The cry of “Overwatch is dead” is by now a familiar one. But is the player count really declining that dramatically in 2020?
It’s hard to say for sure. Blizzard has refused to reveal any specific player count statistics to the public. It’s also not on Steam, which keeps track of each game’s download rates, time played, and more. But common sense and a few other methods say that there less people are playing Overwatch in 2020 than when a few years ago.
While Blizzard has never announced specific numbers, the developer did state at the end of 2018 that the Overwatch player count had slightly declined. They did note that it wasn’t a significant decline that anyone should be concerned about, but nobody knows for sure since the numbers seem to be a big secret for the developer.
It’s easy to believe that the amount of active players has gone down since the game was released in 2016, especially if we follow viewer trends to gauge interest. When Overwatch first came out in May 2016, it was unsurprisingly ranked number one on Twitch. One month later, the hype died down and Overwatch sat in the fifth place spot with an average of 53,297 viewers every hour on Twitch.
In 2017, despite the pro scene moving to the Blizzard Arena, Overwatch lost half the viewers it had in 2016. By the fall of 2017, Overwatch had an average of 21,000 viewers per hour. This was interestingly in spite of Blizzard stating at the time that their player count had increased.
This isn’t to say that couldn’t truly be the case, but streamers losing interest in the game because of the stubborn dive meta and its sometimes challenging viewability might have played roles in decreased viewership despite a supposed increase in players. It also wouldn’t be a stretch to say that some gamers were getting sick of playing the game, not just watching it, as the meta continued to be stale.
In February 2020, Overwatch sits at 16 on the Twitch viewership charts. When it comes to most played titles, Overwatch crept lower and lower on the list in February. By comparison, Team Fortress 2 is in the top ten. Same goes for 2020 as a whole thus far.
Despite the announcement of Overwatch 2 last year, fans spent most of 2019 saying that the game was dying. One reason was a lack of new and original content. Each event was met with disdain from the Overwatch community, as the same limited time modes seem to come back year after year with very little changes.
Even though Overwatch has rich lore behind it, often showcased in comics and videos, none of the event game modes seem to add anything to the heros’ backgrounds. Instead, players continuously punch soccerballs in Lucioball year after year and repeatedly throw snowballs at other Mei’s each winter. This lack of fresh content has left a sour taste in the community’s mouth and it would be safe to say it lost some of its playerbase from that.
Some fans have argued that players shouldn’t have such high expectations over free content updates, while developers have admitted their focus is on Overwatch 2 and banning toxic players. But even if there are legitimate reasons why the events are similar each year, that doesn’t mean players won’t turn to other games if they get bored.
Another trend to keep track of in the absense of specific player count data is the public’s lack of enthusiasm over the Overwatch League. The opening weekend saw 63,505 average concurrent viewers, compared to last year’s opening weekend numbers of 97,168.
Per usual, there are factors involved. This year, the Overwatch League is streaming exclusively on YouTube rather than Twitch. There’s also the fact that the Overwatch League is global now, with matches taking place all over the world. Last weekend, however, was hosted by New York Excelsior and Dallas Fuel. New York and Dallas don’t have time zones different that much from when the matches were all in Los Angeles, so it’s unclear if that has played a part in viewership this early in the season.
Either way, if less people are watching the Overwatch League, no matter the exact reasons, it means less people are watching Overwatch content, which means less people are thinking and talking about Overwatch in general.
For major esports titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and League of Legends, large tournaments pull in a lot more views. The International 2019 had over 1 million concurrent viewers during the finals. This also translates to a higher player count, with fans most likely excited from the pro action. This doesn’t seem to be a trend for Overwatch, and even if it is it’s not as high of a number.
Still, there’s no denying how hype it is to finally have DPS specialists shaking up the OWL compilations once again.
Last year, watching Overwatch League pros playing GOATS week after week most likely did little to inspire people to turn on their own system and enter a competitive lobby. In fact, many players complained about GOATS for the entirety of the time it was the prevailing meta, saying it was boring to watch and to play.
After Blizzard implemented the 2-2-2 role lock, DPS players called the game “unplayable” when their queue times started reaching double digit numbers. This was obviously a huge source of frustration to the majority of Overwatch players, and a loot box reward for switching to support wasn’t going to cut it.
Overwatch developers also frustrated their fanbase when they claimed that power creep wasn’t a real concern in the game. Many fans begged to differ, even explaining that power creep needed to be acknowledged in order to properly balance the roster accordingly. Players currently feel that some support heroes are OP while most of the others are completely irrelevent, making the meta stale and the compositions repetitive.
The short answer: Not necessarily.
As games agem they often lose players. A game like Dota 2 see player spikes here and there, but the overall player base is lower on average than it was in the game’s prime. Blizzard has admitted that Overwatch is going through the same thing: a slow decline.
But is it something to worry about? Probably not. At least, not yet.
Overwatch is still a popular title that people enjoy watching and playing. Even though the in-game events may be repetitive, most fans are already looking towards the changes that Overwatch 2 will bring, as well more details on the existing lore. For many players, new skins are enough to satisfy them and keep them playing for more loot boxes.
Overwatch is definitely losing popularity, but it’s still one of the biggest names in esports and gaming overall. It’s still a game many people play, even if it’s just to get their loot boxes for the week. And the Overwatch League is still an esports competition that many people have an interest in, even if it’s currently not as popular as top esports titles CSGO and League of Legends.
Hopefully, Blizzard will continue to give players good reason to stop saying that Overwatch is dying.
Go here for more updated information about Overwatch player count 2021.