Overwatch League and Call of Duty League are relatively young, franchise-based leagues owned and operated by Activision Blizzard. The former has been around for a couple of years and gathered notable popularity. The latter launched only last year, yet it’s already catching up on its older sister in terms of viewership numbers.
At the beginning of 2020, Activision Blizzard implemented several significant innovations to the leagues, including a decision to sign a $160 million exclusive media-rights deal with Youtube Gaming whilst leaving Twitch behind.
While the Call of Duty League wasn’t really affected, as its inaugural season was just starting at the time, the Overwatch League’s viewership numbers decreased dramatically since the changeover.
In this piece, we are going to compare how each of the leagues performed in recent months in terms of viewership, analyse their results and see what’s the likely future development, based on our statistics. First, let’s take a look at the two recent majors of both leagues.
Overwatch League 2020 Playoffs Grand Finals
The change of the broadcasting partner in January 2020 was followed by a significant drop in viewership numbers in the upcoming OWL season. Although the individual events of OWL 2020 can’t be objectively compared to those in 2019, as they had to be split into regional divisions due to the global health situation, we can still look at the grand final tournaments of each of the seasons, which were both international.
The $3.05 million OWL 2020 Playoffs Grand Finals event gathered 92K average viewers and 1.3 million hours watched (excluding data from Chinese platforms). For comparison, The OWL Playoffs 2019 was watched by 113K peak viewers, totalling 5.7 million hours watched. That’s an 18% decline in average viewers and 77% decline in hours watched.
The major’s most popular match was the grand final between the San Francisco Shock and Seoul Dynasty, which peaked at 183K concurrent viewers, showing a 42% decrease compared to 318K peak viewers during the grand final in 2019. San Francisco Shock defended their champion’s title from the previous year and grabbed the reward of $1.5 million in prize money.
Looking at the data provided, we need to take into account also other factors, such as the air time of each of the tournaments. Fourteen hours of air time in 2020 vs 50 hours of air time in 2019 suggests that spectators had a way smaller time to tune in, hence the massive drop in hours watched category. Moreover, these statistics show only data provided from Twitch and Youtube. If we looked at the global viewership numbers, we would find out that the grand final match was actually the most-watched match in the history of OWL, according to Activision Blizzard.
Call of Duty League 2021 Stage 1 Major
The Call of Duty League, on the other hand, is showing a growing trend. The currently ongoing second season of CDL draws slightly more attention than the inaugural season in 2020; however, it might be too soon to draw conclusions.
In terms of viewership, the performance of the first one out of five major CDL events this year was comparable with the OWL grand final event. The CDL 2021 Stage 1 Major peaked at 118K concurrent viewers during the match between Dallas Empire and OpTic Chicago, who have become the most followed team of the Stage 1 phase.
However, OpTic didn’t make it through the loser’s bracket and finished in fourth place. The grand final match featured Atlanta FaZe vs Dallas Empire - the same matchup as in the CDL 2020 Finals. FaZe took revenge on Dallas Empire twice in a row and snatched the victory together with the $200,000 first prize.
The tournament attracted 63K spectators on average, who brought over 1.6 million hours watched.
Tournaments viewership comparison
Comparing both leagues’ best-performing tournaments that took place in recent months, we can see that neither of the leagues is doing exceptionally better than the other and that their viewership results are fairly close.
The most popular event was the already mentioned OWL 2020 Playoffs Grand Finals. Neither of recent tournaments hasn’t surpassed its mark of 183K peak and 92K average viewers. That’s an expected development, considering that the event was the culmination of the whole OWL 2020 season. For comparison, the CDL 2020 Finals event peaked at 331K concurrent viewers.
Sorted by peak viewers, the second is the Call of Duty League 2021 Stage 1, the group stage of the first tournament in the new CDL season. The event gathered 131K concurrent viewers and 2.9 million hours watched. On average, 58K spectators tuned in.
From this point, the viewership numbers of CDL started slightly decreasing. The following Stage 1 Major peaked at 118K concurrent viewers, and the Stage 2 phase peaked at 64K concurrent viewers. The most recent Stage 2 Major saw an increase, with 101K peak viewers.
The 2021 season of the Overwatch League kicked off only recently with the OWL 2021 May Melee. The tournament is still ongoing, therefore its viewership statistics will change. At the time of writing this article, the event has gathered 113K peak viewers, 75K average viewers and over 2 million hours watched.
All things considered, we can conclude that the performance of both leagues is comparable, but only at this point. The younger Call of Duty League shows evident growth potential, while the older Overwatch League is slowly heading the opposite way.
YouTube is not the only culprit in this. It’s a complex issue with many factors in effect. For example, Call of Duty esports has been around for more than a decade and takes pride in large, loyal communities. Most CDL teams operated on the Call of Duty scene for years and have brought their legacies to the new league with them.
On the contrary, Overwatch has existed roughly one third of that, and many of the teams in the OWL are still on the way to growing broad fan bases. Moreover, Call of Duty is easy to understand even for those unfamiliar with the game, while Overwatch requires considerable knowledge of the game for spectators to fully understand the ongoing match.
Let’s not forget the impact of the pandemic, which has completely overhauled Blizzard’s league model, or the migration of professional players to other disciplines. One thing is clear - Overwatch has lost a part of its Western audience and its publisher might need to make an effort to regain it.
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