Twitch agreed a record-breaking $90m deal with Blizzard earlier this week for the rights to stream all Overwatch League matches for the next two seasons. With Overwatch dominating the platform’s viewing charts, the decision appears to have been a good one.
According to reports, the debut match between San Francisco Shock and Los Angeles Valiant was one of the most popular streams ever aired on the video gaming platform.
As the highly-anticipated league got underway on Thursday, viewership hit a peak of 437,000. 392,000 fans tuned in to the English stream. An additional 65,000 tuned in from Korea and another 11,500 spectators were on the French stream.
Over the course of the six hour stream, viewership held steady above 300,000.
Of course, the opening week was always going to generate plenty of interest. These figures will likely fall as the weeks go on. However, overall it has been a solid start for Blizzard’s showpiece league.
Yet, with Blizzard hoping to turn Overwatch League into the Premier League, National Football League or National Basketball League of the esports world, there is still lots of work to do before it reaches its goal.
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Following the Overwatch League’s grand opening, how does it match up against some of the world’s biggest sports leagues?
National Football League – 16.5m
NFL saw average television viewership drop by eight percent between 2016 and 2017. However, regular season matches still saw an average of 16.5m fans tune in to watch the action.
Of course, with very few other leagues and competitions to compete with, the NFL basically controls the entire American football industry. It will take some doing for the Overwatch League to come anywhere close to matching its might.
National Basketball Association – 1.4m
Interest in NBA basketball was climbing throughout 2017 thanks to surprising player moves and off-court entertainment (here’s to you, LaVar Ball).
The premier basketball league saw viewership climb by 32 percent on the previous year. The regular season recorded an average of 1.4m viewers per match across ESPN, TNT and NBA TV.
Of course, the NBA Finals matches receive far more interest. 2017’s five Finals games recorded an average audience of 11.3m. It is unlikely that the Overwatch League will reach those sort of numbers in its first season, but we won’t know until the play-off stage is underway in the second half of 2018.
Premier League – 1m+
Making Twitch’s $90m deal look like small change, Sky Sports and BT Sport pay a total of over £4bn for the rights to stream Premier League matches throughout the season.
Yet, according to Bloomberg, Premier League viewing figures only average at around double what the Overwatch League brought in on Thursday. Data showed that an average of 819,000 television viewers tuned in per Premier League match between August and October 2017.
While considering the league’s global popularity, the actual viewership likely tops the 1m mark. Likewise, the vast majority of viewers are paying for the service. On the other hand, viewers can stream the Overwatch League for free. Regardless, the Overwatch League surpassing the Premier League would be a mighty achievement and definitely seems achievable.
National Hockey League – 459,000
The Overwatch League came very, very close to reaching its first milestone on Thursday. Peak viewership was just 18,000 below the average viewership for the NHL throughout the 2016/17 regular season.
According to Sports Business Daily, broadcaster NBC saw viewership plummet last year, down an average of 20 percent from the previous season. While viewership on the free-to-watch NBC channel remained high, averaging 1.23m in 15 matches, figures fell on the cable NBCSN channel where the majority of games are shown.
If interest in NHL continues to drop and interest in the Overwatch League holds up, it shouldn’t be too long before the esports competition climbs above it.