How League of Legends Set the Bar for Esports

A competitive season that builds up to a singular, massive tournament event – this is the new model being adopted across the esports industry. But is it really new? Riot Games has been running the League of Legends World Championship since 2011. Its continued annual success set the bar for esports.

The League of Legends World Championship, known simply as “Worlds” by LoL fans, is an outstanding success by every measure of an esports tournament. Last year, the series hit 73 million views across all Twitch channels and reached an average of 33 million concurrent viewers. It surpassed 4.48 billion hours watched.

However, it didn't start that way. Back in 2011, Riot was astounded by the numbers of LoL's first global tournament event – 1.6 million total viewers and 210,000 max concurrent views. The success led the publisher to make the decision, which was controversial at the time, to dump all third-party tournament organizers and take the reigns.

The move worked out for Riot. It positioned the publisher to be in full control of their esport and led to the creation of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), publisher-run leagues in North America and Europe.

Riot's new league model demonstrated the power a publisher had to rapidly stabilize and grow its own esport. It was straightforward and easy to understand with a definitive season finale. While other leading esports like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive had to entice fans to multiple major championships throughout the year, LoL fans had an annual crescendo of competitions to follow.

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