After paying a reported $90 million for the rights to stream the first two seasons of the Overwatch League, a new professional esports league that’s mirroring conventional sports with city-based franchises, Twitch announced Week 1 viewership numbers Wednesday and said it’s happy with the results.
Twitch’s $90 million bid for the rights marked the biggest exclusive esports streaming deal since BAMTech paid $300 million to Riot Games in 2016 to stream League of Legends for a seven-year period. Broken down by year, BAMTech paid roughly $43 million compared with Twitch’s $45 million.
Twitch, the Amazon.com-owned social streaming service that’s long been popular among esports fans, and Blizzard Entertainment, maker of the Overwatch game and parent company of Major League Gaming, announced that more than 10 million viewers tuned in over the first days of competition between all 12 Overwatch teams.
Opening day drew an average audience per minute of 408,000, and 280,000 for the week across Twitch, Major League Gaming and Chinese streaming partner ZhanQi TV, NetEase CC and Panda TV. The peak concurrent online audience was 437,000, reached during the day-one matchup between Dallas Fuel and Seoul Dynasty. Each game took place at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles, which has a capacity for 530 spectators and was sold out for the week.
“We had high expectations for the inaugural broadcast of the Overwatch League on Twitch, given our platform’s passionate fanbase for Overwatch,” Twitch COO Kevin Lin said in a statement. “They really put on an amazing show and fans showed up en masse to support and celebrate Overwatch. Based on the response from the community, Overwatch League is off to a great start and we look forward to watching how the season progresses. This league demonstrates the power and potential of esports, and we’re thrilled to continue expanding our partnership with Blizzard.”
The league is comprised of a number of traditional sports team owners and executives, which Blizzard hopes will help the esports league more easily adapt to the location-based structure and create revenue opportunities by developing local fan bases that drive ticket and merchandise sales.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, for example, owns Boston Uprising, while New York Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon operates New York Excelsior, leveraging a long-standing Boston-New York rivalry. Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Nuggets, owns the Los Angeles Gladiators Overwatch team, while Philadelphia Flyers governor and parent company Comcast Spectacor CEO Dave Scott owns the Philadelphia Fusion team.
Also like traditional sports, the league has a commissioner and offers revenue-sharing agreements.
“This is only the beginning,” Major League Gaming CEO Pete Vlastelica said in a statement. “With more than 35 million Overwatch players, the Overwatch League has the potential to become one of the most-watched leagues — of any kind — in the world.”