Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords have both been released. What does their performance tell us about the future of this new popular genre, and which title will emerge on top?
We first spoke about Auto Chess, the hit Dota 2 mod from Drodo Studio, back in April when Twitch first separated its streamers from players of the main game, giving it its own page and category. Even back then, it was clear that we were seeing the dawn of an entirely new genre of games, one that had the potential to carve out its own spot among the top communities in streaming, and it wasn’t long after that Valve announced they would be producing their own official version of the game. At the same time, Drodo released Auto Chess Mobile, and announced their own intentions to create a full-featured PC game, and not long after Riot Games, creators of League of Legends, declared their own intentions to break into this new space and create a title of their own. The world of “Auto Battlers,” as they have come to be called, was due to become quite crowded.
And, in the last few weeks, it all seems to have come to fruition. Valve was the first to make their move, eschewing their typical long development cycle, notoriously known as “Valve-Time,” for a more rapidly created playable foundation upon which to build out a full featured game and corresponding community as we delve deeper into its early access period. First released as a PBE (Playable Beta Environment) through the Dota 2 launcher on June 13th, Dota Underlords performed well enough on Twitch in just two days to be the top trending new title on the platform for the entire week. The next week, it was the most trending returning title, more than tripling its viewership and increasing its participating streamers more than four times. But the hottest new title that week? Teamfight Tactics, the direct competition from Riot Games, released on the 18th and behind Valve by only five days.
So, what do the numbers flooding in from Twitch tell us about these games and their communities? Has classic Auto Chess completely disappeared as its players have left for their more complete successors? Did Dota Underlords’s brief head start give it a leg-up on Teamfight Tactics, or did the latter come out swinging? Just how many streamers are playing these games, and how does it compare to the biggest days of the original mod? Let’s take a look…
Dota Underlords Rises in Two Stages
Above you can see the total number of streamers broadcasting Dota Underlords since its launch on the 13th of June. What jumps out right away is the obvious uptick in total participants on June 20th, an increase that sustained itself in the days that followed. As noted above, the new title was first released from within the Dota 2 launcher, and this seems to have limited the initial size of its player-base. This, of course, was likely by design, a means of stress-testing the game environment and endeavoring to iron out some larger issues before getting the game into more hands. And, once it was released into early access on Steam, get into more hands it did. Between the 13th and the 20th, there was an average of 118 total streamers playing the game at any given time. That number has climbed to 344 creators since its Steam launch, with daily peaks over 500. Let’s compare this to the playership for Auto Chess prior to the former title’s release.
From the creation of the original mod’s own Twitch category through the beginning of June, Auto Chess averaged 167 streamers at any given moment, with daily peaks anywhere from just under 200 to occasionally over 250 creators, and twice hitting 300.
Those numbers are only slightly higher than the initial performance of Underlords, when it was still contained to the Dota 2 launcher, and that makes a lot of sense. Like the newer title, Auto Chess, being a mod, had to be played from within Dota 2. There was no standalone version, no listing on the Steam storefront, and that means getting to it was a slightly more obtrusive process than that of your typical game. Those extra steps seem to be a legitimate barrier when it comes to attracting new players.
The big takeaway from this, from a publishing and game development perspective, is that the audience for Auto Battlers is much bigger than just the Auto Chess community. Those playing the original mod were those who were savvy and experienced enough with the nuances to the game launcher and the nature of mods to not be put off by the process of finding and playing the game. Many others, it seems, would have been interested as well if it was simply a game in a standard storefront. This space is much bigger than that which organically grew around Drodo's original creation. This is further substantiated by the number of streamers still playing it.
Since the release of Underlords, the average number of Auto Chess streamers has, indeed, fallen, but remains at a solid 88 creators, a number around which the community seems to be equalizing, at least for now. That means that, even with the rapid expansion of the genre, half of Auto Chess streamers still remain. When it comes to the entire Auto Battler ecosystem, these creators are now joined by the entire Underlords community, and that community is already quite large. Which makes what comes next all the more impressive…
Teamfight Tactics is Already the Biggest Game in the Genre
At launch on June 18th, Teamfight Tactics reached peaks of total streamers higher than either Auto Chess or Underlords have ever achieved, climbing to 945 participating creators in its first day, and hitting peaks of at least 500 and as high as 800 every day since. And while where they are now, in terms of daily average, actually seems to have equalized, with Tactics averaging 438 creators over the past 4 days to Underlords’ 372, directly comparing their viewership numbers draws into stark clarity how much more robustly the former has performed.
Over the same four days, Tactics has averaged 87,411 viewers at any given moment, while Underlords has averaged only 14,191. Both very respectable numbers, but still, a display of clear dominance, with the former’s participating creators sporting significantly larger audiences than the latter. This is reflected in each’s official ranking on Twitch, with Tactics averaging fourth overall, and taking the top spot twice, while Underlords averaged 20th, reaching as high as seven. Both are making waves, but of wildly different sizes.
So, does this mean that Teamfight Tactics has already won? Will it dominate the world of Auto Battlers into perpetuity? Not necessarily. There are still more titles in the genre yet to be revealed, in particular from the genre's creators Drodo Studios, and, much like with MOBAs before it, it might be the title that’s most widely adopted by eSports teams, leagues, and organizations that really take the day, and there’s still no telling which titles will be the biggest hits in that space. This is clearly evidence that the platform League of Legends provides is practically unparalleled in the gaming space, with an international fanbase and consistently high levels of engagement that can, it’s been proven, be leveraged when launching new titles. But will it mean Teamfight Tactics will forever hold its number one spot? Only time will tell. What is clear, though, is that the appetite for Auto Battlers is even bigger than Auto Chess ever indicated, with untold numbers of new players and viewers still, perhaps, waiting in the wings. It’s a very exciting time, and we’re anxious to see what happens next.
To see how Underlords and Teamfight Tactics performed in this week's rankings, click here. Also be sure to read our piece about whether Fallout 76 can pull of gaming's biggest turnaround, and to follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for all the latest blogs, announcements, and game marketing news from the team at GAMESIGHT!