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This article was published on January 27, 2020

YouTube nabs Activision esports streaming deal from Twitch

YouTube nabs Activision esports streaming deal from Twitch

Activision revealed over the weekend that it’d signed an exclusivity deal with Google, meaning YouTube will host the company’s esports tourneys for the foreseeable future. Up to now, Activision’s had a contract with Twitch, the major player in the streaming space. This could be a big feather in Google’s heretofore underfed streaming game.

The news comes from Ryan Wyatt, the head of YouTube Gaming. He said on Twitter that the site is the new home of competitive Hearthstone, the Overwatch League, and the Call of Duty League. The latter had its launch event in Minneapolis this weekend.

[Read: 2019: The year Twitch streamers jumped ship to Mixer, YouTube & Facebook]

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Wyatt later added in a statement:

With more than 200 million gamers a day watching more than 50 billion hours of gaming content per year, YouTube provides gamers and their passionate fans with the most popular video gaming platform in the world… As a former Call of Duty esports commentator myself, I couldn’t be more excited for Activision Blizzard to choose YouTube as its exclusive home for the digital live streaming of both leagues. This partnership further demonstrates our dedication to having a world class live streaming product for gaming.

This is a pretty big shift, as Activision inked a livestreaming deal with Twitch in January 2018. That two-year deal is now up, and it appears Activision wasn’t satisfied enough with the results to renew. One of the driving forces behind that deal was Twitch’s level of viewer engagement, and it remains to be seen if that can be duplicated on YouTube. But other than that, it appears to be an advantageous deal, especially for YouTube.

Up to now, the competition for streaming has been mostly about individual streamers. Twitch, Mixer, YouTube, and even Facebook have been engaged in a war to sign streaming stars. But this marks the first time, to my knowledge, that a company has so publicly made the jump from one platform to the other. And it’s not a small move, considering Activision’s games are some of the most popular in esports.

Doron Nir, CEO of StreamElements, which produces a popular streaming toolkit, said of the new move:

A lot of the focus in the livestreaming wars has been on the individual content creators being signed… However, esports events are often responsible for the biggest audiences with the two most watched channels on Twitch in 2019 being Riot Games and Overwatch League. This makes YouTube Gaming’s announcement of 3 notable leagues a significant move in terms of building their content portfolio and showcasing their commitment to the market.

The history of the two companies has been quietly competitive, with Amazon (Twitch’s parent company) having made overtures to major YouTubers back in 2018. Game streaming has picked up in the time since, however — last year alone, we watched almost 13 billion hours of livestreamed content. While YouTube has been the dominant force as far as game videos go, it’s notably lagged behind Twitch in streaming, just like everyone else.

There’s been a shift in the zeitgeist, as of late. Twitch stars have been making the jump to other platforms and are still thriving. So Activision making the shift is a surprise, but not a big shock — this is the moment for adventuring away from Twitch, it would seem.

Activision also announced its hosting infrastructure would run on Google Cloud, which would offer “premium network quality-of-service” and “optimal personalized interactions,” including “curated recommendations for in-game offers and differentiated gaming experiences.” No word yet on what exactly that will look like — we’ll have to wait and see.

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