In recent months, the battle for game streaming audiences has largely played out between Microsoft and Amazon, as the former tries to gain ground on Twitch by siphoning away top talents for Mixer. Now, Activision Blizzard is helping Google's YouTube Gaming make a major move. In a new deal, YouTube is now home to the exclusive streaming broadcasts of the Overwatch League, the newly launched Call of Duty League, Hearthstone tournaments, and more.
The exclusivity deal was announced in a new press release alongside word that Google Cloud is now "the preferred provider Activision Blizzard's game hosting infrastructure." YouTube exclusivity for official Activision Blizzard streams is going into effect immediately, as the very first Call of Duty League event kicks off this weekend.
While YouTube Gaming is by no means an unpopular platform, an end-of-year report by StreamElements and streaming analytics platform Arsenal.gg puts it at a distant second place, with only 21 percent of market share by hours watched to Twitch's 73 percent. Furthermore, both platforms ceded some ground to Facebook Gaming and Mixer in 2019. Last summer, Mixer started to poach talent from Twitch beginning with Tyler "Ninja" Blevins and Michael "Shroud" Grzesiek—Facebook and YouTube have both signed lower-profile deals with individual streamers since.
The risk inherent in moving official streams of popular games like Overwatch and Hearthstone to a smaller platform has already been demonstrated by Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, which saw tournament viewership drop after ESL moved its exclusive streams from YouTube to Facebook in 2018. That deal was later renewed with the exclusivity terms removed.
Activision Blizzard's cloud services deal with Google alone is a break between the publisher and Amazon, as the two have publicly partnered on Amazon Web Services-powered projects for Call of Duty titles in the past.
It won't be long before we find out how Activision Blizzard's streams are faring after the decision. The 2020 Overwatch League season begins on February 8: last year's opening week attracted 13 million viewers across Twitch (then its exclusive third-party streaming partner) and other platforms.