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Overwatch • Jul 31, 2019

Vendors proposed new strategies to increase Overwatch League viewership

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Vendors proposed new strategies to increase Overwatch League viewership
Ben Purcell for Blizzard Entertainment

Update 8/13/2019 8:55 AM PST:
Blizzard replied to Dexerto's request for comment on this article to clarify that the decks in question from vendors were not under consideration. 

The Overwatch League office also clarified that while they do employ a range of marketing tactics to engage with their audience, they deny that they are using the Twitch bounty system for raids as described in this piece by Ryan Chaplo and other sources. 

Blizzard further sent over these viewership statistics that show growth of the League year over year:

  • The final week of Overwatch League Stage 3 had a global AMA of 466k, up 86% from last year’s Stage 3 finals
  • For the final week of Stage 2 (Thursday, May 9, through Sunday, May 12), which included playoffs and finals, global Average Minute Audience (AMA) was 480,000 (excluding China), a new record high for the 2019 season. The playoffs and final matches drew an AMA of 346,000 in the U.S. alone, and an estimated 92,000 in 18-34 U.S. AMA.
  • This season’s Stage 2 Finals on ABC had an AMA of over 500K, making it the best performing esports broadcast ever across ESPN and ABC linear networks

Original article follows. 

Dexerto has evidence that Activision Blizzard has been looking to partner up with companies with access to streamers and influencers in a bid to boost Overwatch League viewership and live attendance.

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Several ideas were discussed, including potentially working alongside Streamlabs and Stream Elements, companies which provide tools that streamers use to effectively monetize their live streams among other things.

The explanation provided for the partnership was that the Overwatch League has been “bleeding viewership” and Activision Blizzard wanted to focus on arresting that trend and finding ways to encourage people to attend live matches for the upcoming homestead season. 

Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

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Streamers who were to be approached had to meet several criteria, with a preference for former Overwatch players who have an audience already interested in the game. Other stipulations were that the streamers and influencers had to be “brand safe” and preferably US based so that they are able to attend live matches. Part of the proposal was to combine ticket sales with live meet-ups with the streamer who promoted the team matches.

Also discussed was a special custom overlay for streamers in the program. They would be given a sports-style match ticket that would show live updates about Overwatch League matches while also promoting ticket sales for upcoming live events.

The revelations about this proposal also align with Blizzard having hired an ‘Influencer Specialist’ for the Overwatch League in June.

Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

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Currently it’s not clear when this campaign will start, if at all, as streamers are still awaiting approval from their partners. However it is indicative of Activision Blizzard acknowledging that there is some uncertainty surrounding the prospects of the Overwatch League and its growth.

This becoming public knowledge has also seemingly coincided with Blizzard looking to use Twitch’s bounty system, a new, currently limited function, where selected streamers can earn additional revenue by driving targeted advertising at their audience. This would lead to viewership being artificially boosted during league matches.

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A clip from popular Team Liquid Fortnite player Ryan ‘Chap’ Chaplo, who has nearly one million Twitch followers, shows him speaking openly about the posting on the Twitch bounty board. In the clip he explains that those who agree are given money in exchange for “raiding” the Overwatch stream. Raiding is a mechanic where you essentially transfer your viewers to another channel to combine audiences.

“At the end of your stream you must raid the Overwatch channel while Overwatch is live,” he said. “That means you must end your stream during one of the following windows.” Chaplo was then less than complimentary about the prospect of participating in the campaign.

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However, one streamer that did do this was Rajj Patel, the host of popular collaborative podcast Rajj Royale and mock influencer dating show The Rajjchelor. Following the latest episode of Rajj Royale, he took the bounty and raided the Overwatch stream. It is worth noting that while the Rajj Royale podcast is one of the most watched on the Twitch platform it has very little to do with esports.

These strategies to bolster viewership come amid reports that the overall number of viewers has continued to steadily decline since the league’s inception. The Esports Observer, a publication primarily concerned with the business side of esports, reported on June 11 that the viewership for the league had “continued to slide”, while observing that number of hours viewed had slightly increased. By the end of the month, on June 25, they published a piece that noted that viewership was still continuing to decline but the total hours viewed increasing was now an observable trend. One explanation offered for this was that re-runs have been attracting significant viewership due to confusion about whether or not a re-run will generate in-game tokens for viewers.

Ben Purcell for Blizzard Entertainment
Overwatch League matches were played at the Atlanta 'homestand' venue, in Week 5 of Stage 3.

It is not surprising that Blizzard are currently exploring options to give viewership and live attendance al shot in the arm. Next season’s homestand format, where teams will have selected live games at their “home” stadiums as opposed to all matches being played from Blizzard’s Burbank studio, will determine how sustainable the league is likely to be. 

Recent announcements about the season saw a drastic reduction in the number of events to be hosted by each franchise, down to just two being mandatory, with as many as five for the organisations that feel they can meet that target.