Who would have thought that the minds behind the lore-heavy Diablo, StarCraft, and Warcraft franchises would have it in them to develop one of the most popular team-based multiplayer shooters of all time? Probably nobody – but that didn’t stop just short of 10 million people from jumping into the first open beta of Blizzard’s online romp. But how many people still play Overwatch in 2020?
Since that first arena firefight, as players grew accustomed to the assortment of colorful and unique heroes, Overwatch continued to grow. Blizzard’s storytellers did what they do best and crafted an expansive universe while the rest of its development team continued to improve (and sometimes impair) the online FPS.
All of this started in 2016, so clearly, players have moved on to something bigger and better after four years, right? Well, the best way to answer that is to look at the player numbers.
The tricky part about determining how many players are still playing Overwatch at once is that it’s available on multiple platforms, none of which really release real-time player data like Steam. In fact, the only real numbers we have to work off of are from PlayerCounter.com, outdated information from Blizzard, and Twitch stats. Unfortunately, even sites like PlayerCounter, which claim to have proprietary technology that can compile active player data, admit that their system isn’t flawless. So, even if it were trustworthy, one would have to account for an unknown margin of error.
Additionally, while Twitch is a good gauge of Overwatch’s lingering interest, it’s not indicative of how many people are playing concurrently. Particularly because not everyone streams on Twitch and Google isn’t too forthcoming with statistics from YouTube. At the time of writing this, though, Overwatch had around 16,000 viewers on Twitch, which is relatively low considering another popular hero-based shooter, Valorant, had over 72,000 active viewers. Again, though, that doesn’t even tell us how many people are streaming.
That leaves us with just outdated information. A little over a year after its release, Overwatch touted 35 million players. By November 2019, Blizzard reported its successful hero-based shooter had increased its player base to 50 million people. However, that was before games like Valorant, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone flooded the multiplayer shooter market and started chipping away at Overwatch’s fandom.
Overwatch and Twitch Viewership
Overwatch may not have the largest Twitch presence right now, but that wasn’t always the case. The year Overwatch launched, it was recognized during the keynote of TwitchCon 2016 as the streaming service’s most popular title. Up against games like World of Warcraft, Destiny, and Tom Clancy’s: The Division, Overwatch scooted head to the number one spot of the year’s “Most watched new releases” list. By November 2020, TwitchTracker.com reported that it had dropped to the platform’s #30 spot with an average of 15,600 viewers.
However, out of more than 500 games reported on TwitchTracker, Overwatch stands as the 27th most-watched game on Twitch with 2.63 million viewing hours. Channels like OverwatchLeague and PlayOverwatch certainly lent to that viewership through spaces dedicated explicitly to Blizzard’s multiplayer shooter. Unfortunately, neither channel has been active in a year. Though the player base has slowly started to dip, Overwatch drew in record numbers with 1.55 million viewers tuning in for the 2020 Grand Finals.
According to TwitchTrakcer, Overwatch sustains about a 1,000-player average for monthly concurrent streams. October 2020 saw the year’s biggest peak with 2,500 streams running concurrently, beating out May’s 2,400 streams. It’s worth noting that even shortly after the game’s release in 2016, it was showing a similar average of approximately 1,000 to 1,200 concurrent streams. Based on TwitchTracker’s figures, the biggest change is the peak number of streams, which was consistently above 2,000 throughout 2017 and much of 2018.
Overwatch eSports Popularity
With Twitch and its casual audience of players, Overwatch drew in impressive numbers. It was initially meant to be a game of friendly competition, but the potential for high-stakes competitive tournaments was hard to ignore. So, the development team worked on contingencies should Overwatch find its way into the esports market. By mid-2016, the first of many prize-winning competitions began.
It didn’t take long at all for Blizzard to jump onto the esports bandwagon. At the 2016 BlizzCon, the development team announced the official Overwatch League. Launched in January 2018, the first prize pool was for $1 million. The Grand Finals drew in an audience of nearly one million viewers, which increased to 1.1 million during the second annual Grand Finals.
The Future of Overwatch
Though the player base may have shrunk a bit since its peak numbers, Overwatch still has a bright future ahead of it. Or, to clarify, Overwatch 2 has a bright future. The sequel to Blizzard’s popular hero shooter was announced in 2019 with a 2020 release date. Unfortunately, when the world imploded due to COVID, Blizzard was forced to push the release date back to an unspecified time in 2021.
Overwatch 2 will be a full-on, standalone sequel and not some overpriced DLC expansion pack. A new PvE mode, new heroes, the “Push” tug-of-war game mode, and the game’s classic PvP matches will draw players together on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, and Switch.
Though Overwatch 2 is sure to pull players from its predecessor, the sequel will feature cross-play with the original, so the 2016 title won’t instantly die out.
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