Today, YouTube announced that it will exclusively stream three behemoth esports leaguesthe Call of Duty League, Overwatch League, and Hearthstone Esports, all controlled by Activision Blizzardthat had lived primarily on the game streaming platform Twitch. News of the defections rattled the esports world, especially as it came mere hours before the Call of Duty Leagues inaugural match.
Twitch had held exclusive Overwatch League streaming rights since 2018, when it signed a reported $90 million deal. YouTubes partnership spans several years as well; Google Cloud will also host Activision Blizzards entire library of games.
In an interview with WIRED, head of YouTube Gaming Ryan Wyatt said that Google, which owns YouTube, and Activision have been in talks over esports media rights since last year. Its a long time coming, he said. (Wyatt himself used to be a commentator for competitive Call of Duty.)
Its the latest in a series of high-profile YouTube gaming poaches. Over the last several months, YouTube has plucked Twitch mainstays like Jack “CouRage” Dunlop, who boasted an average of over 9,000 live viewers per stream. Just last week, YouTube announced exclusive deals with three gaming giants, Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, Elliott “Muselk” Watkins, and Lannan “LazarBeam” Eacott. Nabbing Activisions esports as well will be an enormous boon for the growing YouTube live gaming platform, which currently accounts for about 28 percent of livestreamed hours to Twitchs 61 percent, according to stream platform analytics firm StreamElements. (At the end of the last season, Overwatch League games were averaging about 40,000 live viewers on Twitch while top streamer Jaryd Summit1g Lazar might average about 28,000, according to Twitch data tracker SullyGnome.)
It’s our mission to deliver high-quality competitive entertainment that our fans can follow globally, live or on-demand, and to celebrate our players as the superstars that they are, said Activision Blizzard Esports CEO Pete Vlastelica in a press release today. This partnership will help us deliver on that promise at new levels, by combining our passionate communities of fans and players with YouTube’s powerful content platform and exciting history of supporting next-generation entertainment.
While Wyatt declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal, he does say that he doesnt believe that the transition to YouTube will impact the leagues viewership. He cites the success of the 2019 League of Legends World Championships on YouTube where, Wyatt says, the platform had more peak concurrent viewers than anywhere else. Wyatt adds that Call of Duty has always been hugely successful on the platform. We have 200 million logged-in users watching gaming content every single day on YouTube, says Wyatt.
StreamElements CEO Doron Nir agreed in a roundabout way: Esports tournaments have two types of viewership: Live and VOD post game. Since most of VOD happens on YouTube already, I expect the move to YouTube for live viewership will have no negative impact on the views. If YouTube promotes it properly, it might even get more viewership.
Google also gets the benefit of hosting Activision Blizzards massive infrastructure on its cloud, a significant win as the company continues to try both to compete with Amazon Web Services and demonstrate its gaming chops after Google Stadias rocky start.
The news caught participants in the Call of Duty Twitch chat by surprise. Several expressed shock and confusion; after viewers filed into YouTubes Call of Duty League chat, fans spammed L, meaning loss. Twitch did not respond to WIREDs request for comment by press time.