Over 50,000 viewers flocked to watch the finals of the Age of Empires 2 Hidden Cup 3 tournament this weekend. Yes, you read that right. A twenty-year-old game pulled in a record number of viewers for the culmination of four-days of thrilling competition.
Hosted on the Twitch channel of Age of Empires 2 caster T90Official, Hidden Cup 3 took on a rather novel format. Player identities were hidden, with each taking on the name of a popular hero from the game – Saladin, Charlemagne, and so on. Viewers, casters, and players didn’t know who they were watching or playing.
Part of the appeal was trying to guess who was who based on established in-game habits, strategies, and defining quirks. To further this sense of mystery, players refrained from streaming, which meant the community flocked to T90Official’s channel to watch the tournament.
While this certainly helped reach the impressive 50,000 viewer mark, the recent launch of Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition meant the stream also attracted hordes of new players eager to watch the very best duke it out for a prize pool of over $50,000. $35,000 from publisher Microsoft, and the rest donated by the community.
After preliminary rounds, sixteen of the world’s best Age of Empires 2 players remained . Over four days, viewers convened to watch high-level play, guess who was playing, and generally celebrate how far Age of Empires 2 has come.
The finals, held yesterday, were maybe not the gripping best of seven series many had hoped for but offered a fitting end to a marathon run of games. At its peak, the stream drew in over 50,000 people to watch Saladin secure a 4-0 victory over Kotyan Khan.
With the games done and dusted, attention turned to the big player reveal. Saladin was none other than TheViper, widely considered the world’s best Age of Empires 2 player, while Kotyan Khan was Hera, a player who’s taken massive strides over the last few months. Viewers and casters alike watched incredulously as they realized most of their predictions were widely off the mark.
Unlike bigger eSports of the ilk of Fortnite, which see publishers and overarching competitive bodies take the reins, Hidden Cup 3 was organized, run, and hosted by the grassroots Age of Empires 2 community.
And much of that community spirit reverberated through the live streams. The light-hearted and humorous exchanges between co-casters T90Offical and Dave struck a perfect balance between conviviality and in-depth analysis.
The memes, the endearing joshing of well-known player weaknesses, insightful takes on the strategies on display in each successive game – it felt very much like a community coming together. One built on dogged persistence and the belief that one day this medieval real-time strategy game could bump shoulders with established eSports.
Probably most illustrative of what this milestone means for the Age of Empires 2 community was host T90Official’s closing remarks at the end of four days of intense play .
Struggling to keep his emotions in check, he thanked all those involved and tried to explain his disbelief at the massive viewership. The passion and love Age of Empires 2 was palpable and shared by the community at large if the chat logs are anything to go by.
This weekend’s event felt like a watershed moment for Age of Empires 2. Against all the odds, the game is now a bonafide eSports. Long may it continue on this path.