Much like other games on Twitch, Hearthstone has spikes of popularity when new content releases. Fans of the game flock to see what play at the highest level looks like, what pros think of the new cards, which of them are being used, and how decks are being changed. All of this leads to significantly higher viewer numbers after an expansion first launches. Over time, this number trickles down as the new content becomes older and the Hearthstone meta more predictable. This morning, Hafu tweeted out an image containing viewer numbers for some of the most popular streamers of Hearthstone and all of them have one thing in common: a steady drop-off.
Each of the streamers she displayed averaged a 27% decrease in their average viewers in the last 30 days including Kripp, Disguised Toast, Amaz, and Savjz.
While it may look damning, other Hearthstone streamers were quick to jump in and defend the trend, explaining that it was a completely normal process.
"This is the typical pattern for viewership with every release," comments Brian Kibler. "I'm sure you see similar results with just about any game with periodic updates/DLC/whatever. I'd personally love to see more releases, but I imagine a huge number of more casual players would feel priced out and/or left behind with much more content."
This morning, Kibler shared this image showing Hearthstone's viewership numbers over time to back up his stance.
Frodan, who works at Twitch, has access to all of the numbers relevant to this topic and explains that this is all fits into the norm.
"Yeah [Hearthstone] is def down whenever we get deep into an expansion and will continue to go down until the next one. I said in a response tweet to Hafu that July is projected to go even further down, but come August (which is when the next [expansion] is expected) it should shoot right up to where we were with TGT and Karazhan and hopefully even higher although Karazhan did horribly by expansion standards...the worst by far in Hearthstone's Twitch history.
BTW one thing I think is worth mentioning that viewer concurrents aren't the end-all-be-all metric whatsoever. Metrics such as [number] of views and minutes watched are just as important, if not more. This shows the level of engagement and how long people are watching, which is what ultimately sells if you're pitching to sponsors and orgs. You don't see how many ppl are simultaneously watching the youtube video to get a sense of how many [people] tune in. Hearthstone's views and minutes watched on Twitch are trending higher than ever. Number of unique people tuning in is pretty steady, not growing as fast as the views/minutes watched.
Data source: I work for Twitch and I'm literally looking at the internal data/graphs right now"
Over on Twitter, Frodan prefaces this by explaining some other factors including the aging Hearthstone, shiny new game releases, and a lack of innovation among streamers. He goes on to comment on these tweets on Reddit:
"That's a tough one because it sounds like I'm saying streamers are doing a bad job right now which isn't what I'm trying to say," Frodan explains, "I think they're doing fine. However, I don't think anyone is pushing the envelope compared to what's happening on the rest of Twitch. There's a reason why hard workers like SheriffEli and DrDisrespect are have grown so fast on top of them playing a game that's great for viewership.
"I loved a lot of what Amaz did such as Amaz vs world and 100in10. Nowadays it seems like everyone is just within their own bubble of playing some games then logging off. Toast is the only constructed streamer trying to do fun stuff like Twitch plays HS and alexa streams. Arena streamers are trying to collaborate but that game mode is in shambles and needs redemption atm. Perhaps an issue with innovation for top streamers is the feeling of an invisible ceiling that is hard to break once you reach a certain peak."
What could Blizzard do to help alleviate this decline in Hearthstone viewership? Frodan says there's a lot they could do including a 2v2 mode, a real draft system, or other new game modes. The problem with that is Blizzard's high bar for acceptance. Frodan explains that "most ideas end up getting reworked or tabled indefinitely because it's not good enough. They have a very high standard and scrutiny process for things getting published. It's why the client and UI is damn good and top notch, but also why it seems like they move at a snail's pace."
Of course, the professional player and streaming Hearthstone scene is an incredibly small, albeit important, part of the Hearthstone scene so it's doubtful that Blizzard would cater too much to them. After all, it's the everyday player that keeps the game afloat. And while you might see some tweets from concerned Hearthstone content creators, in the end, the game is just fine. Popularity ebbs and flows depending on what's happening in the game, it's only normal for things to settle the time between expansions increases.