I love talking about viewership. Maintaining high viewership is an integral part of the scene’s success. As I’ve talked about numerous times before, without people watching our events, our events can’t make successful sales pitches to sponsors. And without sponsors, we’re relegated to either raising ticket prices by an unacceptable degree or accepting the losses and praying that won’t be the case in the future. Most events take the second approach.
Now, it may not be the proper time to write this; Shine 2023 featured one of the best top eights of the year, and, by all means, the scene vibes are great. But this is not a column about vibes – it’s one about Twitch viewership. More specifically, this is a column about how horrendous this year has been for viewership. I’m panicking. Or am I?
By The Numbers
The Smash viewership landscape is the worst it’s ever been. Using Sullygnome, I took a look at each recorded year of Melee history and compared it to what this year would look like if the average watch time hour rates held up for the second half of the year. Out of curiosity, to see if there was any kind of relationship between the number of big events (classified by Liquipedia as majors), I tracked that as well.
|Year||Watch Time Hours||Number of Big Events|
|First 7 months of 2023||5,076,892||8|
Just looking at these numbers side to side, I’m not quite sure if there’s any deeper relationship between watch time hours and the number of big events, other than that “more events” is typically a good thing, but not necessarily a guarantee for greater success (more on this later). It’s also difficult to project what tourneys will look like for the rest of the year (also more on this later).
One other element to note: in spite of having stretches of months without big events, 2020-2022 were still relatively successful years for viewership. A variety of unusual factors led to this mini-resurgence for each respective year. In 2020, it was the launch of Slippi, the developing online community infrastructure, and the influx of new Melee streamers. In 2021, it was the return of LAN majors and, in large part, the greatest tournament of all-time. Last year, it was the two scene-wide community circuits. More than just the sheer scope of events that came within this time period, it was the fact that many of them were all close to each other and – broadly speaking – connected.
2023 hasn’t had the fortune of having a ton of events in little time. Instead, it has a “not bad” number of events spread out over the year, yet with nothing to really unify them. Unlike 2016-2018, when we had Evo, and 2019-2022, when anything done by Beyond The Summit more or less fulfilled that role, we’re currently in the Wild West. Or at least a different variant of the Wild West than the one the scene is used to.
It’s tough not to look at the crash of BTS in February as a large part of what went wrong. It’s hard to definitively prove this, as these numbers are speculative and based on estimated numbers, but just based on a sheet I’ve been maintaining about viewership, Smash Summit, more or less, was a guaranteed boost of around 1 million watch time hours to any month in Melee history. Assuming BTS stayed around, we could have had, bare minimum, an extra 2 million watch time hours by the end of the year, which would have roughly put us on pace with a year like 2019. To date, this is the only time in recorded Melee history in which the community has gone half a year without a whole month breaking 1 million watch time hours.
|Month||Watch Time Hours|
I looked ahead for potential majors that were coming up, like I did for last year. In 2015, we had five big events. 2016 had six; 2017 had five, 2018 had three, 2019 had three, 2020 had seven, 2021 had seven, and 2022 had 10. In 2023, this number has taken a large step backward: two. Currently, only Riptide 2023, and The Big House 11 have any expectation of being majors. Since we’re talking about viewership, I would personally add The Offseason 2 to that list, as it features nearly every possible major contender there (in spite of not being an entirely competitively legitimate event). Three is better than two, I suppose.
Before you immediately panic, there’s several factors to keep in mind. The first one is that many of the best players seem quite aware that there’s relatively few events left in the year. The second one is that upon learning this, these same players may realize that it could be in their best interest to attend more tournaments and essentially make them more “close to major” on the “major spectrum” than they were initially planned. Unlike last year, where it was a buyer’s market for Smash tournaments, this year’s current marketplace for events seems like a seller’s market.
Some of the following events could suddenly find themselves in the position of having unexpectedly high top player turnout: Arcamelee #4, Santa Paws, and Rise ‘N Grind 2023 – and that’s not taking into account the potential for another large Ludwig-ran event (like, say, a Smashboxing sequel), or possibly another event that hasn’t been announced yet.
But still. Are we fucked?
Why We May Not Be Fucked (Brief Considerations)
If you remember what I wrote at the start of the column, I mentioned that I was strictly looking at Twitch viewership. In reality, by examining this sole metric, I’m missing out on one of the most important events of the year: LACS 5. This tournament’s entirety was streamed on YouTube. I don’t have the numbers to prove this, but I wonder if events like LACS 5, the Ludwig Smash Invitational last year, or even the Mogul Chessboxing Championship perform about as well as the Smash Summits (approximately 1 million watch time hours). Were that to be the case, it’s possible that 2023 could still be a ‘weak’ year for Melee viewership, but not as bad as the Twitch-specific numbers indicate. Speaking of which, would Melee be better served moving to another platform like YouTube? What would the pros and cons of a scene-wide switch like that be?
On the topic of Twitch itself, another consideration I’m not sure how to measure is how Melee’s relative decline in Twitch viewership compares with other Twitch-centric esports. Could it be possible that any decline we’ve experienced has actually been relatively steady when contextualized alongside other esports? Shifts in the broader streaming landscape are tough to identify or measure, but Twitch definitely doesn’t seem as safe of a bet to succeed and stay for the long-term as it used to.
These are topics I’ll try to explore in a subsequent column. For now, consider this a brief report on the current Twitch viewership landscape, what the numbers look like for Melee at the moment, and a few questions I have about where the scene heads in the future.