What does the Summer Bowl mean for WoW Classic esports?

Classic esports has a ways to go.

Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard’s foray into World of Warcraft Classic esports tournaments had a tepid response over the weekend. The developer’s Summer Bowl finals drew a mediocre audience that averaged around 5,000 viewers.

The event had many of the basic elements that could have made it successful. With Blizzard sanctioning a WoW Classic esports event for the first time, as well as the inclusion of popular broadcast talent, an in-game spectator mode, and participation from some of Classic’s top players, the tournament was poised to do well. But a few factors working in the other direction could have caused the event to not have the same appeal that some other WoW esports events have had in the past. 

While Blizzard’s involvement in any capacity proved to be a turn by the developer, the size of the event’s prize pool was relatively light compared to that of Arena World Championship and Mythic Dungeon International competitions. With just $4,000 going to each region, the tournament didn’t even match the prize pool of Classic Duelers’ League tournaments that have been run by former Method streamer, Tipsout.

Despite the prize pool potentially playing a factor in the morale for the event, it didn’t stop top teams from the world’s best Classic guilds from bringing their best players. 

The competitors included players from APES, which has World First kills on famous bosses like Ragnaros and Onyxia. And with the talent that guild has, the European finals for the event was between two different teams that represented that guild.

As far as viewership goes, the finals in North America fared slightly better than Europe. The seven-hour day of broadcasting on July 4 averaged 5,761 viewers, according to Twitch statistics website SullyGnome. Meanwhile, the APES vs. APES finals on the European side averaged 4,896 viewers through six hours of airtime.

Both numbers fall below what the Classic Duelers’ League has managed to produce. Most recently, the European finals of the one-vs-one fighting competition averaged 8,684 viewers on Tipsout’s personal Twitch channel on June 19. The CDL event also posted a significantly higher peak viewership of 13,030 compared to the Summer Bowl’s 7,467.

The CDL competitions feature a completely different type of PvP competition. The more straightforward, direct nature of one-vs-one fighting could have a higher potential to attract a broader audience the same way that many fighting games attract massive audiences during events like Evo.

On the other hand, someone could see that the CDL had stronger viewership and come to the conclusion that the grassroots, community-driven nature of the CDL gave it more significance in the community.

Over the past few years, some of the most powerful audience figures that WoW has generated have come from grassroots Race to World First events that have no official Blizzard involvement. Those events have consistently proven to be more watched than sanctioned Blizzard events like the Arena World Championship of Mythic Dungeon International.

It’s difficult to pin down what contributed most to the mediocre audience that Blizzard’s Summer Bowl event drew. But in the same way that a person can’t expect to have a good time at the pool immediately after dipping their toes in the water for the first time, WoW Classic’s esports potential necessitates that Blizzard dive in as its next step. Otherwise, there’s a low likelihood that the game will generate much in the way of esports.