Overwatch League Fails to Ride Covid-19 Bump

ESPORTSREPORTER.COM / NICK HOROWITZ – STAFF WRITER / MARCH 24TH, 2021 /

2020, while an awful year for almost everything else, has been a banner year for eSports. According to Newzoo, the market grew over 10% in both size and revenue, all while the bottom fell out of the global economy. However, this success has not come to everyone in the industry.

Overwatch has long been Blizzard’s hope to break into the tier 1 esports scene. When it launched several years ago, teams cost an eye watering 20 million USD, with expansion teams being double or triple that in the following seasons. This made it one of, if not the most expensive esports league to enter.

All that cash seemed to fail to buy them interest, from viewers or even their own teams. In 2019, the Vancouver Titans made it to the OWL Grand Finals. While they failed to win, that still means they were the second place team in the sport. However, early 2020 saw the departure of their entire roster and staff. That kind of clear lack of faith in what seemed to be a strong organization is almost unheard of in eSports or even regular sports.

However, it’s the rejection by viewers that really makes or breaks a game, and this is where the OWL’s failure really shines through. The Grand Finals in 2020 saw a decline of over 60% from 2019 to 2020. League viewership during the regular season fell by a similar margin as well, all in a year that saw the eSports market swell. No similar eSport saw this kind of rapid slide in engagement. Despite providing data on viewership after the first season, Blizzard no longer releases viewer numbers for the OWL.

The industry is then left wondering, why did this drop off occur? Games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have managed to stick it out in the rapidly growing market, despite each being much older than Blizzard’s Overwatch. Is this a sign that ActivisionBlizzard’s city-based approach to teams and brands has failed to find traction with the audience? Or is the culprit just the game itself, with slow updates causing the meta to become static and disinteresting. Who can say.

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