Last February Blizzard e Youtube have announced a historic deal. The world's largest video platform would have hosted the live coverage of all the exclusive Blizzard games competitive events.
At the announcement everyone thought of Blizzard's biggest competitive event, the Overwatch League, but another event, minor but still important, remained involved in the agreement: the Hearthstone Grandmaster, the competitive season of Blizzard's online card game.
Last weekend ended the first week of the Grand Master 2020 and the data don't lie. On the canal Hearthstone they saw each other about 2.000 spectators on average for both channels in which the event was broadcast, against i 40.000 last year, when the event came broadcast on Twitch. We could certainly be pontificating for hours on what is the relevance of the public in an e-sport event, but there is no doubt that whatever the intentions of Blizzard were, this is a sensational fiasco.
Now we can think that the move to YouTube is not solely responsible for this crash in the number of spectators, after all 2019 was not the best year for Blizzard or Hearthstone. There are three possible other reasons that could have contributed to the disaster at least.
The Blitzchung case
The first and main is obviously the case Blitzchung. For those who missed it, during the 2019 Grandmaster broadcasts, the Hong Kong player Blitzchung staged, during the post match interview, a protest in favor of the demonstrators of his city. Blizzard's reaction was zealous to say the least. He deprived the player of the title of Grandmaster, banishing him from the competitive circuit for years and subtracting all the prizes earned up to that moment. The controversy ignited the fandom, who sided compactly in favor of the player. Blizzard she was accused of serving the Chinese state. This led to Blizzard's apology and reduced sentence. The clash, however, which took place during the current season, did not affect the number of viewers of the programs too much. There are therefore no reasons why a year later, when the controversy is now only a distant memory, it may have caused such a crash.
The failure of Warcraft III Reforged
Second defendant for the crash, Warcraft III Reforged. Cooler than the Blizzard controversy, the fiasco of the remastered of the beloved strategy game has put the whole company in a bad light. A tail of apologies, refound and patch c followed, and the controversy lost power by cooling down and eventually falling into oblivion of the internet. As with the previous controversy, however, there are no bigger Blizzard boycott campaigns that can justify so few viewers.
The changes to the tournament
So let's go inside on the merits of the Grandmasters and the changes made to the competition between 2019 and 2020. The first and most evident is the rotation of players. As in any end competition there are winners and losers, and the latter in this case lose the title of Grandmaster and the chance to participate in the tournament. They are replaced by other players who have distinguished themselves in the minor tournaments of the competitive circuit. Even counting this factor, however, none of the Grandmasters who came out has such a following outside the competitive that they justify the drop in spectators. If Thijs were demoted, two-time European champion and the Grandmaster with the biggest sequel on Twitch, he could be considered a relevant factor, but none of the relegations had an audience even comparable to that of the Dutch player.
Another factor that perhaps could count would be the format of the tournament. If last year we had simple Italian groups with playoffs and playouts at the end, we now have a much more complex system. Format changes, weekly non-broadcast competitions, unclear allocation of points can be factors that push away the most casual audience.
The factors in favor
All of these factors may have at least contributed to the drop in spectators. We cannot forget, however, that there are other factors that should have brought spectators. First of all, the coronavirus, which has certainly increased the number of people who could take advantage of the entertainment offered by Blizzard, being locked in the house for quarantine. Secondly, this is one of the most revolutionary moments for Hearthstone since the end of the beta. A new class has been introduced, which never happened. Outer lands ashes, the new expansion, has just come out there has been the rotation of the format, the change of year. It is the moment of maximum media exposure for the game and all it has managed to gather is 4000 spectators.
Obviously this failure economically weighs everything on Youtube. Broadcasting rights are acquired and Blizzard probably has little to gain from an increase in views. It will be up to Youtube to better advertise the event in order to make money.