 4 saw a decline in viewership. In Season 3, viewership peak was around 102,000. Season 4 saw a further decline in viewers with a peak around 83,000.
Possible reasons for a decline was the meta favoring a 3-tank composition. Teams ran a composition that included Ana, Reinhardt, Winston, D.Va, and Zarya. Following the patch to nerf tanks, the game took a sharper turn with the dive meta. This led to a stale team composition where teams picked D.Va, Winston, Lucio, Tracer, and Genji each game. The team with more competent players using those heroes usually won games. Due to this meta, many players displayed their resentment towards Overwatch. Streamers that pulled thousands of viewers in Overwatch were burnt out with the game.
TimTheTatman is one of the top streamers on Twitch, as well as one of the top streamers in Overwatch. He expressed frustration through Twitter stating, “commenting on OW, I’m just at a point where I’m done with the current spot its in… this season between dive meta and what seems to be an increased amount of 1-tricks/people ‘not caring’ about their elo it’s just become frustrating.”
Lucio specialist, DSPStanky also had thousands of viewers. He expressed his departure with Overwatch through Twitter saying, “Long story short, I’m going to be moving away from Overwatch in the coming months. I can feel my own personal enjoyment of the game fading, and also I think my relevancy to the scene has run it’s course as well. I’d like to make a graceful exit instead of waiting until I have a meltdown on stream or something similar.”
Going into this year’s Blizzcon, many people were doubtful whether Overwatch World Cup is going to attract an abundant number of viewers. In the Overwatch World Cup Qualifiers featuring the dive meta, there was a wide range of viewers. The Santa Monica Qualifiers peaked at 149,000 viewers, while the Shanghai Qualifiers peaked around 1 million viewers. It was difficult to gauge whether the World Cup would peak at a high number or sink. But, the hype for the World Cup was growing closer to Blizzcon.
On the first day of Blizzcon, the lights glistened throughout the arena, the acoustics traveled from one end of the arena to the other, and the arena was packed at capacity. With the crowd’s roar, each match felt important. With South Korea vs. the USA as the last match of the day, the arena progressively got more packed. When the inevitable match occurred, many people outside the arena lined up for a chance to get in. If they could not get in, they tuned in to the livestream. The South Korea/USA match peaked around 300,000 viewers.
The last day of the Overwatch World Cup saw similar numbers with the semifinals and championship finals. During semifinals, France faced the powerhouse team in South Korea, and Canada and Sweden dueled for a place in the championship finals. The semifinals saw an average around 263,000 viewers. The championship finals featured South Korea against the underdogs Canada. South Korea dominated Canada in 4 games to 1 victory, taking home back-to-back championships. Around 297,000 viewers tuned in for the finals, which is slightly lower than day one’s South Korea/USA match. Although there is a slight decline in viewers, these viewership numbers are still above average for esports events. For Overwatch to have these many viewers is a positive sign where its future is heading.
Shortly after this year’s Blizzcon, Twitch streamer TimTheTatman did not miss a beat. He came back and played Overwatch on his stream with a concurrent viewership around 15,000. Lucio specialist, DSPStanky expressed no interest in playing Overwatch stating he has not played the game in 3 months. One of the top streamers on Twitch, LIRIK reached a ranking in Master maining Roadhog and Tracer before leaving the game. Most of the time, LIRIK does not revisit a game he abandoned. However, he came back and expressed his enjoyment with Overwatch once again. Since then, he stated that he will attempt to play Overwatch more often.
It’s been more than a year since Overwatch released. Since that time, the community defined the meta, top players are continually growing into stars, and many memes were had. Overwatch League premieres its inaugural season, starting with preseason matches featuring all 12 teams. If Overwatch World Cup is a hint of things to happen, then we should expect to see a lot of hype in every match, gasping moments when a Tracer or Genji uses their ultimates, and loads of fans roaring for their favorite team. Blizzard is looking to innovate esports with the Overwatch League starting December 6th.