Overwatch League Grand Finals and the Future of Competitive Streaming
The Overwatch League, the world’s first global, franchised esports league, just completed its inaugural season. The Overwatch League regular season began on January 10, and culminated in the Grand Finals that took place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY this past weekend. While the regular season exclusively aired via live stream, the Grand Finals were broadcasted across major linear TV networks such as ABC, ESPN, and Disney XD, along with other streaming platforms, such as Twitch. Six teams advanced to the inaugural season playoffs in order to compete for the $1.4 million prize pool, with London Spitfire taking first place.
The Grand Finals proved to be an important stepping stone for the esports industry. According to Dot Esports, the reported “global average minute audience” exceeded 860,000 for the event. Statistics show that, across all broadcasting and streaming platforms, only about 290,000 viewers were based in the United States, which confirms that the event was truly global in nature – an important goal for the league. Moreover, the league only expected an average minute audience of about 500,000, so they exceeded their own (and much of the gaming community’s) expectations.
Much has also been made of the cable TV ratings for the event. Sports Business Journal reporter John Ourand tweeted some initial TV ratings, which had the Friday night on ESPN at 0.18 and the Sunday afternoon recap on ABC at 0.3. These numbers are lower than the ratings for other major esports events that have hit broadcast TV (such as ELEAGUE) and are low in general, but it would be a mistake to judge the success of the event as a whole or even the TV numbers purely by looking at the ratings. As ESPN executive John Lasker noted, “the way [ESPN] will be covering [Overwatch League] starting with the playoffs and the finals this year certainly speaks volumes to our excitement and our enthusiasm overall for esports moving forward.”
Putting the Grand Finals on linear TV is an important building block for driving further investment and brand activation in the space. Despite the fact that cable TV subscription rates are plummeting, an important segment of mainstream culture still views prime time network TV as the premiere content distribution avenue. As such, these types of broadcasts help Overwatch and the esports industry as a whole be viewed as more legitimate sporting events. With that said, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture: cable TV needs esports far more than esports need cable TV. The headwinds traditional sports face in addressing shifting trends in content consumption are tailwinds for the esports industry. Esports were born in an era of live streaming – our audience is young, difficult to reach via other avenues, but insanely engaged with esports content. Checking the cable TV box is a nice value add, but the Overwatch League Grand Finals were an enormous success – the cable TV ratings are nothing more than a footnote.
OMG Wins 2018 PUBG Global Invitational
The 2018 PUBG Global Invitational Tournament was held this past week in Berlin, Germany. With a total prize pool of $2 million ($1 million each for Third Person Perspective and First Person Perspective) and the top teams from around the world in attendance, it’s safe to say that the ultimate PUBG bragging rights were on the line. For the TPP event on July 26, South Korean team Gen.G Gold rebounded from a slow Day 1 start to edge out Team Liquid, taking home the title. On the FPP side, Chinese team Oh My God (OMG) capitalized off of their dominant Day 1 performance to ward off a potential comeback by Team Liquid, and were ultimately crowned the champions.
This past week’s PUBG Global tournament was a huge step forward for PUBG esports – not to mention battle royale esports as a whole – as the tournament surpassed all ratings expectations and was met with extremely positive feedback from the broader esports community. PUBG Corp also unveiled its “5-Year Plan” to create a sustainable esports ecosystem around PUBG. The company strives to invest in building foundations for a battle royale esports system which can be used to host tournaments independent from publisher funding or organization. PUBG Corp envisions the esports side of its business as a self-sustainable entity, primarily funded through merchandise, in-game content, and the possibility of revenue sharing. They hope to expand participation in amateur events, create regional leagues with external partners across each region, and also host an annual world championship. Additionally, the organization aims to standardize the rules, point system, in-game settings, and more, which will provide a stringent, yet much needed constancy to the game. It is important to acknowledge that the standardization of rules and continued immense popularity growth worldwide indicates that PUBG Corp’s plan is on the right track.