Despite being one of the biggest multiplayer games around, you don't hear that much about Overwatch nowadays. There's a good reason for that: Blizzard has been winding down development on the game for years as it's been working on Overwatch 2 (opens in new tab). A year ago, the studio announced that Echo would be the last new hero (opens in new tab) released in the game before the sequel comes out (a day that remains a far-off mystery). Since then, it has remained at a near-standstill: Seasonal events repeat as they have in years past and the only new stuff to speak of are hero skins and the occasional map.
Surprisingly, the stagnant year didn't stop Overwatch's player base from growing. Speaking to Gamespot (opens in new tab) about his new role, Overwatch 2 director Aaron Keller revealed that the team-based shooter reached 60 million players as of 2021, 10 million more players than it had in late 2019 (opens in new tab).
"We have 60 million players that love that side of the game and are attached to [the PvP] side of the game. We know, going forward, we have to make the next best version of a team-based shooter."
As with any game, there are several factors to consider that may have contributed to those millions of new players: Blizzard may be counting every account created during its last free weekend (opens in new tab), for instance. Some of those accounts might also be alternate smurf accounts created by longtime players. There was also a (very brief) period last year when Overwatch was given away on PC (opens in new tab) as part of an esports promotion, but that was shut down pretty quickly. Even with all of this in mind, it's probably safe to assume most of those 10 million are actual noobs.
60 million might sound like chump change compared to Apex Legends' or Call of Duty: Warzone's 100 million-player milestones, but it's a different world for free games. Overwatch has never gone fully free-to-play and is rarely given a heavy discount. Its growth is similar to Rainbow Six Siege, which reached 70 million players earlier this year and is regularly on sale for less than $10.
Overwatch has been a little stale with no new heroes for a year now, but it's still a fantastic time if you play with friends (and only friends, solo queue is an unhappy place). My group got back into it in a big way late last year and again in recent weeks. It still scratches an itch that no other FPS does for me. Hopefully Blizzard can carry this momentum into Overwatch 2's new modes, heroes, and long-awaited PvE missions whenever it finally comes out.