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- League of Legends witnessed 22% year-on-year growth in Twitch and YouTube viewership in the first half of 2019.
- Worlds 2019 had a large year-on-year rise in viewership hours and average concurrent viewership at all stages of the competition, with an increase of 40% and 44%, respectively.
- The LEC’s semifinals and third-place matches saw a 56% increase in average concurrent viewers than last year and the third-place match’s ACV grew by 85%.
With the 2019 League of Legends season at a close and its World Championship complete, Newzoo engaged in a deep dive analysis of the viewership numbers for the League of Legends World Championship and what has fueled the League of Legends European Championship’s (LEC’s) remarkable growth.
The Release of Teamfight Tactics Bolstered an Already Strong Player Core, But Had One Drawback
Newzoo turned to its PC Game Tracker, which showed that since the release of Teamfight Tactics there has been a steady rise in League of Legends players. The numbers show that, not only did the new auto-battler game mode bring in new players to the League of Legends client, but that players that may have given up on the game have come back in droves.
According to Newzoo’s Game Streaming Tracker, League of Legends had a 22% year-on-year growth in viewership for Twitch and YouTube in the first half of 2019. However, the release of TFT may have driven League of Legends’ viewership down, dropping 2% from Q3 2018 to Q3 2019.
League of Legends 2019 World Championship Sees Yet Another Jump in Viewership
While the game has been around since 2009, League of Legends has really only been an esports with a World Championship since 2011 when the $100K USD final took place in Sweden. That year saw 1.6M total viewers watch the streamed broadcast, whereas in 2019 records were broken.
From 2017 to 2019 there has been significant growth in League of Legends viewership across both Twitch and YouTube. Viewership hours have increased by 40%, while the average concurrent viewership was up 44% at all stages of the playoffs.
“To put this in perspective, the growth in average concurrent viewership (ACV) from the 2017 to 2018 edition was 20%,” said Newzoo in a release.
A condensed look at the numbers show the ACV growth from Worlds 2018 to Worlds 2019:
- Finals: 60%
- Group stages: 51%
- Semifinals: 41%
- Quarterfinals: 30%
There are a number of other factors that could be leading the charge in viewership. 2019 saw two European teams and an American team make the semifinals of the championship. With less Western teams making runs during the group stages, Newzoo concludes that 2019’s growth is in fact mostly independent from the U.S. and European teams making it to the finals.
LEC Rebranding Has Reinvigorated the Viewing Audience
According to the report by Newzoo, the League of Legends esports footprint is growing across the region. New teams and new branding identity for the league has worked in its ability to drive renewed interest to the league. The newfound competitive success of European teams could also be one of the reasons why viewership numbers have grown thus.
Also, the LEC recently restructured its playoff format, going from a system where the top two teams from each tournament bracket automatically secure a place in the semi-finals with the other teams competing for the remaining spots via a standard playoff bracket to the following:
- The No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6 finishing teams now play in a single elimination bracket.
- The top two teams play each other for a place in the finals. This is known as the Juggernaut Match.
- The loser of the Juggernaut Match plays the winner of the single elimination bracket for the remaining spot in the final.
“The LEC’s goals with the format change were to amplify the importance of the regular season,” said Riot Games’ League Operations Lead for EU Esports, Maximillian Schmidt, in the Newzoo report. “We also wanted to create more exciting play-offs by pitting the top two teams against each other and making both roadshow matches meaningful.”
Newzoo goes on to say that in just about every league there is, the playoffs are the most important event and subsequently see increased viewership from that of the regular season. There are high average concurrent viewers (ACV) numbers for playoffs that do in fact result in larger shares of hours watched.
The Reality: Several Factors Affect Viewership
Even with the contention from Newzoo that you can make the argument that format changes and branding choices are the principal driving forces in the increase in viewership numbers, it does believe there are other factors as well.
Those are factors include:
- When the matches take place (weekends typically produce more viewership).
- Competition with other events in terms of time frame—both esports and non-esports.
- Whether or not the match is a quarter, semi, or final, and whether or not the match is a “best of” series.
- The overall popularity of the teams playing.
According to Newzoo’s Game Streaming Tracker, average concurrent viewership (ACV) rises per game in best-of matches, as the stakes are higher for each subsequent match.
Format matters. The numbers show that finding a format that has the possibility of having a greater number of matches played is a valuable way to leverage a format, in terms of viewership.
One of the concepts behind Riot’s change in the LEC format is that it guarantees at least one additional series that takes place between the top two teams, while also segueing to possible underdog-style stories for those teams climbing up from the lower section of the bracket.
All-in-all, Newzoo believes that these factors may contribute to higher viewership and more engagement.
Newzoo, in its attempt to identify the ACV of the matches that may have been affected by the format, used the official Riot Games Twitch channel as a benchmark in comparing viewership for the semifinals and third-place matches for both the 218 EU LCS and 2019 LEC.
What it uncovered was that the LEC had 56% more ACV year-on-year. This number shows that it simply outpaces the growth of the regular season, which showed a 20% increase year-on-year.
The double-elimination Juggernaut match comes with two sides, with one looking to outweigh the other. The Juggernaut match may see engagement cushioned by the fact it is a lower-stakes match, seeing that it is usually played between top teams mitigates that cushioning.
Another caveat is that with the third-place match being a battle for a place in the finals, those increased stakes should make the match more engaging. Now, the third-place match is guaranteed to include one of the top two teams from the regular season. According to Newzoo’s numbers, this helped the ACV of the LEC’s third-place match grow by 85% from 2018 to 2019.
There is no one factor anyone can point to explain the growth of the ACV since the change of format in the LEC. Newzoo says that, “Esports is an invaluable testbed when it comes to format innovation. By experimenting with new ideas, competitions can uncover the best ways to increase exposure for their sponsors, teams, players, and deliver their fans the most engaging content possible.”
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