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Is the AoE2 community really growing?

This is a follow up to my article asking “Where did all the viewers go?” a few days ago. I had several interesting discussions after publishing it over on Twitter and Reddit. Pinch3Terneira did a full-blown commentary on it during his Stream – check out the VOD (in Spanish), while it is still available. He also raised a good question on Twitter about Age of Empires 2 prize pools. Naturally, this made me curious, too. I had done some very basic research on the topic at the end of 2020/early 2021. I expanded that … a bit. Why? Because:

But more about that later. For answering the question about our community’s growth with more than just gut feeling, I think it is good to consider these factors:

  1. Twitch: number of watched hours
  2. Steam: average number of players per month
  3. Number of events and size of prize pools

We will look at all of those for the date range of January 1, 2020 to July 31, 2021. Age of Empires II:Definitive Edition was released in November 2019. By setting the date range like that, we eliminate the initial spike immediately after the release. if you are interested in other date ranges, you can use the interactive report – check the disclaimer below for details.

Number of watched hours & players per month

After peaking in March 2021 at 4.61m hours watched, the numbers steadily decreased to 2.83m in July 2021. That is a decrease of 1.78m hours or -38.6%.

Looking at the long-term (January 2020 to July 2021), we also see a decrease – albeit a less steep one – from 3.34m to 2.83m. A difference of 507,800 hours or -15%.

We also notice several spikes in the chart. As one would expect, these correlate with various major events, such as KOTD3 in July 2020, RBW3 in January 2021, or HC4 in March 2021.

We see parallels for the average number of players on Steam, although the impact of events is less significant than on hours watched. For our date range, we see an increase of 501 players (appr. 5.1%) per month.

I made a detailed comment on this, including a ‘year-over-year’ analysis, which looks more positive over here.

Number of events and size of prize pools

If you have the impression that there are more and bigger events – and I include tournaments and show matches for now – than ever before, you are not alone. Unsurprisingly, this feeling is also supported by numbers. While we had a total of 144 events (95 tournaments, 49 show matches) in 2020, we are already at 207 (98 tournaments, 109 show matches). Note that all the 2021 numbers only include events until mid of August 2021.

However, the prize money does not quite keep up with that. It was at appr. 381 kUSD in 2020 and currently stands at appr. 361 kUSD at the moment). The average prize pool per event went from 2.7 kUSD in 2020 to 1.7 kUSD in 2021.

Click the image to open a larger version in a new tab.

As mentioned, this combines show matches and tournaments. Let’s compare this to the numbers for tournaments only.

For those, the total prize money went from 356 kUSD in 2020 to 298 kUSD in 2021 (so far). The average prize pool for tournaments was 3.7 kUSD in 2020 and is 3 kUSD in 2021. On the plus side, the maximum prize pool increased from 56.8 kUSD in 2020 to 91 kUSD in 2021 and will soon be surpassed by RedBull Wololo 5, where the pool is expected to be 100 kUSD.

As you can see in the chart, we saw a massive increase in the number of events from January 2020 to May 2021. Since then, the trend seems to be reversing.

Conclusion

While I was not worried about the short-term decrease in ‘hours watched’ because the year-over-year trend was still positive, the numbers for January 2020 to July 2021 do not make me very optimistic.

Despite all the money and effort that went into events, we are not growing reliably – and certainly not as we should. We will keep experiencing peak numbers around big events, but clearly, these are not sustainable.

Yes, I am aware – and it is clearly visible in the chart about Steam player gains – that seasonality is impacting the community. I also understand that COVID-19 regulations have been loosened, and people spend less time in front of their PCs but rather at work or on vacation.

But I also see that our community is not as organized as it would have to be for sustainable growth with high-quality events. Tournaments – even big ones – are put together in fast and haphazard ways. This makes life harder for event organizers, administrators, and players.

I repeat that we are missing out on a lot of potential because we do not have a series of related events for people to watch, follow, and engage with. I strongly believe that this would be a huge step towards sustainable growth and more professionalism.

We largely depend on a few big sponsors, some big casters, and a – fortunately – growing group of top players. This is a shaky foundation, and if we don’t stabilize it and build on it, the best we can hope for is to maintain the status quo.

All this does not even consider the potential impact of Age of Empires IV. I don’t think anybody can really predict what it will mean for Age of Empires II – though there is no lack of opinions. We also don’t know Microsoft’s plans for both games. Overall, I feel that we are very close to missing a window of opportunity. And if we did, this would be a shame.

Disclaimer

All the charts on this page come from an interactive report. This report combines data from various sources and most of it gets updated daily around midnight GMT.

You can easily play around with it yourself. To get a full-screen view, just click the double-arrow icon in the bottom right-hand corner.

You will see that we start on the ‘Comm.’ (for community) page. I think this is the most useful one for answering the question about the community’s growth. You can see how the Twitch ‘hours watched’ and ‘concurrent viewers’ numbers evolved. I also added some Steam numbers about the average concurrent players.

All the data shown here comes from these sources:

twitchtracker.com

steamcharts.com

liquipedia.net

esportearnings.com

The data is theirs, the charts, calculations, and mistakes are mine.

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