Saturday, February 25, 2017

Overwatch Falls Over 10% With Season 3 End and New Account Policy

If you walked through Korean PC rooms the past week you couldn't help but notice...something was different. Overwatch has absolutely tanked in player numbers inside PC rooms in South Korea. It's due to a combination between Season 3 ending and Blizzard's policy change regarding foreign accounts. Overwatch, which accounted for roughly 28% of users in Korean PC rooms a week ago, is now at 16.15%.

"Effective February 17, 2017, we will be adjusting our account policy so that only players with valid game licenses in their account home region will be able to play Overwatch in Korea."

Here is how this works in Korea. I have two accounts. Account A has a copy of Overwatch purchased, whereas Account B does not. Before February 17th, I could play Overwatch in Korean PC rooms on both of these accounts. After the update, I can only play on account A.

"Please note that the policy will not affect players who hold valid Korea-based accounts playing in IGRs."

Now account C comes into play. This is my Korean account that could only be created with my Korean phone number. I needed my Alien Registration Card to register this phone number, which is effectively linked to my identity. Account C is unaffected by the new account policy, and thus does not require me to purchase Overwatch in order to play.

The images ( show a steady decrease in Overwatch players from around the time the new policy went into effect, on February 17th. Overwatch, which was at a steady 28%~ for the past month or so, has fallen to only 16.15% (as of 2/26). League of Legends has risen roughly 5% since then, with Sudden Attack and Fifa also seeing small increases in players. I go to the PC room nearly every night, and the same people I see every night who were playing Overwatch are now playing League of Legends. So why has Overwatch seen such a steep drop in numbers? There are probably three reasons at play.

Reason #1: Season 3 has ended.
The end of season 3 on February 22nd (in Korea) has resulted in many Korean players taking a break from Overwatch. Instead of brushing up on skills during the off-season, many players have opted to spend their time with other titles (notably LoL). Although CPL may be dead, the mantra of "Play hard go pro" is alive and well in Korea. You will seldom see people fooling around in quick play matches. It is all about laddering here, no matter what game you play. However, Overwatch's numbers fell off a bit before the end of season 3. This drop in players started around February 17th, when the new account policy went live. I suspect that two groups of players were impacted by this change.

Reason #2: Hackers?!
Players have been up in arms for a while due to Korean users hacking while using their US made accounts. However, would such a mass amount of players up and quit the game just because they could not play it while hacking anymore? Living in South Korea has shown me first hand what a competitive culture it can be. The length to which people go to be better than (more so APPEAR better than) others is astounding. I have never in my life seen people GG out of seemingly lost games so quickly before coming to Korea. So the hacking reason is feasible. I am still a bit skeptical of the drop in numbers largely amounting to hackers though. It just seems irrational to hack in a public space.

Reason #3: Young teens (under the age of 15).
I believe this also accounts for the drop in numbers. In Korea, Overwatch has a 15+ age restriction. Remember when I said that Korean accounts (and nearly everything else gaming related) are linked to your identity. If a 14 year old creates a KR account with their phone number, they will not be able to play Overwatch. Using US accounts was a way for young teens to circumvent this block. I teach middle school aged students in Korea, and despite being around the ages of 13-14, many of them have told me they play Overwatch. So now these young players have to convince an older friend or relative to let them use their account, or pay the $40 for Overwatch. Not such an enticing situation when League of Legends is there for free.

It has definitely been a surprising week in the PC rooms for me. It will be interesting to see what happens to Overwatch once season 4 starts (March 1st in Korea). I am skeptical of it immediately reaching LoL's numbers again. However, look out for a big boom on 3/1 when S4 starts. I expect Overwatch's numbers to soar, as the beginning of S4 coincides with a Korean public holiday.