With less than two months left in the year, major esports events are winding down and preparing for 2019. Some major games host larger competitions in November and December, including League of Legends’ All-Star tournament, Capcom Cup, ESL Pro League finals, and The Summit. However, most of the highest viewership for esports is in the books.
The League of Legends World Championship pulled the highest concurrent viewership peak in 2018, with over 205 million tuning in to watch Invictus Gaming versus Fnatic in the finals. Excluding Chinese outlets, that number comes down to just under 2 million, still larger than other major esports events when factoring out China. Few esports events have even come close to these record numbers.
Other Top Viewership Peaks for League of Legends
Beyond the 2018 World Championship, League has recorded eight of the top ten highest viewership peaks of all time. The 2018 Mid-Season Invitational pulled 127 million viewers, while 2017 Worlds, 2018 LPL Spring Playoffs, and 2018 LPL Summer Split brought in 106 million, 95 million, and 67 million viewers, respectively. The Asian regions’ Rift Rivals 2018, LPL Spring Split, and LPL Regionals round out the others in top ten all-time viewership with 53 million, 40 million, and 32 million peaks.
The obvious variable connecting all of these events is China. Chinese viewership is huge for LoL, as international events and China’s domestic league drives the highest peak viewership. Without Chinese viewers, MSI’s peak drops to 940 thousand, Worlds 2017 drops to just over 2 million (higher than 2018 Worlds excluding Chinese viewers), and Rift Rivals is only 242,000. These differences are not necessarily bad. They just show how huge esports is for China compared to the rest of the world.
Top Viewership Peaks for Other Esports
League of Legends may have some of the highest peaks of all esports, but other events drew large crowds, too. Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds scored the sixth and ninth highest viewer peaks of all time, with its Global and China Pro Invitationals this year. The 60 million and 39 million peaks are the only ones competing with LoL. PUBG also brings a significant amount of viewership out of China, with OMG finding success in the tournament.
DOTA owns the 17th highest viewership peak of all time, with the 2018 Asia Championships pulling almost 19 million viewers. The 2018 International is their second highest peak (23rd overall), with just under 15 million concurrent viewers. These two tournaments are huge in China, as Vici Gaming and PSG.LGD field some of the strongest teams.
No game demonstrates China’s esports viewership strength better than the sixteenth and 24th highest peaks of all time–King of Glory Pro League 2017 and 2018. King of Glory, also known as Arena of Valor, is a mobile MOBA developed by Tencent. It is remarkably similar to League of Legends, except the game is played on Android and iOS. The professional league peaked at 19 million last year and 14 million last year, which is virtually all Chinese. This mobile esport’s viewership is even closer to LoL when comparing total hours consumed. In that case, King of Glory has the eighth, ninth, and twelfth most-viewed.
Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Hearthstone hit viewership peaks between 1.9 and 2.6 million, but did not set records in 2018. The Hearthstone CN vs. EU Championship this year matched last year’s event with 2.3 million peak viewers. The Overwatch League peaked just over 2 million this year, which fell short of 2016 APAC Premier with 2.6 million. And while CS:GO’s ELEAGUE Major reached 1.85 million peak viewers this year, the 2017 PGL Major hit 1.9 million.
League is Not Dead
Although concurrent viewer peaks are not the end all be all of a particular esport, they can give significant insights into how many people are actually interested in a game. Whether looking at peak viewership, average concurrent viewers, or other data, it is obvious that League still reigns supreme.
The real takeaway from most viewership data, though, is the power of the Chinese audience. One region’s eyes making up 99 percent of an event’s advertising potential has powerful implications. It affects decisions regarding sponsors, venues, organizational representation, and more. For example, if 2018 Worlds were not broadcasting at a convenient time for Asian time zones, would the viewership have been different?
With a few more events occurring this year, someone could dethrone League from the top spot, but it is unlikely. With the EU LCS franchising in 2019, western audiences are only more likely to tune in next year. League of Legends, globally, is far from dead.
All viewership data from Esports Charts