How Many People Play Overwatch?

The question of “how many people play Overwatch” is an endlessly interesting one. We’re all so caught up in numbers and player counts whenever esports titles are involved, and that holds especially true with F2P (Free to Play) games. While Overwatch certainly isn’t free, it’s been a part of the esports world for so long that you’d be mistaken if you thought otherwise. It’s a fascinating mix of a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and an FPS (First Person Shooter). It’s also hectic, chaotic and electrifying in the best possible sense and its colorful palette and rich world quickly attracted millions of players. It’s a truly remarkable video game, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it out there in the gaming realm.  While many “clones” quickly emerged (Paladins, in particular), none of them provide the same unique (and staggeringly polished) experience.

How Many People Play Overwatch?
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Blizzard knew they had a winner on their hands, so they quickly transformed it into a premier esport — one that’s chugging along at a respectable pace, contrary to what many expected. It’s not exactly the easiest thing to follow in the world with all the visual clutter that’s on screen whenever a team fight commences, but over one hundred thousand people tune in whenever the Overwatch League is session which is solid enough proof that this is an active game that’s beloved by millions.

Even though the regular season is exhaustingly long (more like a grinding marathon, rather than a sprint), there are hundreds of thousands of people who always tune in whenever there’s a premier match-up happening. In other words, Overwatch and its competitive aspect are in a fairly healthy state.

Seeing how Overwatch isn’t free, it’s often used in comparison with other esport titles like League of Legends and Dota 2. The “free vs. paid” debate is a highly interesting one, and there’s still no clear-cut answer in sight. These days, a game’s success is evaluated not just by its sales and revenue, but by its player count as well. This is why many thought Overwatch could never truly compete with other esports; they thought the asking price was too steep for what was being offered.

In reality, however, that’s far from the truth.

The “Longevity” Argument

Because Overwatch isn’t a F2P title, many doubters tried to impose a negative narrative regarding the game’s overall longevity. On the one hand, the fact that Overwatch has a price tag certainly makes it less appealing and approachable when compared to League of Legends, Dota 2, Apex Legends and the like, but the price itself isn’t particularly high (especially not nowadays) to truly fend off anyone who’s actually interested in playing it.

For $20, you’re getting quite a lot of bang for your buck.

In many ways, it’s like a small, rather acceptable one-time fee after which you can play the game to your heart’s content. Fortunately for everyone involved, Blizzard succeeded in creating something special — an exciting game which attracted millions of players who were willing to spend a couple of dollars to play it.

But how many are we talking about?

At the time of this writing, Overwatch has around 50 million players in total, according to game director Jeff Kaplan. This is the latest piece of information and it came from the most recent BlizzCon in November. That said, this number doesn’t represent the number of active monthly players but rather the number of people who bought the game across all four platforms (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch).

Blizzard has been very tight-lipped when it comes to sharing any actual information, and even the numbers that we do get are seldom told once or twice a year, mostly when the company is celebrating a special event or has something new to announce.

Number of Overwatch players worldwide 2018
Number of Overwatch players worldwide 2018 (in millions). Source: Statista

Slow Progress

While 50 million certainly sounds impressive, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The overall number of players certainly plateaued a bit. Back in May of 2018, the game had 40 million players. An increase of ten million in a year and a half isn’t particularly impressive considering just how quickly other titles are growing or, conversely, staying afloat. While the increase in player count certainly means good business for Blizzard, the biggest growth (as is natural) happened a couple of years ago. By this point, everyone who wanted to buy and play the game has already done so. We can expect this number to increase in the future as well but just barely.

Furthermore, Blizzard, as a company, isn’t in the best of shapes at the moment. Many layoffs and bad announcements (like the legendary Diablo Immortal fiasco in 2018) hurt the company beyond measure. We’ve heard of multiple cancelled titles and projects just so that different teams could jump in and focus on Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 — the Hail Mary releases Blizzard is hoping will right the ship.

Whether or not such a thing will happen still remains to be seen. In any case, despite a shaky 2019, Overwatch is still alive and well. While it certainly doesn’t have the same amount of hype as it did in the past, it’s still insanely fun and will entertain players for many years to come. If things ever turn dire, Blizzard can simply remove the price tag entirely and therefore infuse the game with life and vigor.

Finally, we’ll have to revisit this topic in a couple of months’ time once Overwatch 2 is released. Right now it’s impossible to know whether it’ll create a positive spike in the overall player count, or if it’s a negligible incremental upgrade that will fail to bring new players in.

Petar Vukobrat

Petar Vukobrat

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