Overwatch League viewership doubled under its tournament format

The return of token drops probably helped the numbers too.

Hunter Martin via Getty Images

Overwatch League (OWL) viewership doubled this past weekend as Blizzard experimented with a tournament format. The average audience per minute (AMA) was 63,000 -- a big increase from 31,000 the previous week. That marks OWL's best viewership since the second week of the season, when the AMA was 74,000.

Two May Melee tournaments took place concurrently. The North America version pulled in an AMA of 68,000 (up from 36,000 the week before) and the Asia tournament drew 52,000, an increase of 29,000. Viewership peaked during each tournament's final: 88,000 in North America and 77,000 in Asia. San Francisco Shock and Shanghai Dragons won their respective brackets.

There's another factor that probably led to higher viewership last weekend. It was the first time this season that viewers could earn tokens just for watching. These can be exchanged for in-game OWL-themed skins. Token drops were a staple of the Twitch broadcasts in 2018 and 2019, and many fans had been clamoring for their return.

In any case, the change in format clearly paid off, and there are now plans to hold a summer tournament. More details about that and the structure for the rest of the season will be revealed next week.

Viewership dropped dramatically from previous seasons for a number of reasons. Many fans disliked the move from Twitch to YouTube and ditching the stage format meant there were lower week-to-week stakes. Blizzard also canceled all live events for the regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- matches were scheduled for each team's city this year, but they're taking place online now. Losing the atmosphere a live audience brings can't have helped viewer interest.

The league is facing other challenges, such as players defecting to other esports and pros dealing with a tougher practice schedule following the addition of weekly hero bans. However, it seems Blizzard has some reasons for optimism coming out of the May Melee.