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Q1 2019’s Most Impactful PC Videogames: The Year of Growth

By: Trent Murray

Both the Overwatch League  and NBA 2K  League have expanded. Viewership for Western League of Legends pro leagues is up year-over-year. Across the esports industry, leagues are being revamped and prize pools are growing. Overall, 2019 is shaping up to be a year of growth for the industry.

This growth is reflected in The Esports Observer’s PC Games Impact Index report for the first quarter of 2019. For a detailed breakdown of the key performance indicators that determine a game’s index score, click here to review last year’s initial Impact Index report.

The Big Four

For the last several years, the esports industry has been consistently led by Counter-Strike , League of Legends, and Dota 2 , commonly referred to as the “Big Three.” Over the last year, with its consistently high viewership and $100M USD overall prize pool for its first season, Fortnite  has forced its way onto equal footing with the Big Three. This is clearly reflected in the large gap between these games and the next title in the impact rankings. The fifth place game (Overwatch) is separated from the Big Four by 21.84 – the largest gap separating any two games on the list.

The scores of each of the games in the Big Four have increased year-over-year.

While it is worth noting that the Overwatch League did not begin until mid-February, thus putting the game at a significant disadvantage in esports activity compared to the Big Four, Overwatch was unable to break into the top four at any point during the inaugural OWL season in 2018.

In fact, the Overwatch League itself may be a limiting factor for Overwatch’s impact. Activision Blizzard has effectively eliminated all third-party activity related to the game, drastically reducing both the number of tournaments and available prize money within a given quarter. While the league still generates viewership that frequently places highly on weekly Twitch rankings, the lack of prominent streamers or other tournaments ultimately hurts Overwatch’s impact score, which has declined slightly year-over-year.

By contrast, the scores of each of the games in the Big Four have increased year-over-year, with Fortnite jumping from 13.64 points in Q1 2018 to 51.70. These games continue to iterate on their structures while also providing opportunities for streamers and third-party tournament organizers to drive growth for their respective esports scenes.

On The Rise

Four games are particularly noteworthy for growing their impact scores by more than 100% year-over-year. Call of Duty , FIFA , and World of Warcraft  each saw a surge in popularity in the latter half of 2018 due to the release of new titles: Black Ops 3, FIFA 19, and the expansion Battle for Azeroth, respectively. The popularity of these games (and by extension their viewership and esports interests) operate on a regular content cycle. Interest peaks when a new entry is released, and then declines over time until it spikes again with the next release.

That said, all three games are also now in the midst of a renewed focus on their esports systems. Call of Duty is gearing up for its move to a franchise system, FIFA has enjoyed a boom in its ecosystem with more third-party tournaments and organizers entering the space, and Activision Blizzard overhauled the structure for both of WoW’s competitive modes as well as increasing their prize pools. Additionally, WoW continues to see large spikes in viewership during World First raid races led by esports organization Method.

Credit: Ubisoft

Although Rainbow Six Siege did not benefit from a major new game release, it was still able to see impact growth on par with the other three titles. Rainbow Six Siege is the product of steady growth and frequent content updates which have driven more esports viewership, prize money, and organization interest over the last 18 months. While the game is likely to continue growing as an esport, its impact score may have peaked for the year as its most prominent tournament, the Six Invitational, concluded in February. However, the game’s ability to see such strong year-over-year growth without relying on a new release gives it more in common with the games in the Big Four, and suggests a potential to one day contend with the impact of those titles if its current growth rate continues into 2020.

Still Not Enough

The final game of note stands out for its absence in the top 15 – Apex Legends. Apex dominated Twitch following its release on Feb. 4, 2019, and saw tournament support from the streaming platform in the form of two $100K USD Twitch Rivals events. Unfortunately, developer Respawn Entertainment and publisher EA failed to capitalize on the game’s successful launch.
By March, the lack of a developer-supported tournament ecosystem or significant content update had driven many of the game’s top streamers back to other titles, primarily Fortnite. With the $30M Fortnite World Cup on the horizon, it is unlikely that Apex Legends will be able to pull top competitive Fortnite streamers away.

That said, with top streamers such as Turner “Tfue” Tenney stating that they would quit competing in Fortnite tournaments after the World Cup due to frustration with the game, a significant esports investment from EA in the latter half of 2019 could be enough to draw disenfranchised Fortnite streamers to Apex Legends, giving the game a second chance to dethrone the current king of battle royales.


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