Overwatch League Addresses Low YouTube Viewership
To say that the 2020 season of the Overwatch League has been a disastrous turn for the worst is probably an understatement. In what was supposed to be a banner year for the league containing the debut of every team hosting homestand weekends, the league has been forced to move online due to the coronavirus. And in a year where esports is the only show in town in the sports world, Overwatch League has struggled to live up to even a fraction of its previous viewership due to an ill-timed move to YouTube Gaming.
Now, due to this perceived decline of Overwatch League in its “banner year,” Activision Blizzard has been forced to play damage control. Product Lead Jon Spector took to the Competitive Overwatch subreddit to address anxious Overwatch fans about the decline in viewership, something that many analysts have begun to crow about and point at as a sign of the league’s decline.
Overwatch League YouTube Gaming Shortcomings
One of the biggest problems facing Overwatch League has been a swap to YouTube Gaming after growing its audience for two years on Twitch. This is something that the League acknowledges is a problem, and this statement is the first time they’ve admitted that they aren’t pleased with the state of things, despite making a grand display upon signing the deal.
“We are not satisfied with where things are today,” Spector said. “So, we are working with YouTube to improve discoverability of our content while looking at other changes to build excitement and raise the stakes.”
Another key problem affecting Overwatch League right now is the lack of token drops on Twitch, which gave casual Overwatch fans a reason to watch (or at least leave the stream open in the background.) Twitch and OWL spent two years developing these features and others, and a switch to YouTube meant that they had to start over from ground zero again. However, at least one of these problems seems to be being addressed soon.
“I’m excited to share that we are a few weeks away from bringing back token drops for watching on overwatchleague.com and our mobile app. Viewership rewards on YouTube’s platform are still being worked on, but we’re excited to have some form of viewership incentives for fans very soon.”
All of this begs the question though, why switch in the first place? Spector had a reason for that as well, aside from the obvious monetary value the League gets from the deal. They had to replace the $90 million, two-year deal that Twitch did not renew, after all.
“We made the decision to move to YouTube because we believe in the long-term potential of the partnership, though we fully expected some challenges as we worked to transition our audience that had spent years watching us on Twitch,” Spector continued. “YouTube has some amazing tech, particularly around VOD. We believe a solid VOD system allows our global fan base to more easily watch OWL matches at convenient local times. YouTube remains committed to working with us to deliver an amazing viewing experience for you and help us win over new fans around the world.”
Despite all of this, Overwatch League has an incredibly long road ahead. They need to reattract the casual audience that might have lost interest, find a better way to attract new fans on YouTube beyond VODs (which is more YouTube’s problem than OWL itself and is a big part of the reason most esports initiatives with live viewership fail on the platform,) and find a way to make the competition itself more interesting in an ever more competitive marketplace.
The May tournament, which Overwatch League is running instead of regular season matches, is a step in the right direction, but it needs to be maintained if the interest they attract hopes to be sustained.