LCS Finals Viewership Comparison
This past weekend, the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) culminated in both North America and Europe, with two games in each region: a 3rd/4th place match and the championship game.
In Europe, FNATIC defeated Schalke 04 to claim the title and auto-qualify for the World Championships, while Vitality beat Misfits to earn third place.
In North America, title holders Team Liquid swept a Cloud9 team who was coming into the series in good form, while TSM — the league’s historically most successful team — edged out 100Thieves in 5 games in the third place match.
We parsed a variety of different figures which portray an interesting narrative. Before we get there, a few parameters.
- This analysis will cover English Language Twitch data only. I know, YouTube viewership is significant. We’re running a more in-depth analysis for our clients so if you’re curious about the cumulative figures, email me.
- As opposed to measuring the entire stream from ‘go-live’ to ‘end-broadcast’ this analysis aims to measure just the competitive play, from right before pick-bans to right after the trophy hoist.
- We decided to compare Summer Finals data from last year to this year, across both NA and EU. Historically, Summer Finals have been the more watched relative to Spring as they are the more impactful, with winners earning an auto-qualification to Worlds.
Let’s get down to the numbers.
Alright, that’s a lot of data – what sticks out?
- North American Finals peak viewership was down marginally, about 4.5%, from 279k to 266k. Peak in the third place game – again, likely due to the popularity of TSM – was up significantly to over 196k from last year’s 120k.
- North American average viewership for the Finals was flat, coming in at about 218k both this year and last. The jump in the third place match – from about 95k to 145k (+53%) is likely due to TSM playing in that game.
- European Finals peak viewership showed significant growth this year, jumping from about 147k peak to 224k peak, an increase of over 50% likely due to FNATIC playing for the title. Last year, FNATIC played in the third-place match, which is likely why that series performed better – in peak & average viewership – than this year’s third/fourth place series.
But what does it all mean?
- It’s no surprise that overall North American viewership outperforms that Europe. This has been true since the inception of the LCS and is likely due to market size and broadcast timing.
- While the year-over-year increase is a positive data point for the newly franchised league, we are still a far cry from the game’s heyday. In 2016, Summer Finals peaked at about 370k viewers, and averaged 283k.
- Most compelling is the narrative around the biggest teams in each region – TSM & FNATIC. Even when they are playing in less important series, they drive increased viewership.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not the full analysis – YouTube has provided an increasing share of total viewership over the past few years. However, as a snapshot in time surrounding the world’s most storied & popular esports league, this should paint a clear enough picture.
If you’ve got questions about the data, our methodology, or more (hidden) takeaways hit me up – firstname.lastname@example.org
OWL confirms 6 new expansion teams: Washington DC, Vancouver, Toronto, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Paris
Six additional expansion teams were confirmed last Friday for the 2019 season of the Overwatch League (OWL) taking the total tally of new teams to eight. Washington DC, Vancouver, Toronto, Chengdu, Hangzhou, and Paris join the already confirmed Atlanta and Guangzhou franchises. Team names and branding will be announced in the coming months. Terms have not been disclosed yet but league owner/operator Activision Blizzard had been seeking a minimum $30M fee for each new franchise spot.
New owners include Mark Ein, a real estate and technology investor who formed Washington Esports Ventures to run the team in DC and the Aquilini Group — owners of the Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena — who bought the expansion slot in Vancouver.
Former Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) CEO, Chris Overholt will become team president of the new franchise based in Toronto which is owned by a consortium of investors led by OverActive Media, a venture capital shop. Other investors in that franchise are Penguins minority shareholder Michael Kimel and the esports organization Splyce, partly owned by Delaware North.
For the Chinese expansion franchises, Hangzhou is owned by online entertainment company Bilibili, while Chengdu is owned by game live streaming platform HUYA Inc.
Lastly, owners of the new expansion team in Paris are DM Esports, a group led by Drew McCourt, president of the LA-based McCourt Global and son of Marseille soccer team owner, Frank McCourt.
After an impressive inaugural season, Activision Blizzard continues to expand the league to more teams and more owners. Initial reports estimated between 4-6 new teams but the final slate of new teams will put Activision Blizzard’s premier esports league at 20 total teams in its second year only, including nine outside the US.
The list of owners either have experience in traditional sports or understand the esports market. According to Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues president and CEO, Pete Vlastelica, “the difference between a good league and a great league is its owners, and we set a high bar for our first season with the caliber of ownership groups.” The sale of team slots to entrepreneurs in major cities around the world is estimated to exceed $400M, making OWL the most heavily capitalized esports league in the world.
Rumors have indicated the new slots to be priced at $30M minimum – a significant increase compared to the $20M price tag teams paid last year. For context, the European LCS which is currently franchising has an entry fee of 8 million Euros – significantly less than the rumored OWL slots.
Because the Overwatch League exceeded viewership expectations in year one, showed strong financial results and excellent production value, I expect the price of future league slots to continue increasing. So far, Activision Blizzard’s CEO Bobby Kotick, declared that the Overwatch League has sold more than $100M of over-the-top broadcast rights and sponsorship sales, which includes deals with T-Mobile, Toyota, Intel, HP, and Sour Patch Kids.
If financial and viewership results continue to improve during OWL’s second season, it would not be surprising to see the league expand to even more teams & cities across the globe. Cities such as Seattle or Las Vegas in the US, Stockholm or Cologne in Europe, Bangkok or Tokyo in Asia, and Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires in South America all have a large esports scenes and could represent a great opportunity for OWL expansion.
The globalization of the Overwatch League is what gives it its unique nature but it also raises questions for its future. Indeed, Season 1 of OWL saw all teams play out of Los Angeles, with matches conducted at 450-seat Blizzard Arena. Season 2 will be broadcasted in the same manner but the league has indicated that Overwatch teams will relocate to their actual cities by 2020, which would open up regionalized audiences and new revenue streams.
Despite OWL’s early success the league will require a successful transition to regionalization in order to be a long-term success. And while individual team costs will increase (travel, live events, arena) the revenue opportunities that are associated with having a home base are significant. One thing is certain – OWL has proven that major investors, in conjunction with a major publisher can build a compelling product. Whether it turns into a long term financial success is yet to be seen.