It is very easy to make fun of the viewership numbers of the LCS broadcast. It is smaller than it once was. A broadcast that once averaged viewership in the six figures now rarely is able to reach said number at its peak.
“The LCS is dying!”
Hearing those words can provoke a different of emotions. For some, it instills panic given their emotional, time or financial investment into the space. For others, they’re shouting it from the roof tops — they were right! And for others, it is just a whisper in the wind and a brutal remind of how short-sighted the world is.
Viewership has always been seen as a king. If you have viewers, you are popular. Bigger number, better streamer. In reality, viewership can be connected to many different factors — some in your control, some out of your control. The pandemic saw a rise in consumption of online media and as time passed, the world “opened” again, numbers declined. And this isn’t a piece about the market correction of streaming numbers but the reality is, almost every content creator experienced this correction in some way, shape or form or they will.
Instead, this piece is meant to focus on an intriguing point to the LCS broadcast: their third game of the day.
The broadcast intentionally stages their premier match-up of the day to be their third game of the day. Typically taking place at 6:30 PM EST on Saturday and 5:30 PM EST on Sunday, this allows for European fans to tune into one final game before calling it a night, Korean fans could potentially catch the game if they had any interest in the LCS, its primetime for east coast fans and a decent viewing hour for the rest of contiguous United States.
So far, it has worked as intended.
The typical trend for the LCS is to see the third game of the day also be their peak in viewership for the broadcast. This isn’t always the case — with certain top franchises being able to steal away the top as the second game of the day. This past week, the Team Liquid versus Immortals match-up did just that — stealing away the attention from the third match-up of the day, TSM versus 100 Thieves. The third game of the day can also see much more intention from the broadcast to promote an increase in viewership — recently inviting player and personality Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau to participate in calling the game.
But after the third game of the day, there is always a dramatic drop-off in viewership attendance. Below is a visual aid of the LCS’ Twitch broadcast viewership over the course of the stream.
Their strategy is working. But should it be their strategy?
In one way, it is a pretty brilliant strategy. By having players playing in the LCS but also representing countries such as South Korea and Denmark, it makes all of the sense in the world to create viewership overlap. By having Team Liquid playing in the third game of the day, they are able to satisfy that target audience’s needs.
Similar to how when you watch a NFL game on Sunday morning, you’ll likely see east coast teams playing in the 1 PM EST time slot while west coast teams likely will find themselves in the 4:30 PM EST time slot.
It just makes sense.
The problem for the LCS is that there is only one broadcast. While still technically able to sell the rights to certain games through sponsorships, they’re truly reliant on the general health of the overall broadcast. They’ve intentionally put teams that do not pull as much interest such as Golden Guardians, Dignitas, Immortals in the final game of the day, with the understanding that fans likely won’t tune in for those matches.
And fans aren’t stupid, they’re not tuning into those matches. They’re leaving.
The LCS’ approach is also reacting to what is going on in the LEC. The two regions are often connected due to viewership overlap and the general rivalry between the two forces.
The LEC ramps up their viewership numbers. Understanding that their North American audience is just waking up and likely to tune into their third and fourth games of the day, they save their premier matches for later and get the more “difficult to digest” matches out of the way. The strategy has worked and more importantly, it has kept viewers interested in their “Post Game Lobby” segment as they transition over to either the LCS broadcast of new content entirely. It is a much more efficient approach.
The LCS wants to do its best to bring in viewers from the LEC but it hasn’t necessarily been that easy. And on Sunday, when there isn’t a LEC broadcast, their opening numbers can become much more inconsistent. Their opening segment “LCS Waiting Room,” centers around members of their analyst desk introducing viewers to the broadcast through conversation, an unfortunate change from their previous usage of pre-recorded content covering a variety of different topics. It is a format heavily reliant on people being interested and invested in the broadcast members and unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie.
Riot is looking to do its best to maximize the “3 spot” broadcast format. But they haven’t necessarily figured it out. Here’s a figure from a 2.5 week period back in July of 2021 — which included a Friday broadcast.
Along with the noticeable viewership drop, the consistent decrease later in the broadcast still plagued them.
But Riot cannot really move on from the “3 spot” strategy.
That’s the fun part.
Riot is very much pigeonholed when it comes to their LCS broadcast. They keep it on the weekend. They’re limited to what they can accomplish due to the LEC’s broadcast. They’re too aware of their numbers, what people tune in for, when fans are likely to tune out. And it’s generally limited their ability to continue to see growth throughout their broadcast.
Moving their feature match-up of the day from the third spot to the fourth spot may seem like the right fix — limiting the drop-off damage and potentially having more fans tune into their end-of-the-day partnership with a beer company that does not sponsor this post (no free ads).
But it doesn’t solve the general issue of the LCS broadcast being in an awkward position. Fan morale continues to decline with the lack of success at international events. Partnerships with creators have effectively damaged the general broadcast itself, with streamers not necessarily being onboard to positively market the content, fans aren’t wanting to stay to watch certain teams and Riot isn’t necessarily building their product for fans to stay and watch.
If the LCS does continue with this trend, they’re likely accepting the reality of their product and the entertainment of the LCS. Their sales team will have to work overtime to try and pitch sponsors to ignore the dramatic drop-off and only focus on the peak.
But the LCS also has the opportunity to branch out from their system, to produce something not only entertaining but much more palatable to produce. They could potentially re-think their restriction to the weekend, their restriction to five games a day.