Last Friday marked the debut of the Overwatch League airing on Disney XD and ESPN2, following the announcement last week of the partnership between Blizzard Entertainment and Disney. The exact details of this deal were not disclosed, but we do know that Disney maintains the sole television broadcast rights for Overwatch League. Fans can still choose to watch Overwatch League on Twitch, as Twitch signed a two-year exclusivity deal this year to the tune of $90 million.
Overwatch makes history
The airing of the Overwatch League goes down as the first competitive gaming tournament to air live on ESPN in the primetime slot. It is also the first esports championship to air on ABC. This is a momentous occasion for Overwatch, bringing thousands of eyeballs to the new league and the game itself.
Pete Vlastelica, President and Chief Executive of Activision Blizzard esports leagues, shared this sentiment in a statement on ESPN’s website. In the statement, he said “ESPN is invested in the growth of the NBA and now we hope they are invested in the growth of our league. That’s what makes it a significant moment.”
According to ShowBuzzDaily, the Overwatch League airing on Disney XD was watched by over 127,000 viewers. Combine this with the 137,000 viewers on Twitch, and event was watched by at least 264,000 people. That is a massive number, especially for the inaugural season. ESPN2 numbers have yet to be reported and we have yet to reach the finals of the tournament, so expect this number to grow.
Also worth noting was that this broadcast started fairly late in the night in America, as late as 11 PM for people on the East Coast. Capturing such a large audience at that hour is no easy task, especially on a channel aimed at children.
Growth across the industry
This is an important moment for not only the Overwatch League but for esports across the board. As individual esports grow, the entire industry will reap the benefits from the increased exposure. An increase in viewership results in more money from investors and companies for the infrastructure needed, such as stadiums or studios for the events to be held in. Therefore, even if you do not plan to watch Overwatch League even once, this is good news for you and your esport of choice.
In fact, esports are growing! Viewership across the industry is at an all-time high. Just this May, eSports Charts concluded that over 225 million people watched some form of esport over the course of the month. To put this number into perspective, last year 352.3 million unique viewers tuned their TV set into F1 programming at least once. Keep in mind F1 is backed by some of the largest car companies on the planet and has many years under its belt. Esports is still around 100 million viewers short of overtaking F1, but we are still witnessing its infancy stages and there is plenty of room to grow.