Esports fighting games suffered a lot in 2020, and it was not the coronavirus that was to blame, but the scandalous cancellation of the main festival in the genre: EVO 2020. Many top disciplines declined a lot by Hours Watched because of this. Most popular discipline of the year was Brawlhalla that attracted a lot of viewers with in-game gifts. Who else is in the top 5?
Sexual scandals knocked down fighting games
The main tournament in the world of fighting games is EVO, but the championship did not take place in 2020. The competition was first moved online due to pandemic, but this was only the first bad sign. A huge scandal erupted just a day before the start of the event: the co-founder of the event, Joe Cuellar, was accused of repeated sexual harassment of EVO participants.
Many studios have refused to submit their games to EVO amid the scandal, including Capcom, NetherRealm Studios and Bandai Namco. Popular player Dominique SonicFox McLean and several commentators also withdrew from the tournament.
At the same time, sexual scandals occurred in the Super Smash Bros community, where several representatives of the scene accused colleagues of inappropriate behavior. Perhaps the most controversial case was the incident with NRG Esports player Nairoby Nairo Quezada, who was accused of abuse towards Zack CaptainZack Lauth. As a result, Quesada became an outcast: he was excluded from NRG, and Nintendo deleted all videos related to him.
All this affected the popularity of disciplines on streaming services. In 2020, viewers spent 2-3 times less time on the broadcasts of "classic" disciplines (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros. and Dragon Ball FighterZ) compared to 2019.
Brawlhalla is the new leader among fighting games
The most popular esports discipline among fighting games in the past year was Brawlhalla, which did not make it to the top 5 in 2019. Discipline’s Hours Watched increased almost 20 times in a year (560K in 2019 vs 10.8M Hours Watched in 2020).
Most popular Brawlhalla event was the World Championship held in November. It accounted for 40% of the total Hours Watched of the discipline. Tournament also set a record by Peak Viewers of the year in fighting games: over 165.6K Peak Viewers.
The discipline's popularity in 2020 was heavily influenced by the developer’s collaboration with Twitch. The Brawlhalla Viewership Rewards extension was announced in summer: viewers could receive gifts for watching tournaments, and the reward depended on the duration of the session. As you know, free loot always attracts viewers.
The undisputed leader of 2019, Super Smash Bros. was the undisputed leader of 2019, but it only took 2nd place in 2020. Disciplines’ total Hours Watched dropped by 60% in a year (25.7M vs 10.2M HW). Interestingly, the most popular tournaments took place in North America before the pandemic. The most popular event of the discipline was Frostbite 2020 with 115K spectators at peak who watched the match between the Mexican gamer MKLeo and the Japanese esports athlete Tea.
Street Fighter V finished at #3 with 4.5M Hours Watched; the game has also dropped by 61% by this metric. The most popular events for the game in 2020 were held in Japan. These were the Street Fighter League PRO JP 2020 and local qualifiers for the cancelled EVO 2020: the qualifiers gathered over 70.3K Peak Viewers, which is a record for the discipline in 2020.
Retrospective: Most popular fighting games in 2019
Tekken fell by 75% in Hours Watched, but still remained in the top 5 with almost 1.54M. The most popular tournament by this metric was the Bud Light Beer League 2020: it brought the discipline almost 300K Hours Watched. But the discipline's peak by viewers was during EVO Japan 2020, which was simultaneously watched by over 55.2K people. The regional events of the #T7OnlineChallenge series (organized by the developers Bandai Namco) and the KO Fight Night 2020 event were also quite popular with thousands of viewers at peak.
Mortal Kombat rounded out the top 5, even though the discipline dropped by 67% in Hours Watched (1.27M in 2020). MK was arguably the least affected by scandals, as it still shouldn't have made it into the main program of EVO 2020. The top event of the discipline was the Final Kombat 2020 with 60.3K Peak Viewers.
Note that the difference between the 5th and 6th places was extremely insignificant. Compared to 2019, Dragon Ball FighterZ dropped out of the rankings. The main event of the game also took place at the beginning of the year: World Tour Finals gathered 115K Peak Viewers. The qualifiers for the 2021 world cup were also quite popular in the discipline: they brought DBFZ over 540K Hours Watched.
Pokémon Sword and Shield was also close to getting in the top 5. Several high-level tournaments took place in the discipline, which attracted tens of thousands of spectators: however, there were not enough events, which prevented the Pokémon from being in the rating.
2020 dealt a serious blow to the fighting esports community, with the most popular games dropping heavily by Hours Watched. The authors of Brawlhalla managed to take advantage of the competitors’ problems, having entered into a partnership with Twitch on time, which helped the viewership statistics of the discipline.
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