The Riot World Championships is officially the most watched esports event of 2014. More than 27 million people tuned in to the League of Legends tournament, which ran from Sept. 18 to Oct. 19 earlier this year.
That number is actually smaller than the 32 million who tuned in to last year’s version of the annual final. But that’s hardly cause for Riot Games, or esports fans, to panic.
For one, this year set a new record in peak viewership—at one point, 11.2 million fans were watching Samsung Galaxy White obliterate Star Horn Royal Club. That destroys the 8.7 million mark set last year, and represents a new esports record.
“I think we’ll see it go up and down, with probably the trend line going up over time,” said Dustin Beck, Riot Games' vice president of esports. “So many factors play into that, just like with any other primetime sport, where you see up and down fluctuations there.”
The World Series averaged 13.2 million viewers each day over the past three years. The Super Bowl, the most watched television program in the US, easily tops 100 million watchers.
But as Beck says, the viewership often fluctuates based off a number of factors. The most viewed recent World Series this decade came in 2011, between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers. A crazy comeback in game six saw the final two games of that series top 25 million viewers, pulling it ahead of other less competitive years. Riot hasn’t managed to have that close of a final just yet.
The Riot World Championships brings together the best League of Legends teams from around the globe in a final that, this year, was worth $2.1 million. That pales in comparison to the lofty $11 million plus awarded at Dota 2’s The International 4, but League’s viewer numbers blew Dota out of the water—The International reportedly hit “well over 2 million” concurrent viewers.
Fans watched over 179 million hours of esports during the World Championships. That’s one of those largely meaningless—but still somehow impressive—numbers that seems tailor-made for infographics. But there is one consumption statistic that’s both important and “jaw dropping,” as Beck describes it—average online viewtime during the final match between Samsung Galaxy White and Star Horn Royal Club was 67 minutes, up from 42 minutes in 2013. Neither match was particularly competitive, with the Korean team obliterating their Chinese rivals in both cases, so it’s impressive to see viewer engagement increasing on such a level—especially since the games were broadcast before most people in North and South America were out of bed—broadcasts started just before 3am ET and lasted for more than six hours.
That’s one of the key reasons esports will continue its meteoric rise, even if events like the finals saw less overall viewers this year compared to last. That kind of engagement is increasingly rare in our always online, fast-paced culture. It’s the kind of number that advertisers dream about.
Riot Games would not share the geographic breakdown of the viewership, though it’s safe to say China played prominently considering the final’s proximity to the nation and the Chinese club battling in the final. But Riot Games did say that the average viewer was a male in the coveted 18-24 age range.
This year was also the first time the League of Legends final hit ESPN on the company's ESPN3 streaming platform. Beck says the sports giant was “really happy” with the numbers, and “pleasantly surprised” by the response they received from Western audiences, both in live numbers and through video on demand.
It was a big year for esports, and the Riot World Championships really was the culmination of it for esports as a whole, not just for League of Legends. These kind of numbers show esports has come a long way. Just last year, 4.5 million concurrent viewers on Twitch was a new record for the streaming platform—which Amazon purchased for $1 billion earlier this year. Riot Games drew more than twice that number for its finals, and likely hit that total on most of the 15 days of the World Championships tournament.
Eports is big, and Riot Games is leading the way. When I congratulated Beck on a successful finals, he laughed. “Now we just have to make it even better next year,” he said. That will be quite a challenge.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr