At the end of January, Sea of Thieves seemed to be on the cusp of pulling off one heck of a trick: joining Twitch’s upper echelon after nearly a year of relative irrelevance. Popular streamers were piling onto the newly-refurbished ship’s deck, curious to see if it could provide a viable alternative to Fortnite, which everyone has been playing for approximately a million years in Twitch time.
Then, Apex Legends happened.
During the final week and a half of January, Sea of Thieves saw a string of days in which it regularly peaked at an hourly average of over 100,000 concurrent viewers, sliding into second or third place on all of Twitch alongside Fortnite and League of Legends. But when Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment launched Apex Legends on February 4, Sea of Thieves’ concurrent viewer average plummeted back down to the 2,000-15,000 range, where it now sits most days.
This might strike you as strange. After all, Sea of Thieves and Apex Legends are superficially different types of games. But like Fortnite before them, both have that Twitch “it” factor: they can facilitate spectacular, skill-based shenanigans, chill after-school hangouts, and everything in between. But in a world consumed by battle royale fever, ApeLegs has a big leg up—especially given all the subtly revolutionary ways it’s iterated on the battle royale formula.
Sea of Thieves’ sudden burst of early-2019 momentum stemmed from two things: a December update that made the game more exciting, and interest from a handful of bigger streamers—one of whom, Summit1g, led the charge with his 3.5 million followers. His PVP-focused, almost griefer-like antics attracted a whole new audience to the multiplayer swash-and-buckle-’em-up and buoyed his slightly stale streaming career. He kept this up for more than a month, at which point other Twitch mega-stars like Dr Disrespect, TimTheTatman, and even Ninja decided to pop in and see what all the fuss was about. This led to faux rivalries, media coverage, and a reaction from developer Rare.
At the time, I wondered if Sea of Thieves could sustain its momentum. I wrote:
At this point, Sea of Thieves could wind up being just another flash in the pan on a platform prone to giving games 15 seconds of fame and little more. Right now, it still seems like big streamers, Summit aside, are feeling curious rather than committal. In another week or two, they could easily jump ship back to Fortnite without so much as a tear shed over their short-lived seafaring days. But Rare’s promised more support for the game, and if it can keep things fresh, this might be just the beginning for Twitch’s latest major player.
Instead of jumping ship back to Fortnite, however, many of them slid right into Apex’s open arms. Thanks in large part to a sponsored partner program, Apex Legends immediately attracted the likes of Ninja, Shroud, Dr Disrespect, and pretty much every other top-tier Fortnite streamer, pulling double the number of people watching Fortnite when it launched on February 4. It’s cooled off some since then, but it still regularly averages between 200,000-300,000 concurrent viewers and has been the number one game on Twitch since it came out.
Summit1g is one of the many streamers who joined Apex’s day-one stampede, and he hasn’t looked back since. The last time he played Sea of Thieves was February 3. When asked by a fan if he was done with Sea of Thieves forever shortly after Apex came out, Summit replied “Fuck no,” but went on to say, “Who knows? You never know which games blow up nowadays, man.”
Not all big streamers have abandoned Sea of Thieves. CDNThe3rd, who has 1.7 million followers, still plays it regularly, and last Thursday, the game’s concurrent viewer count briefly spiked into the upper 30,000’s. Earlier today, popular French streamer Squeezielive also briefly popped into Sea of Thieves, catapulting it into the 50,000 range for a little while. Once he swapped over to Apex Legends, though, it dropped down to a paltry 2,000.
Apex is, for now, certifiably The New Hotness on Twitch. But that, too, may not last. Streamers and audiences are fickle. Just ask Sea of Thieves.