Overwatch 2

Cavalry incoming

Overwatch 2 beta proves there's still life in Blizzard's flagship shooter

The cavalry’s here!

Blizzard

Three years after it was first announced at BlizzCon 2019, Overwatch 2 has finally arrived — sort of. The first official Overwatch 2 beta launched on April 26 and it brought some enthusiasm to the struggling franchise.

The sequel to Activision Blizzard’s blockbuster hero shooter has already been delayed multiple times, and while the original Overwatch languished and fans moved on, the developer behind it has dealt with a series of controversies and a 2021 lawsuit from the state of California. So one might expect that Overwatch 2 would have a lukewarm welcome, but the fandom proved otherwise, at least according to one metric: Twitch viewership.

What happened — According to Twitch statistics tracker Sully Gnome, the Overwatch category surpassed 450,000 concurrent viewers after the beta went live on Tuesday. (Though Overwatch 2 has a category on Twitch, most streamers are still using the old one.) That’s the highest viewership the game has ever received on the platform, including just after its original launch. The next day, viewership surged past the 1 million mark and is still rising (at this time of rising).

“Thanks to the launch of Overwatch 2's beta, Overwatch — a game that until a few days ago was averaging around 10,000 concurrent viewers per day — just hit its highest peak concurrent viewer count ever on Twitch,” tweeted Nathan Grayson, a journalist for The Washington Post who focuses on video game streaming.

The golden ticket - Overwatch first received critical acclaim as a 6v6 team shooter with fantastical heroes like a robotic ninja and a Tesla cannon-wielding gorilla. It’s not just about shooting — characters fill different roles and each has a unique kit that doesn’t just rehash the typical guns from traditional first-person shooters. Overwatch also has rich lore, with maps and heroes having rich backstories that keep players invested in who they are playing — plus a series of Pixar-level animated shorts.

Most of the interest in Overwatch 2 likely carries over from fans of the original looking to recapture that spark. But actually getting access to the beta at this point isn’t just a question of interest.

Blizzard notes the following in its FAQ on the Overwatch 2 official website:

Beta testers are chosen based on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) your Battle.net region, when you signed up, and your computer hardware specifications. We are also inviting select journalists and community contributors from around the world.

Notably, the first Overwatch 2 beta is also limited to PC, while Overwatch proved to be particularly popular among console gamers. Blizzard says a beta for consoles will come later.

PC gamers who weren’t invited to the beta still have a chance to get in on the action thanks to Twitch Drops (basically, specific streamers giving away beta codes on their own channels). Of course, this has the added effect of boosting overall Twitch viewership for the game.

But regardless of the reason why, Overwatch 2 has undeniably skyrocketed the viewership for the original game. It’s significant, considering how little interest there seemed to be before the beta. However, there’s a reason to believe that this newfound popularity won’t last.

Fandom fervor will fade - It’s difficult to say if this beta popularity will lead to fans actually buying Overwatch 2 — especially considering the recent stigma surrounding Activision Blizzard as a company and its continuing refusal to oust Bobby Kotick.

Another point of contention is the actual content of Overwatch 2. If fans are expected to pay for another full-price game, it has to be more than just “Overwatch 1.5.” Some content creators like FNATIC’s Snedgie claimed it felt more like something that could be a patch and DLC pack for the original game. When Overwatch 2 was announced, fans were already debating whether or not buying would be worth it just for the additional story content.

On the other hand, Overwatch League caster Jonathan “Reinforce” Larsson points out that the hero reworks make it a “completely new game.” For example, the beta removes Orisa’s shield, which caused headaches against certain popular team compositions. Developers are experimenting with ways to stop the “double shield” meta and other balancing issues rampant in Overwatch, much to the disappointment and relief of its fanbase.

“That's why I'm saddened by OW2,” one Twitter commenter writes. “I want Rein/Zarya, I want Winston/D.Va. But apparently, they couldn't figure out a different way to stop Double Shield.”

The Inverse Analysis - Overwatch 2 has survived several setbacks, from its parent company’s terrible company culture to beloved game director Jeff Kaplan, stepping down. Fans still love Overwatch (and its streamers) enough to boost Twitch viewership higher than it's ever been. However, love for the series will only take Overwatch 2 so far.

Overwatch 2 is currently in development for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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