The Three Worst Months For Magic Streaming
Despite the hype for Kamigawa Neon Dynasty, there's been a lot of doom and gloom in recent Magic: The Gathering news. The hits, unfortunately, just keep coming. On February 2nd, @CubeApril shared this tweet with data from sullygnome.com, a Twitch stats and analytics tracking site:
January 2022 was the worst month for Magic streaming since the launch of Arena, with the second and third worst months being December 2021 and November 2021 respectively.
I hope this spurs investment in the Arena client and economy so that it doesn't become a long-term trend. pic.twitter.com/iHXEWHGbXe
— April King (@CubeApril) February 2, 2022
Looking at viewing data from the peak in October 2018 to the present, we see a general downward trend across the board in Twitch viewership of Magic: The Gathering. While we must note that this data includes both Magic Arena and Magic: Online data combined, these numbers do not look much better than the 2018 numbers prior to Arena's Open Beta release. So what's going on? Today I'll look at three challenges facing Magic streaming, and how Wizards could step in to boost viewership.
The First Challenge: Competition with Other Games
Magic: The Gathering is far from the biggest fish when it comes to Twitch views. Using Data of the past 30 days (as of February 3rd) from sullygnome.com, let's compare Magic stream viewership to two of its other digital Trading Card Game(TCG) competitors.
Hearthstone clearly blows Magic out of the water with nearly seven times the number of hours watched in the past month. What's wild to note is the number two game on the list, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel has nearly three times the views of Magic and twice the streamers of Magic or Hearthstone combined, though the game has only been out since January 18th. Clearly, competition is stiff between these games, and the newcomer is making its presence felt.
The numbers of all three of these games though pale in comparison next to some of the top streamed games on Twitch. Here are the three digital TCGs we've examined VS. three of the top streamed games on the Twitch platform:
The three digital TCGs together have less than half the viewership of VALORANT and are barely a drop in the bucket compared to League of Legends, the most-watched game on Twitch. What does this mean? It means two things. One, that viewers are certainly choosing to watch less Magic streaming. It also hints strongly though that streamers themselves, facing declining viewers, may be choosing to stream less Magic, further accelerating this decline. Data from sullygnome.com on the number of average channels streaming Magic corroborates this theory:
In January 2021, there were an average of 129 channels streaming Magic. One year later, the average number of channels streaming Magic in January 2022 was down to 83. So what is causing this decline in both viewers and streamers? This leads us to the second challenge facing Magic streaming.
The Second Challenge: The State of the Magic Arena Economy
The number one complaint about Magic Arena from pretty much anyone you'll read, not just a number of major content creators, is how brutal the Arena economy is on its players. Jose Lopez a frequent Arena grinder eloquently summed up the issues surrounding the Arena economy and offered some possible solutions to improve it in this thread:
Incoming long thread: I've been putting this off for a few days, but I wanted to break down the current state of @MTG_Arena, and what issues the client faces. @CubeApril inspired me to finally talk about this with her tweet a day or two ago on Twitch numbers. #mtg #MTGNeon
— Jose Lopez (@Metallix87) February 3, 2022
While Lopez indicates that a direct purchase option for wildcards in the Arena store would be a great first step forward, by far the biggest takeaway from his thread was this telling statement that's been echoed by others across social media:
More change is necessary, though. The client is significantly less generous than other competitors. There should be more free giveaways, more daily rewards, and also a dusting equivalent, matching up closer to the other digital card games on the market.
— Jose Lopez (@Metallix87) February 3, 2022
One of the biggest things setting Magic Arena apart from other digital clients is a complete lack of a system for turning unwanted cards into other cards or other resources to play the game. Most digital TCGs have some form of dusting mechanic, allowing cards to be converted to in-client resources. Even Magic Online, in addition to the ability to trade and sell cards with other players for cash, has the ability to cash in cards for Tix, the in-game currency which can be used to enter events.
When you add on that Arena has no duplicate protection, you wind up in situations where you have eight copies of a card like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Fabled Passage though you'll never need more than four to play in a deck.
As it stands, the current state of the Arena economy makes it almost prohibitively expensive for players to acquire the wildcards they need to complete decks. This is likely directly contributing to the decline in both Magic streaming viewership and participation. Why would you want to watch others play Magic Arena when you'll never be able to build a deck on the client yourself? Why would you want to stream on the client when it's so prohibitively expensive to build constructed decks? Never mind if there's an audience to watch your content? These are all rhetorical questions, but I've no doubt they're on the minds of both viewers and streamers alike.
The Third Challenge: Lack of Organized Play or In-Client Incentives to Play
The third challenge facing Magic streaming is a lack of any sort of robust Organized Play (OP) program or any significant incentives to grind the game with any dedication other than climbing the Arena ladder. The lack of significant OP is no doubt tied to the ongoing pandemic and the impossibility of safely running large in-person events. The lack of meaningful rewards on Arena's client though is a different story. It can easily be seen as a major failing of the program from a player retention standpoint. Who wants to put in hours of effort grinding, when the rewards for your effort at any level below reaching Mythic are meaningless pittances at best?
Arena End of Season Ladder Rewards Per Level (Constructed and Limited)
Qualification to play in the Mythic Qualifier Weekend events aside, even the in-client rewards for reaching the top tier on the Arena ladder in either Limited or Constructed are pitiful. You'd need to reach Mythic ten months in a row to pay for a single draft entry with those rewards. This doesn't even get into how meaningless card style cosmetic rewards are, or the rewards for anyone below Mythic rank. Can you imagine making it all the way to upper Diamond, just missing making Mythic, and only getting four packs, 1,000 gold, and two cards styles to show for it?
Jose Lopez laid out some excellent ideas for improvements to Arena in his Twitter thread beyond just the economy. It's the economic and play incentive improvements though, that I see as the most direct way to draw players back to the game. If more players are excited to play the game, more will be excited to watch the game as well. Here are three improvements I'd like to see to Arena:
- An easier way to get wildcards, either through direct purchase, through dusting, or through cashing in lower rarity wildcards for higher rarity wildcards at some exchange rate.
- A more robust rewards system. Offering better incentives for grinding the ladder, and more variety of rewards and challenges for daily and weekly quests.
- Duplicate protection, where if you already own four copies of a particular card from any set, you'll be able to turn duplicates you open from other sets into Gems or vault progress.
From my perspective, the decline in Magic streaming viewership is directly related to the overall state of the Arena client. If changes are not made, as we come out of the pandemic, I imagine the decline in viewers will only accelerate.
What are your thoughts about the state of Magic streaming? About the state of Arena? What steps would you take to improve them? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.