The Overwatch League completed the first stage of its regular season, the Kickoff Clash, yesterday with the Los Angeles Gladiators claiming the first tournament of 2022. And, just like last year’s May Melee, the opening week of competition led the way in terms of viewership.
The 2022 Kickoff Clash posted a peak viewership of 121,227 people tuning in at one point to see the Gladiators take on the New York Excelsior in the first match of the 2022 season. Figures stayed high on day one, with the other two matches from the first day of the opening weekend also peaking at well over 100,000 viewers, according to Esports Charts.
While the peak viewership numbers for the first stage of the regular season were solid, and actually improved upon viewership numbers from 2021’s May Melee, the average viewership totals for the stage will give OWL some cause for concern.
The average viewership of the 2021 May Melee was much stronger than 2022’s Kickoff Clash, according to Esports Charts. Last year’s first stage peaked at 113,467 viewers, also occurring on the opening weekend of play. But the average viewership for matches in the May Melee came in at 69,138 viewers, while the Kickoff Clash only managed an average viewership of 50,201 viewers. Despite improving on peak viewership, it appears that the new season failed to retain viewers as well as the league did last year.
The improved peak in the opening weekend of 2022 was most likely due to the league transitioning to five-vs-five play and the debut of new maps and game modes coming with Overwatch 2. With these changes altering the entire way Overwatch is played, it’s natural that fans were curious about what professional play would look like. It doesn’t seem that the OW2 patch succeeded in recapturing the imagination of lapsed fans, however.
The decline in average viewership could also be chalked up to the extensive technical issues that have plagued OWL broadcasts so far this season. Viewers have complained at length about continued issues with framerates while trying to watch matches on YouTube.
While the Kickoff Clash featured a triumphant return to LAN events for OWL after going so long without them due to COVID-19, the viewership numbers are at best fairly average for the league, and at worst a sign that viewers aren’t sticking around. Currently in the last year of its exclusive broadcast deal with YouTube, the league will be keen to improve upon the Kickoff Clash numbers if it hopes to secure a new deal in the future.