YouTube snags exclusive streaming rights to Overwatch and Call of Duty Esport leagues

In another blow for Twitch, Activision Blizzard has signed an exclusive deal with YouTube

Overwatch World Cup
In 2019 the Overwatch League attracted a 313,000 average audience. Image: Overwatch World Cup c/o Blizzard

YouTube Gaming

YouTube Gaming has struggled to compete against Amazon-owned Twitch. That is, until now. They have just signed a deal that means some of the biggest Esport leagues in the world will be exclusively streamed on YouTube.

This must be a massive blow for Twitch. Although still an enormous platform, it seems that their grip on the gaming world is slipping. Will Twitch still be seen as the go-to platform for live streaming now that they have lost some of the biggest Esport events?

Twitch streams the first two seasons of the Overwatch League. Now YouTube’s deal with Activision Blizzard, who run the leagues has left them out in the cold.

The timing is interesting. The inaugural Call of Duty League season began this weekend, with the announcement coming literally just hours before.

Streaming exclusives

The deal includes three Activision Blizzard leagues:

  • Call of Duty League
  • Overwatch League
  • Hearthstone Esports

These are streamed Esport leagues with enormous followings. In 2019 the Overwatch League attracted an average-minute audience of 313,000. The Call of Duty League also saw year on year growth and generated 2.7 million hours of Twitch viewing time with a peak audience of 182,000.

Hearthstone is one of the most-watched games on Twitch, with a 27% audience share. No doubt the loss of these leagues will have a serious impact on Twitch viewing hours.

Twitch has held exclusive rights to the Overwatch League since 2018 as the result of a $90 million deal. Whilst Google Cloud does host Activision Blizzard’s catalog of games, I wonder how much YouTube bid to win the rights to streaming of their leagues!

Call of Duty Modern Warfare
The inaugural Call of Duty League will stream exclusively on YouTube. Image: Activision/Call of Duty

Partnership

This is the start of a ‘multi-year strategic relationship’ between Activision Blizzard and Google’ according to their press release. Sunil Rayan, Head of Gaming at Google Cloud says:

We’ve worked closely with Activision Blizzard for the past few years across mobile titles to boost its analytics capabilities and overall player experience. We are excited to now expand our relationship and help power one of the largest and most renowned game developers in the world.

Twitch remains the biggest player in the Esport streaming world, but their market share is dropping. This went from 75% to 73% as we reported in December, and is very likely to now drop further.

Part of this is down to Mixer; the much smaller platform is growing in popularity and several high profile gamers have switched from Twitch over to Mixer. These include Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, Michael ‘Shroud’ Grzesiek, Jeremy ‘Disguised Toast’ Wang and Soleil ‘Faze Ewok’ Wheeler.

Whilst each has their own reasons, the general consensus is that Twitch has just gotten too big. Gamers are struggling to make themselves noticed in such a big melting pot, and the freedom that Mixer offers gives them better potential for personal audience growth.

Statista shows viewer numbers on YouTube Gaming and Twitch side by side. It is clear that Twitch remains the market leader. The comparable concurrent viewers in Q3 of 2019 were 1,160,000 on Twitch against 314,000 on YouTube.

Let’s keep those figures in mind. I have a feeling that – unless Twitch does something major to retain their crown – we are going to see a big shift change in Esport streaming this year.

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