Released over two years ago, Overwatch ascended to the height of the esports world very quickly. While it shares that fate with several other Blizzard games, it really seemed like the hero shooter was here to stay. It received excellent scores upon release and was praised by critics, players and fans alike.
In fact, within the very first week, Blizzard reported more than 7 million Overwatch players. By the beginning of 2017, Blizzard reported that Overwatch revenues has exceeded the billion-dollar mark – quite an achievement for a game. Additionally, it received multiple awards including the coveted Game of the Year 2016 award.
When, just a year later, the Overwatch League or OWL was established, it seemed certain – Overwatch was here to stay and would join esports all-stars like League of Legends or Dota 2. For a while, things went great. In esports-centric country South Korea, the title actually overtook League of Legends in terms of popularity and player count.
Now however, things aren’t looking quite so rosy. Fans and players in forums are complaining that the game is all but dead, but is there truth to this? It’s hard to gauge the number of active players as Blizzard doesn’t publish them, only how many overall units of the game have been sold (over 40 million in May 2018).
This is not unusual – Blizzard stopped releasing active player figures for all of their games some time ago. What they do publish however, are the numbers of OWL watchers. Earlier this year, the first day of the League drew in a staggering 320,000 viewers. Including things like watch-parties and the like, numbers were estimated to be near the 400k mark. While this initially suggested that the game was far from dead, by the third day, the viewership numbers had already dwindled to only 180,000.
Fans and critics claimed this was in no small part because of the Overwatch tokens fans were hoping to receive for each match that they watched. In several forums, on Reddit and even the official Blizzard forum, fans admitted that they often ran idle streams while doing something different entirely. This calls into question the surprisingly big viewer figure that Blizzard was able to boast at first.
The same also goes for the high number of sales the game boasts. It is very common for players to have smurf accounts, meaning more than one, even up to 5. While this certainly contributes to the overall account numbers, it doesn’t say anything about individual players at any given time, making it even harder to pinpoint the number of active players at any given moment.
So, what does that mean?
At the end of the day it’s difficult to say how well the game is really doing. While there are plenty of forum threads and even entire articles on how the game is dead and a lost cause, it still holds popular in the top 10s and 20s of most lists of ‘most-played’. At the time of this article, it is the 12th most played game in the Xbox One store in the US.
While player and viewer numbers are likely to have dropped quite a bit, they are far from small, and the game is far from dead. More than anything, the impression that the game is dying is caused by things Overwatch actually has no influence on – other games.
One of the big names here is Fortnite. The free-to-play Battle Royale game is the most popular game in the world at the moment (not unlike Overwatch after its release), and many have interpreted its popularity as harmful to Overwatch. While the general public interest may have shifted away from Overwatch, player-interest hasn’t. Match-finding times haven’t gotten any longer than they used to be and with semi-regular updates, Blizzard is keeping the game up to date too.
Despite all of these facts, there are dozens and dozens of threads proclaiming that Overwatch is dead in various forums, even entire YouTube videos explaining it. While it’s true that lots of YouTubers, content creators and even writers have deserted Overwatch in favour of Fortnite or PUBG, this is not really the fault of Overwatch itself. As new games come out, they are simply more profitable for these YouTubers to cover, causing them to flock to them quickly.
As for players leaving: Yes, it does happen. After 9 seasons of Overwatch, quite a lot of the players that were with it since the beginning hit a certain skill plateau. This means that after improving through the ranks for a while, casual players and even those that prefer competitive play hit a point where they don’t improve much any more, or even not at all.
This causes some players to abandon the game in frustration, however, as this is something that happens to just about every game with competitive play, this does not necessarily indicate how well a game is doing overall. Listening to fans and players however, there are certainly some complaints, particularly when it comes to waiting and queue times.
When compared with games like Team Fortress 2 that has sold some 43 million copies and has several more game-modes than Overwatch does, wait times do seem quite long. While Blizzard has not released exact numbers on average wait times, fans are frequently found complaining about long waits of up to 5 minutes even for a quick match and have been since almost day one. US-based players have reported that even in ‘prime-play-time’ in the evenings, it can take them several minutes to be matched up.
To sum up all this conflicting information, Overwatch is not as dead as some would make it out to be, but it isn’t doing as well as it could be. In fact, it is suffering the same slow decline that many other games have before it. It seems that despite the bright future it was promised, Overwatch couldn’t quite manage to keep up with the esports all-stars in the end.
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