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Overwatch League: The disappointing third season

Overwatch League: The disappointing third season

The 3rd season of Overwatch League was hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the platform change, and many other issues. We've made a summary of the results of Blizzard's main league, explaining how all the difficulties affected its popularity.

Based on our methodology we didn't take the statistics of Chinese platforms into the account due to all the unreliable and impossible-to-confirm data provided by those.

San Francisco Shock became the champion of the third OWL season, and hence the competition's first two-time champion. The team defeated Seoul Dynasty in the finals and received $1.5 million. Meanwhile, the representatives of Seoul received $750 thousand for taking the second spot. This is also the first final the eastern team has participated in since the league's debut season.

OWL 2020 attracted 183 thousand peak viewers at the event's final match – which makes it 42%behind last year's overall peak viewers indicator for the season.

The situation is much worse when it comes to Average Viewers. The indicator of the Overwatch League only reached 46 thousand average viewers, which is a 61.4% worth decrease compared to the championship's previous season. In other words, more than half of the OWL audience from last year missed out on the third season. The hours watched features the largest decrease so far, losing 50 million hours (or 65%) compared to 2019.

English became the most popular language of the Overwatch League in 2020, accounting for almost 80% of the total broadcast hours watched. Korean was the tournament's second language and brought it a total of 11.7% of the overall indicator.

It is almost impossible to find any positive points while comparing the individual broadcasts to those from the last year. Among all the languages only Korean one has managed to show at least some sort of increase.

As compared to Overwatch League 2019, Peak Viewers indicator for Korean stream went up by 27%. Even when only looking at the playoffs, the average number of Korean viewers still managed to grow by 3%. The hours watched indicator increased by 29%, that's given that the duration of playoffs also increased – by 25%.

As for the overall results (regular stage included), the average viewers and hours watched indicators decreased by 45% and 51%, respectively. Such a drop in interest was due to the league becoming divided between two regions – and so Korean viewers no longer followed the western teams.

It was the English-language broadcast that lost the most viewers. The decrease of hours watched indicator amounted to 66% compared to the last year (that's while the airtime decreased as well) while the peak viewers indicator decreased by 51%. Finally, the average viewers indicator of the English stream had a 62% worth decrease compared to OWL 2019.

It would be quite difficult to call the list of OWL languages a diverse one. Along with changing the platform, the organizers decided to drop some broadcasts. For example, both Russian and Portuguese disappeared from the official stream list. However, this didn't stop the commentators from having personal broadcasts in these languages – which means the game's fans still had the chance to watch the most important matches in their native languages.

When it comes to the team ranking, San Francisco Shock was ranked first based on the average viewers indicator, as it gathered a total of 58 thousand average viewers. Following it was Philadelphia Fusion with 56 thousand average viewers. Closing the top 3 was Paris Eternal for its 54 thousand average viewers.

It should be said that Overwatch League was significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. This was because the default format of the championship was an offline one, with matches held in large local arenas. The organizers were forced to change the format due to COVID-19 – which has, in turn, negatively affected the interest of the audience.

Initially, all matches switched to online format – which created a new problem for the organizers. Given that the league featured teams from regions all over the planet, online matches became problematic due to the large ping difference. This caused the division of the league into Western and Eastern.

This also meant the fluctuation in the audience's interest levels. One example would be the Korean viewers no longer paying much attention to the matches of Western teams, being only concentrated on the activities of the teams from their home country. The same is true when it comes to Western fans and matches of Asian teams.

Given that each division now had its own audience, the overall results of the league went down. In case the matches went on along with the original plan, every encounter would be watched by all segments of the audience at once – which would make for much better results.

Additionally, March saw the introduction of quarantine measures all over the world, causing an abundant number of viewers to stay at home – thus providing them with an opportunity to watch much more content. Still, in case of OWL we saw a large decrease in viewer numbers starting from the very first week.

This leads us to a conclusion that the decrease in interest wasn't caused by the coronavirus alone – but rather by the league as a whole. Namely, by its departure to YouTube, migration of professional players to other disciplines, and overall decrease in popularity of the shooter itself.

It is not only YouTube that should be blamed. Call of Duty League, which is Blizzard's another championship, also went through the platform change but still wasn't prevented from setting a new record. The turn of events for CDL was virtually the same as for OWL – and yet the number of viewers started showing growth closer to the finals, while the finals themselves made the event the most popular one in COD's very history.

Instead of becoming a breath of fresh air amidst Overwatch's overall stagnation, the third season of OWL happened to only exacerbate the existing problems. While the tournament lost a significant part of its audience while many other disciplines (and their main competitions) set new records, we should give some credit to Blizzard that managed to adapt the game to the COVID-19 pandemic in the shortest possible time as opposed – to repeating the fate of other titles that have simply vanished.

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