Keeping an eye on The Overwatch League: Who's viewing?

Overwatch League Launch.jpgA big milestone in the development, growth and legitimacy of esports was reached last week. The Overwatch League (OWL), the first major global esports league with city-based teams, launched on January 10. The question is now, was the launch successful? Let’s dig into the headlines for that answer.

Broadcasting Rights 

On January 9, The Overwatch League announced a two-year broadcasting deal with Twitch, reportedly valued at $90 million. Twitch is the largest live streaming video platform that focuses on video games and esports competitions. Some have questioned whether the league can grow and succeed without a TV deal, but the audience of the league is best-reached digitally, according to the league’s commissioner. The Overwatch League Commissioner, Nate Nanzer, does think TV will play an important role in the league, but they are “looking to see where it makes sense”.

Opening Day 

The OWL Twitch stream topped out at 425,000 concurrent viewers at its peak. Comparatively, Dota 2’s International 2017 peaked at 5 million concurrent viewers. The main difference here is that Dota 2 has been building its esports audience for years and OWL is a newer endeavor. Either way you look at it, this is a good start for the league on their online-only viewing platform.

Comparisons

The debut of OWL is unlike any other in esports, and even traditional sports. The creation of an entirely new sports league, with this much backing, doesn’t come around often. So, we figured we should take a look at some recent launches of new sports leagues and see how they fared.

XFL
The XFL was a professional American football league that was set to directly rival the NFL. The league was operated as a 50-50 joint venture between the World Wrestling Federation (WWE) and NBC, with an investment of $100 million from each party. During opening night, the league’s premiere games more than doubled the ratings level promised to advertisers. Overnight, the XFL drew a successful 10.3 rating for its debut on national TV. However, as the season went on, TV ratings plunged, leading to the demise of the league. In only one season of play, NBC and the WWE each lost $35 million of their $100 million investment.   

Drone Racing League
The Drone Racing League (DRL) is a professional drone racing league based in the U.S. The races are viewed in first-person as pilots navigate drones through 3-D courses at speeds above 80 MPH. The DRL was launched in January 2016 and featured 5 races broadcast on ESPN, Sky Sports and ProSiebenSat.1. The league was funded from two rounds of initial investments totaling $32 million. The debut of the DRL on ESPN2 was a little disappointing, to say the least, drawing 106,000 viewers during the broadcast. However, throughout the entire first season, over 75 million fans tuned in via online stream or TV broadcast. In this case, a poor debut doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the league. 

National Women’s Soccer League
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is a professional women’s soccer league, operated by the United States Soccer Federation. The NWSL is the sport’s highest level in the U.S. The league was established in 2012 with eight teams and has since grown to ten. As recently as February 2017, the NWSL secured a weekly broadcast window (for the first time ever) with A+E Networks, to be broadcast on Lifetime. In its debut on Lifetime, the pre-game show outdrew the actual game! The game itself drew 82,000 viewers, while the pre-game show drew 131,000 viewers. Opening viewership numbers in previous seasons looked like this:

  • 2016: 65,000 (FS1)
  • 2015: 91,000 (FS1)
  • 2014: 177,000 (ESPN2)
  • 2013: 63,000 (Fox Soccer)

So how has OWL fared in its first week since launching? It’s too early to tell, but based on recent history, it’s safe to say that the league is off to a strong start.

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