The Overwatch League grand finals were a landmark event for esports in 2018, but its Nielsen ratings on ESPN and ABC don’t really reflect that—at least at first glance.
Much of the league was broadcast solely on Twitch and the Overwatch League’s own Major League Gaming platform, with an average viewership hovering around 100,000 each day. But on July 11, the Overwatch League announced a major deal with Disney to bring the grand finals event to ESPN, Disney XD, and ABC. (The deal will continue into season two, too.)
The Overwatch League grand finals concluded on July 28, and the Nielsen numbers are in.
Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reported on July 30 that Overwatch League’s Friday night broadcast on ESPN was rated at .018, while Saturday night on ESPN2—a re-broadcast of earlier digital coverage—rated at 0.05. Sunday night’s ABC recap clocked in at 0.3. Ourand also pointed out that the Overwatch League lost close to half it’s lead-in viewers on Friday night, and was down 20 percent from boxing in the same timeslot the week before.
Ourand did not report numbers from the broadcast on Disney XD.
Television ratings aren’t an ideal way to measure viewership though, with numbers adding up to an estimate rather than a solid number. Breaking down the ratings percentages into numbers, Kotaku reported the Friday night broadcast reached 215,280 households, while on Saturday the Overwatch League reached 59,800 homes, and on Sunday, it broadcast to 358,800 households.
Blizzard hasn’t posted official broadcast numbers for its weekend Overwatch League broadcast, but across the two nights, the Twitch stream peaked around 350,000 viewers by our count. We’re still missing numbers from different streams across the weekend, but add these counts together and it’s actually pretty good for an esports broadcast.
Does it show that esports has a certain future on broadcast television? No. We won’t know its true success until there’s some sort of buildup to coverage—the Overwatch League can’t expect ESPN viewers to be invested in a grand finals match they have no context for.
Neither Blizzard nor Disney have explicitly said whether the Overwatch League will have a consistent home on ESPN and ABC networks during season two, but it’s certainly in line for more coverage than just the finals—and that bodes well for better ratings in season two.