How the League of Legends World Championship Format Encourages Steady Viewership Growth
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As one might expect, Worlds is the most prominent LoL tournament of the year, requiring qualification through regionalized leagues like North America’s LoL Championship Series, LoL Champions Korea, and the LoL European Championship.
Similar to many other “world championship” level events, Worlds for LoL takes place over the course of a little more than a month and has multiple different phases to it which provide different levels of competition, amounts of airtime, and exposure for the esport.
The event begins with 24 teams from professional leagues across the globe, but only the bottom half of those qualifying teams play during the first week. There are two “play-in” rounds with the first round being the most extensive.
In play-in round one, the 12 competing teams are divided into four groups of three that compete in a double round robin format with all matches being a best-of-one. After that, the bottom team from each group is eliminated, and play-in round two commences.
The four winners from each group play a randomly drawn team that placed second in a different group. The winner of each advance to the group stage, which begins about a half a week later.
Over the course of Worlds, there are a plethora of alternate-language broadcasts that gain notable viewership including French, Korean, Spanish, and Portuguese streams. This makes looking at any one specific channel’s viewership incapable of showing the full picture of what sort of viewership each phase gets during Worlds.
However, a quick look at how many hours watched LoL had during the play-in rounds last year shows that even though the first few parts of Worlds are called the “play-in” rounds, they’re anything but second tier in viewership.
From Oct. 1-4 2018, LoL had 13.56M hours watched on Twitch, and during the following play-in round from Oct. 6-7 the game added another 7.37M hours watched. All-in-all, the game had 20.93M hours watched during the days that play-in rounds were conducted.
During that time, Riot Games’ official English-language broadcast, which was by far the most-watched during Worlds, had 6.74M hours watched with an average of 69.78K concurrent viewers (CCV). Overall those figures provide the lowest viewership average during Worlds, but with a substantial amount of airtime, LoL as a whole was still able to lead all content on Twitch.
For comparison, this year, those figures were down during the play-in rounds. This month, Riot Games’ main channel recorded 5M hours watched during the play-in rounds that spanned Oct. 2-5 and Oct. 7-8. The channel also only averaged 50.57K CCV.
Following the play-in round, the four teams that advance join the 12 teams that qualified for direct entry into Worlds by being one of the top few teams in their regional league. The 16 teams are divided into four groups competing in a double round robin format with best-of-one matches. The top two teams from each of the four groups advance to the “Knockout Stage,” and the bottom two from each are eliminated.
This portion of Worlds is typically the most-watched simply because of the sheer hours of airtime that come during it. Last year, From Oct. 10-17 LoL as a game had 30.71M hours watched as primary coverage of Worlds on Twitch reached its peak airtime. With 110 hours of airtime on the main Riot Games channel, the group stage was able to rack up 10.96M hours watched on the event’s most-watched channel with an average of 93.8K CCV.
So far this year, Riot Games’ English-language channel for Worlds coverage has seen a jump in average viewership from last year with 103.6K CCV from Oct. 11-17. Though there is still more group stage action to be played, the channel has already produced 8.29M hours watched.
This stage provides perhaps the largest international reach on Twitch for a couple of reasons. Not only does this stage include competition from the largest number of teams, but it also is guaranteed to have participation from teams that represent every major regional league in the world.
This could be compared to FIFA’s World Cup in that people around the globe are all tuning in to watch how the teams from their league or region perform, and at the same time, the stage involves the most live coverage because of the number of games being played.
Similar to a Major for Counter-Strike:Global Offensive, the final stage of Worlds manages to attract the highest viewership peaks and averages of any stage. With the number of teams and amount of airtime dwindling, the Knockout Stage doesn’t tend to have quite the same volume of hours watched that it’s predecessor typically gets, but the grand nature of every match makes the average viewership more impressive than any other stage.
The final stage of Worlds is a simple single-elimination bracket between the eight teams that remain after the group stage. Additionally, the stage is drawn out over the course of multiple weeks with each round being played on a different weekend, similar to the playoffs in the National Football League.
While the first weekend of the Knockout Stage has the most hours watched, average viewership on Riot Games’ channel was highest during the semi-final weekend in 2018. However, as one might expect, viewership hit its highest peak of 575.86K on the official Riot Games channel during the grand finale.
A big reason for the grand final weekend not having the highest average viewership out of any other weekend was directly tied to the peripheral coverage surrounding the finals. While finals was just a best-of-five, Riot had a broadcast session surrounding the finale that spanned more than 27 hours, which made average viewership for the weekend lower overall.
All-in-all, the three weekends of coverage, including peripheral coverage, reached 9.47M hours watched with an average of 118.94K CCV.
Much like other large esports events, Worlds in LoL has multiple distinct phases to it that attract different types of viewers from various parts of the world for a multitude of reasons. Finding a way to leverage and activate off of Worlds effectively, depends largely on the type of audience someone is looking to reach, whether it be the game’s massive lot of casual fans or more hardcore regionalized fanbases.
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