Overwatch League stream found being autoplayed on front page of several Vox Media sites

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The stream that was sitting at just under 100,000 views was being displayed on Polygon, the Verge, SB Nation and Eater.

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Esports are kind of in a weird place right now, in terms of their financial viability. While many are claiming the industry is experiencing a monumental growth and encouraging businesses to invest in professional esport teams and events, there’s no real evidence that the industry is as successful as many would like it to be. In fact, just a few months ago Kotaku ran an expose regarding the myths surrounding the viability of esports as an industry, essentially casting light on the fact that the vast majority of team shareholders and owners are barely making ends meet, despite the showmanship they put on for the general public.

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The Overwatch League is one such esports organisation that’s seen its fair share of attention and fanfare, rapidly becoming one of the go-to organisations people think of when they hear the word “esports industry”. It’s an organisation that’s drowning in glitz and glamour, with many players earning a minimum of $50,000 a month according to Business Insider. Yet despite the façade, many have already begun to question exactly how successful the Overwatch League is and given recent events, more doubt is sure to cast on the organisation as well as esports in general.

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Discovered last night, Rob Breslau tweeted out that the Overwatch League stream was sitting at just under 100,000 viewers – and was being autoplayed on several Vox Media sites; these include sites that deal primarily with video games and technology such as Polygon and The Verge but also websites that target audiences would probably not be interested in the Overwatch League, such as Eater which covers food and fine-dining. Yet this is not something exclusive to Blizzard and Activision as EA was discovered to be doing the same with the Apex Invitational this weekend, embedding the stream of the event within advertising spaces on Vox Media sites.

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It should be stated that there’s nothing inherently wrong with buying out advertising space and streaming your event to a larger audience who might not be as engrained with Twitch culture or livestreaming in general; companies that purchase advertising space have every right to display whatever they want to a certain degree. Yet this does bring into question how many views many of these large events are actually bringing in. Twitch as a platform have stated that they are completely against the use of viewbots to drive up numbers, yet at the same time it’s unclear where they stand on autoplaying streams as advertisements. It would appear to be some kind of workaround, essentially allowing companies to drive the numbers of views up through autoplaying streams on popular websites. Let’s be honest, if the embedded advert was at the very top of the front page of a website, most people would instantly scroll right past without even seeing it.

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For those of you unsure of the term, view-botting is the term used to describe when streamers utilise “bots”, or fake accounts, to act as viewers of their stream. The implementation of these bots drives their viewership numbers up, making their stream more appealing for the Twitch algorithm that by default orders streams in terms of most viewers to least viewers when searching in particular categories. It’s a means of defrauding the system and promoting oneself through illegitimate means, so much so that Twitch has even been forced to take legal action against companies that develop bots.

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Yet where the story is still a bit murky is how embedded autoplaying ads come into the fold. While they’re not bots, many of those ads aren’t exactly being actively viewed either yet will still add to the viewership of the stream in question. It seems like a fairly viable way for companies to boost their numbers by piggy-banking the advertising space run by successful websites, essentially fabricating a large portion of their active viewer base. Given the recent discussions on the viability of esports and the “bubble” that’s apparently on the verge of popping, practices like these seem somewhat unethical to say the least.

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Last Updated: September 16, 2019

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