We have a habit, in the gaming industry, of declaring things “The Year Of ___.” 2013 was The Year Of Luigi. 2014 was The Year Of Luigi’s Death Stare. 2019 is The Year Of Gooigi. However, if Gooigi had not transformed into an unassailable, medium-defining phenomenon, we might also be tempted to call this The Year Of Auto Chess.
Auto Chess is a mode in which players spend gold to recruit heroes, who they can then strategically pair with other heroes and combine with copies of themselves to increase their power. Each round, these heroes automatically duke it out. Players repeat this process until only one is left standing. After the Dota 2 mod took Steam by storm earlier this year, Valve announced its own version, called Dota Underlords. And now Riot’s League of Legends-themed spin on the deck builder has turned Twitch into its personal plaything. Teamfight Tactics, as it’s known, has been on top of Twitch ever since an hour after its release yesterday. As of this publishing, it had nearly 200,000 concurrent viewers, beating perennial first-placer Fortnite by about 60,000. This, on its own, is not entirely surprising. League of Legends generally sits near the top of Twitch itself, and big, new games have a tendency to ascend on the platform thanks to the curiosity of both streamers and potential players.
There are, however, a few things worth noting in this case: Teamfight Tactics is peaking at much higher numbers than Dota 2's Auto Chess mod ever has, positively dwarfing the original Auto Chess’ all-time high of 65,000 concurrent viewers back in March. This makes sense, given that the mod version of Auto Chess hasn’t gotten an official push from Valve in the same way Teamfight Tactics has from Riot.
Teamfight Tactics is also intended to be more accessible than Auto Chess, much like LoL is to Dota. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the beta for Valve’s Dota Underlords becomes available to everyone sometime this week. For now, though, with all eyes currently on Teamfight Tactics, Dota 2's once-popular Auto Chess mod hardly has any viewers, hovering in the low thousands.
Much like Auto Chess and the typical Dota 2 crowd, Teamfight Tactics is drawing streamers who don’t normally succumb to the prickly and particular siren’s song of MOBAs. However, unlike other 2019 breakout Twitch hits like Apex Legends, this one hasn’t managed to snag many streamers from the platform’s absolute highest (read: Fortnite-playing) echelons. Viewers, then, are a bit more spread out between big but not quite enormous streamers like Lirik, Reckful, and DisguisedToast—some of which come from LoL and others of which do not.
There’s an appeal to watching streamers learn this game. DisguisedToast, for instance, is forcing himself to get 10 wins before he’ll end his stream today, and while I don’t approve of that from a labor practices standpoint, it has been rewarding to watch him learn, figure out new strategies, and, er, break the game. Teamfight Tactics is not a reflex-intensive game, meaning that viewers stand to gain strategic knowledge from streams that’s actually applicable to their own games—unlike when they watch, say, Shroud play Apex (or literally any shooter, for that matter).
While the game is a multitude of genres away from Apex, the comparison is still useful to an extent. Apex received a large streamer-centric marketing push from Electronic Arts, with a launch-day “partner” program that reportedly cost the publisher $1 million for Ninja alone. If Riot is employing any similar tactics, it’s not being particularly transparent about them—not that EA was transparent about what its partner program entailed at the time, either. Regardless, Teamfight Tactics isn’t managing the preposterous 400,000+-viewer peaks Apex did at launch.
Teamfight Tactics does, however, have another weapon worth mentioning in its holster: Riot’s history. People have been waiting for a League of Legends follow-up for eons, and while I’ve heard from sources for years that the company is stuck in a state of analysis paralysis that leads to project cancellation after project cancellation, this is the most meaningfully different thing Riot has released in years. It’s still part of LoL, sure, but it’s nearly a separate game. This has generated even more excitement, interest, and curiosity.
As ever, there’s a chance—a good chance, even—that Teamfight Tactics will fall out of Twitch’s top spot in a matter of days or weeks. It’s got momentum for now, but it’s still in beta, and has plenty of rough edges. Plus, I’m sure Nintendo will announce Gooigi Auto Chess before too much longer, and that, truly, will be checkmate (something Auto Chess does not actually have).