World of Warcraft is dominating Twitch because Fortnite streamers are desperate for change

Fortnite fans perusing Twitch for their favorite streamers to watch have been running into an issue for the past couple of weeks: almost all of the biggest names in the community are playing a different game.

It’s not a battle royale title or even a competitive multiplayer game; it’s a largely cooperative fantasy RPG that came out 15 years ago. Maybe you’ve heard the name before: World of Warcraft, the Blizzard-produced massively multiplayer online game that was released in its classic, preexpansion form on August 26th but was originally released in November 2004.

According to streaming production provider StreamElements, viewership of World of Warcraft on Twitch jumped 83 percent in August alone, thanks largely to WoW Classic and streamer Asmongold, who unseated Fortnite star Turner “Tfue” Tenney as the most-streamed channel on Twitch last month. The game didn’t top Fortnite for most hours watched in the month, but it did come in fourth behind Fortnite, League of Legends, and Dota 2. That’s not bad for a 15-year-old game.

Image: StreamElements

Asmongold, who’s been streaming WoW for years to largely little fanfare and is typically known in a professional capacity only by the name Zack, is now far and away the most popular streamer on Twitch, typically amassing around 75,000 concurrent viewers since Classic’s release and occasionally breaking into the triple digits. He currently leads Twitch as of this writing, while WoW is besting Fortnite, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: GO, Minecraft, and Grand Theft Auto V in total viewers.

Image: StreamElements

“While the top 10 streamers on [our] Twitch chart features a lot of familiar faces, their respective places on the list continue to shift,” said StreamElements CEO Doron Nir. “Most notably was popular WoW player Asmongold who rode the recent World of Warcraft Classic wave all the way to the top. This speaks to the value of grinding away at a game that might not be at the top of the charts today, but could be tomorrow.”

Even Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is off the Fortnite train, having switched over to WoW Classic on Microsoft-owned streaming service Mixer, much to the disappointment of his legion of young fans. Fellow Fortnite streamers like Tim “timthetatman” Betar and Brett “Dakotaz” Hoffman and even popular first-person shooter players like Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek have been streaming WoW Classic of late.

Nir notes that it’s a mix of both nostalgia — many of these streamers got into online games playing titles like WoW — and also general exhaustion with the current state of popular games that’s driving the resurgence of titles like WoW Classic.

“There are several interesting things to note regarding the top ten games of August. Based on the number of streamers that flocked to World of Warcraft Classic, nostalgia is a sweet spot for the gaming community,” Nir says. “Another older game that experienced a huge rise was Minecraft. Although no new content was released for it, a number of popular streamers increased the amount of hours they were playing it.”

That last bit is notable, too. Minecraft, which StreamElements says grew 73 percent in August, became a popular alternative to Fortnite during the height of the battle royale hit’s mech suit controversy when scores of streamers and e-sports players were criticizing developer Epic over its refusal to scale back the mech’s destructive capabilities. Epic eventually relented, but the community’s adversarial stance hasn’t reversed. Instead, it appears to have to slid into outright apathy.

Yesterday, Ninja played Fortnite for the first time in what seemed to be many days, only because WoW Classic was experiencing server issues. He eventually switched back to the MMO, presumably, after it came back online. He also played Fortnite briefly this morning before again switching back to WoW, this time out of frustration with the battle royale game.

So what’s really going on here? It would appear to be a combination of factors that have as much to do with the broader Twitch community and the appeal of a classic game like WoW as it does with the popularity and longevity of Fortnite.

It’s understandable that even the most die-hard Fortnite players are looking for a change of pace. The game is coming up on the two-year anniversary of its battle royale mode at the end of the month, and it makes sense that Twitch’s top stars are growing tired of it. Fatigue is a serious issue in the creator space, especially on YouTube and Twitch where the platform’s demands for daily content can become taxing on people’s mental health.

Doing any one thing for 10 to 15 hours a day over the better part of two years would drive anyone to seek out some much-needed change. For streamers, even a traditional week-long break for vacation can cost them subscribers and revenue, which is precisely why someone as big and popular as Ninja, who once said his 2018 E3 streaming break cost him 100,000 subscribers, left Twitch for the greener pastures of a Microsoft Mixer deal.

Also, Fortnite just doesn’t have the same magic it once did. The game is still wildly popular, and Epic continues to invent creative and technically masterful ways to impress its fans. The recent World Cup Finals tournament in New York was a staggering success, as was the in-game robot-monster battle that occurred earlier this summer. But video game fans aren’t as enthused about the battle royale genre as they were last year. The genre’s world domination appears to be receding. And Epic’s constant push to add new elements to the game to shake up its competitive balance and the drudgery of sticking with and completing a seasonal battle pass have made Fortnite a demanding time sink that’s easier than ever to walk away from.

As for why WoW is the thing that’s stealing Fortnite’s thunder now, it’s likely because the game, like Minecraft, has a near-universal appeal among gaming fans, albeit among a slightly different and older audience. Blizzard forever changed both the RPG genre and the entire online gaming market when it launched WoW in 2004. It was a true modern MMORPG, and it created hundreds of millions of fans over its run.

Even today, the game is still supported with new expansions, and it still has a monthly subscriber base in the millions. That gives WoW Classic, a nostalgia-filled return to game’s earliest days, the kind of cache that few other games — even newer, more adrenaline-filled direct Fortnite competitors like Apex Legends — can achieve. It’s Minecraft for the Twitch streamers that don’t feel like playing Minecraft. It’s familiar to gaming fans in their 20s and 30s and, at the same time, it’s brand-new to whole generations of younger teen Twitch viewers who never played it, even if it doesn’t make for the most riveting streaming material.

So while it might have seemed logical that Fortnite’s biggest competitor would be another battle royale game or some new, unforeseen trend in online multiplayer, the biggest threat to Fortnite is... well, Fortnite. And titles like WoW Classic are there to happily take in the former fans who are desperate for something to shake up the daily grind.