Overwatch: Has the OWL run out of steam?
This weekend marks the two-year anniversary of the release of Overwatch, and there are all the promotions and celebrations you’d expect for such a momentous occasion. Blizzard are offering double XP points over the weekend, with fans delighted at the chance to get more drops, and … well, that should be enough to hold you for now, anyway.
After 24 months of the game, and nearly an entire cycle of the competitive season, it seems like a good time to look and see where the scene is in comparison with other games, and their own projections. Actually, scrap the latter, as only Blizzard know what they expected from their game, and they are being super positive, saying they are ahead of schedule, and all the rest of that good corporate jazz.
The first thing to point out is that from a progression point of view, there has been a steady drop in viewership season by season. The fact the opening night of a league that had been very well-publicised, for good or bad reasons, was a record-breaker should be no surprise to anyone, especially at a time when esports is growing exponentially.
When the opening of stage two came around, the league had already lost more than half the viewers who tuned in on the inaugural evening of play, which should have come as something of a wake-up call to the league, but didn’t. The fact so many people didn’t return after their initial experience should, you would think, speak of a flaw in the viewer experience, but things remained the same in game, with the only change a steady increase in community policing.
By the start of stage 4, the opening night managed to draw about a third of what stage one had, down from over 350k to around the 120k mark, with the decline by stage still noticeable if not as extreme. Week three of stage four saw it technically surpass the same point of stage one, which Blizzard were keen to make sure was highlighted, but that came on the back of some stories that would boost engagement and the company making an effort to improve numbers.
Lowest point so far
As things currently stand, the game is at the lowest point it has been at so far, in terms of average views, and there are other issues affecting confidence. Blizzard may be saying they believe they can charge more for the next set of franchises, but there are other pieces of information that keep filtering out and making it seem like that might not be the case after all, and that player numbers could be dropping.
The way players are balanced online has always been an issue, and is now being used to explain longer queue times than had previously been the case. There is an argument for saying it’s far simpler than that, and that the alleged 35m users across three platforms just aren’t all there anymore, leading to a drop in playerbase. This, combined with the dropping viewer numbers, suggests the game is failing to attract new players, and viewers, and losing a percentage of their casual audience.
To compound that, there is another problem that we in the West may not be as aware of, the drop in player numbers across Asia, and Korea in particular. Known as the home of Blizzard esports, and also some very good League of Legends players, Korean PC Bang culture is a great bellweather for what that region is enjoying, and the Richard Lewis video linked above goes into depth as to how much of that audience Blizzard have lost to games like PUBG over the last few months.
There are other issues, of course, like the complete lack of quality reporting from the scene and the way Blizzard is alienating their esports audience in an attempt to be as friendly as possible to young players. On the other hand, Blizzard control almost all the information coming out at this point, and if this is the rosiest picture they can paint it might be degrees worse for a company that are already notorious for creative public accounting.
In short then, the viewers are down, the playerbase is probably down, and the players in the most important country to the competitive scene would rather play Battle Royale games than Overwatch. When you combine this with the industry impression that the game is still not that watchable either, or at least has improvements to make, it seems as though there could be more trouble ahead for the colourful, complicated child of Blizzard’s creation.