Overwatch League is seeing an uptick in viewers, giving hope that the upstart esports league is gaining traction while the rest of the traditional sports world slowly returns to action.
Last weekend’s matches drew an average minute audience of 52,000 on YouTube, according to publisher Activision-Blizzard Inc., the largest non-tournament number the league has seen since it switched to online-only gameplay due to the pandemic. (Average minute audience is the streaming metric that most closely represents how TV viewership is calculated.) The top match of the weekend, a showdown between the defending champion San Francisco Shock and Philadelphia Fusion, peaked with an average minute audience of nearly 80,000.
That’s good news for Week 21 of a season that was supposed to be defined by teams playing in front of live audiences in their home cities. Overwatch League was forced in March to shift this season into online-only competitions, an adjustment for both fans and the teams, and executives hope the recent momentum carries through this weekend’s Summer Showdown tournament.
“I’m so proud that our players, teams and staff have continued to put on an awesome show for our fans during this season that has continued online during Covid-19,” said league commissioner Pete Vlastelica. “Our production team continues to innovate, and our teams are stepping up and delivering world-class competition, week in and week out.”
This is Overwatch League’s first year streaming exclusively via Google’s YouTube, following two seasons broadcasting through Amazon’s Twitch and a handful of other platforms. Though live viewership is down versus previous seasons, there’s optimism that YouTube’s strength in on-demand video, coupled with the continued lack of traditional sports competition might keep fans engaged with the league moving forward.
Now in its third season, Overwatch League has 20 teams in six different countries. Many league owners — some who invested more than $30 million for a team — are also traditional sports owners, including the billionaires behind the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Rams, the New York Mets and the Vancouver Canucks.