How popular is Overwatch, really? (One year later)

About one year ago, and about a month into the life of the game, we asked: “How Popular Is Overwatch?”

The answer was, in short: “Very popular.”

But we had no idea how much of an understatement that was going to turn out to be. A year later, Overwatch is still growing in popularity. It has absolutely shattered the records it set last year several times over.

The game has fundamentally changed, too. We have seen new characters, new maps, new modes, and tons and tons of balance patches. You can do so much more in the Overwatch of today than you could in the Overwatch of a year ago.

Now that Overwatch’s one-year anniversary has recently passed, it’s worth taking a second look at the question we asked when it first released. Just how popular is Overwatch?

How Many People Play Overwatch?

When we last took a look at Overwatch’s player counts, it had 11 million players. This was after a very successful beta that included 9.7 million participants. At the time we compared it to World of Warcraft, which had 12 million subscribers at its peak, which for that game came after being out for five years. We said that it had a chance of becoming Blizzard’s most popular game by overtaking WoW in numbers.

Boy, we had no idea how right we were. At the time we said that Overwatch had quite a ways to go before it could compete with some of the best-selling FPS games of all time. We compared it to Call of Duty: Black Ops, the best-selling Call of Duty title, which sold 30.17 million copies. A year ago, that was three times the numbers Overwatch had to boast about. However, these were Black Ops’ lifetime sales figures, whereas Overwatch had only been out for a month. Comparatively, Overwatch was gaining users at a faster rate than Black Ops did, so given a little bit of time…

And they did it. Earlier this year Blizzard announced that Overwatch broke its 30 million player mark and is well on the way to 31 million as we speak. Yes, it blew past Black Ops’ record in just a year’s time, and its numbers are still growing, putting it on track toward being one of the most popular FPS games ever released.

How Many People Talk About Overwatch?

We also mentioned how the Overwatch subreddit was one of the fastest growing that Reddit has seen, boasting 263,000 subscribers and averaging 20,000 more views than Reddit’s front page during the game’s launch period. Now the subreddit has 900,747 members, and it continues to climb toward a million every day. They are currently the 65th most popular subreddit, though they have a long way to go to catch up with the most visited subreddit – r/AskReddit – which has over 17 million subscribers.

How Hasn’t Overwatch Grown?

Despite its overwhelming success, Overwatch hasn’t grown in all ways. At the time of our original article, Overwatch was making headlines for beating out League of Legends in South Korean internet cafes. Then, Overwatch accounted for 30% of all gameplay while League of Legends accounted for 28%. However, Overwatch’s popularity in internet cafes dropped sharply earlier this year due to a recent change in Blizzard’s terms of service meant to combat cheaters. As a result, Overwatch play saw a steep decline to 18% representation in South Korean internet cafes. Meanwhile League of Legends has risen, once again, to 32%.

A year ago, Overwatch was also one of the industry’s fastest growing e-sports. However, those tables have turned as well. It is now one of the industry’s most rapidly failing e-sports. Pro team after pro team is abandoning professional Overwatch play due to prohibitive costs associated with joining the Overwatch League, and general lack of prize support for existing Overwatch tournaments. If the League doesn’t get off to a good start, we might see Overwatch slowly fade from the competitive scene.

Why Has It Remained So Popular?

One word: support.

Blizzard simply has not stopped providing full, timely support to Overwatch. We can see it in the way they treat the competitive scene. Any time the game starts to lean too far toward a particular type of character, they pull the meta back into balance. They fixed the tank meta, they fixed Ana being the best possible healer and sniper, they even nerfed Torbjorn on consoles because he was difficult to combat with dual analog sticks.

The game's three newest characters were all responses to gaps in existing playstyles. The game had no long-range support characters, so we got Ana. The game had no stealth characters, so we got Sombra. The only defensive tank in the game was Reinhardt, so they made Orisa to provide some variety. 

Each new map was made to provide an advantage to characters that had previously been at a disadvantage. Each new mode gave players a different and interesting way to play. Each new competitive season brought us rules that were more and more fair.

And all this new content was completely free. One of Overwatch’s original draws was that it was cheaper to buy than most PC shooters. The fact that Blizzard kept churning out quality content that no one had to pay for only made it a better value to pick up this 40 dollar PC game. It remains one of the best values on the market, and that matters a lot with the upcoming holiday season getting ready to put a strain on everyone’s wallets

The only question now is, how long will Overwatch's popularity last? My answer to that is: as long as Blizzard continues to make content.

Overwatch’s long lifespan is dependent on a constant flow of content. This is what lets the game stay fresh. Fresh games mean more players. More players means more word-of-mouth advertising. More word-of-mouth advertising means more friends-of-friends-of-friends signing up to try out the latest shooter fad. That’s why Overwatch is 31 million players strong. That’s why it’s so incredibly popular.

What are your predictions for the future of Overwatch? If we check in again in 2018, where do you think the game will be?