WoW Esports is Heading to YouTube. Which is a Good Thing?

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WoW Esports is Heading to YouTube. Which is a Good Thing?

Activision Blizzard announced a deal with YouTube that would see the platform stream OWL, CDL, Hearthstone and, the reason we’re here WoW esports in 2020.

Now, while the OWL and CDL took the headlines, a few sites picked up on the Hearthstone news but WoW… WoW was barely mentioned. Despite being the biggest MMORPG on the market, one of the top games on Twitch and  Activision Blizzard’s top-performing game on Twitch in 2020 ⁠— a lot of that being down to WoW Classic’s launch and the mega-success of the community-run Race to World First events.

But hey, franchised League’s and all that.

So, let’s talk about it and what it might mean for WoW in 2020 and beyond.

What Was the Deal?

The image announcing Blizzard Activision's deal with YouTube, featuring the logos for OWL, CDL and YouTube Gaming.
Hearthstone and WoW are so important they forgot to include them in the announcement graphics.

The multi-year deal will see the above mentioned Activision Blizzard games streamed exclusively on YouTube. For WoW, this firstly confirms that WoW esports is indeed back in 2020 and that it now has a new home. For the next few years at least.

What Does This Mean for WoW Specifically?

This is going to be the big question. WoW is undoubtedly a popular game and does well on Twitch. The esports, however, are less popular. Now, to use some purely anecdotal evidence; I run a WoW guild with around 30-35 dedicated “semi-hardcore” WoW raiders. Most of those interested are only into the MDI (WoW’s PvE ‘Games Done Quick’ style of esports.), with fewer interested in the AWC (3v3 Arena battles).

The problem is getting those millions of WoW players to have any interest in the game’s esports.

With WoW being a less popular esport, the community that it does have becomes all the more important. This is where YouTube starts to cause problems. With the stream no longer on Twitch, fans will no longer be able to cheer on their favorite players or teams.

A close up of the face of a paladin in armor

Now, this is the same for the CDL and OWL. However, with the vast majority of MDI and AWC players being full-time streamers, their own communities make up the vast majority of the viewership when they’re playing.

Oh and that community that we mentioned, the one that drives WoW esports forward; those people they watch on YouTube will be streaming on Twitch. This adds another barrier between seeing your favorite player perform and being able to support them directly. It's a point that was highlighted by top WoW Streamer Asmongold on Twitter.

Another major problem is communication. I highlighted this in a previous article in late 2019. The gist of the issue is; Blizzard has no communication with its competitors, the news came completely out of left-field. (Again, we don’t officially know anything about WoW esports in 2020).

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Blizzard has routinely mishandled WoW esports, the community and its players. To highlight this point BlizzCon saw teams who flew to the event to compete, knocked out in the “pre-BlizzCon” qualifier. Which was played off-stream.

The Blizzcon Issue

This issue was brought to light by Method General Manager Shanna Sarr who spoke about it in a Twitlonger at the:
“…Facilities for players were severely lacking. Only one day of practice facilities were provided to players before competition commenced on Thursday, October 31. Players were flown in on Sunday, no food was provided (except one lunch) until Wednesday, and players had to scramble to book PC cafes out of pocket, sometimes traveling up to 30 minutes each way by Uber to ensure they weren't sharing a cafe with competing teams… Once the practice facility was open, chairs were uncomfortable, minimal snacks and drinks were provided, and meal options were non-existent for those with special diets. Time-based breakfast coupons meant that some teams (and casters) missed that meal entirely if they couldn't show up in their scheduled window to eat.”

It certainly doesn’t sound like a $600k event, does it? But that was just some of the issues, once we got into the actual games the problems continued.

Shanna continued by saying: “ Opening week was deleted, matches were not streamed. Fans, who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to support these players, could not even watch the opening rounds for AWC or MDI. These were condensed into one day, offline, on Thursday (the day before BlizzCon). Teams had to play these rounds surrounded by other teams who were playing and practicing.”

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Lastly, Shanna spoke to our earlier point about organizations and players' loss of earnings and exposure. “Organizations rely on their signed players having visibility during competitions in order to secure sponsorships were left with half the event being behind closed doors. The opportunity for these players to grow their personal brands by having their matches streamed was cut in half – don't underestimate the importance here: WoW Esports does not pay enough, on its own, to be a full-time job. Most who chose the path of being a pro player in WoW need sponsorship and/or streaming to support themselves.”

What can we expect in 2020?

The Race to World First promotional image showing the logos for all invited guilds

We’ll probably see lower viewership, though YouTube can mitigate this if it improves searchability and promotion of esports on the platform. In its current state, however, YouTube is still an inferior platform for streaming. Games like Overwatch and Call of Duty can take the loss in views and still pull 80k+, WoW will struggle.

It’s also unlikely that the loss of views will be as heavily mitigated by the money involved in the deal. WoW esports saw a huge rise in prize pools in 2019, but that was all down to the community. Blizzard provided none of the BlizzCon Finals prize pool.

2019 saw WoW esports gain some ground, with community involvement and integration within the game itself. This deal, while hugely profitable for Blizzard, might set the scene back.

With Shadowlands not likely to arrive until late in 2020, the current expansion Battle for Azeroth is likely to dominate the majority of the year. The game will spend the majority of 2020 in the same state that it begins.

Ultimately, it feels like the void between WoW esports and the community who enjoys it has grown to a near unrecoverable level. While WoW esports will continue in 2020, it’s hard to see 2021 looking good if none of the things mentioned above are dealt with.

The WoW community wants to love the scene, they truly do care. Unfortunately, Blizzard doesn’t seem to. This will probably mean more community-run events continue to be the most relevant. Things like Classic Dueler's League and the Race to World First are more in line with what the community wants. The RWF, in particular, will likely continue in 2020 to dominate Twitch and be the talk of the community.

WoW Esports is Heading to YouTube. Which is a Good Thing?
David Hollingsworth
David has written for games media outlets for the last ten years. With his first major esports role being with Esports News UK covering mostly UK League of Legends. David is also a member of the British Esports Association and is an advisor to them on World of Warcraft Esports. More recently David has worked for Esports Insider and Red Bull as an esports journalist. David later became Editor at ESTNN and now leads the current team.