LEC records 20.7% annual average viewership growth, ending 3-year decline




11/07/2024 - 8'

The LEC's viewership is on the rise! But perhaps at a cost?

Despite being plagued by large-scale layoffs and poor competitive results, the LEC is currently well on its way to completing one of its most positive years since the COVID-19 pandemic era. While this increase brings a generally positive look for the League of Legends European competition, the reasons behind this surge may present new issues that Riot Games will have to address eventually. A look into the current esports landscape, the rise of co-streaming, and its impact on the industry.

Stopping the Bleeding

A visual representation of viewership changes (2019-2024)
A visual representation of viewership changes (2019-2024)

Once regarded as the “next big thing,” esports has faced its fair share of struggles in recent years. With the infamous “Esports Winter” and growing financial difficulties plaguing the sector worldwide, the LEC has been one of numerous esports entities battling to regain stability and find a sustainable path forward. After experiencing tremendous growth in 2019 following its rebranding from the EU LCS, the European championship quickly became one of the most attractive non-international esports products in the world. However, despite continued growth in the following two years, staleness and other factors eventually caught up with the LEC, leading to a nearly three-year decline.

In 2023, Riot Games attempted to shake things up by introducing a new and innovative format, which split the season into four distinct stages and greatly increased the number of seasonal matches. While the initial reception to the format showed promise, it quickly became clear that it would not address the issues that arose toward the end of 2021. That year, the LEC experienced a per-split average reduction in peak viewership of 26.93% and a yearly 6% decrease in average viewers, adding to an already dwindling audience. What changed?

Enters the Influencers

An analysis of viewership repartition during this year's peak (Winter 2024 Finals)
An analysis of viewership repartition during this year's peak (Winter 2024 Finals)

Although the main broadcast maintains a steady viewership and co-streamer attendance fluctuates (for example, Karmine Corp's Kamel "Kameto" Kebir is not included in the above graphic as he did not broadcast the Winter 2024 Finals), it is undeniable that the influence of third-party streamers has had a tremendous impact on the growth of the LEC this year.

A phenomenon first popularized in VALORANT, the co-streaming craze truly began impacting the League of Legends ecosystem this year with its adoption and democratization in official Riot-licensed competitions. As part of the refurbishment of the Riot Games Arena this year, the organizers even created special rooms dedicated to these personalities to co-stream from the arena itself.

As shown in the above graphic, it is estimated that co-streamers covered more than half of the viewership of the LEC 2024 Winter Finals. While a large part of the increase in viewership is attributed to the famous co-owner of MAD Lions KOI, Ibai Llanos, it is also important to recognize the rise of new streamers such as the rat king himself, Marc "Caedrel" Lamont, who ultimately canceled his way out of an official broadcast position to become one of the most-watched League of Legends streamers of this year (We're not sorry for this joke).

New Fanbases

Winter, Spring, and Summer's most viewed matches. Credit: Esports Charts (escharts.com)
Winter, Spring, and Summer's most viewed matches. Credit: Esports Charts (escharts.com)

Despite difficult competitive results throughout the year, the entrance of organizations such as MAD Lions KOI and Karmine Corp have also helped bring a major surge in interest for the LEC. While teams like G2 Esports and Fnatic remain at the top of the league, these new investments have proved beneficial to all parties involved.

With more teams bringing in large fanbases and regional rivalries, the LEC has been more fired up than ever, as evidenced by the league's inaugural winter split, which brought some of the fiercest competition and fan interaction in the league's recent history. Even having made the playoffs only once this entire year, the sheer determination and relentless support brought by Karmine Corp's fans have been felt throughout the 2024 season. They still appear within the league's most viewed matches despite having only competed in best-of-ones prior to the time of writing this article.

Nowadays, despite their young age, influencer-led organizations have proved to be the saving grace of esports. In a sea of organizations that failed to create a powerful League of Legends brand and attract a stable fanbase, such as Astralis, EXCEL, and to some extent, Rogue, these new squads have demonstrated that fandoms are what bring life to esports.

Worrying Signs?

A depiction of the evolution of the LEC's Twitch broadcast peak viewership per split.
A depiction of the evolution of the LEC's Twitch broadcast peak viewership per split.

Unfortunately, with the rise of third-party-led viewership and the power being given to the teams, viewers are starting to pivot away from watching the competition's main broadcast. While it's not impossible that the recent layoffs were partly influenced by the diminishing viewership of the LEC, it is important to note that these numbers were also directly impacted by the dismissal of several key figures from the league's broadcast team.

Despite an upward trend in overall viewership numbers, it is undeniable that industry veterans are suffering from this pivot. With lower budgets allocated to the competition, the league has now had to resort to hiring contractors to fill spots previously held by salaried employees, and broadcast talents have had to continue working with much fewer resources than before.

While part of the league's total viewership has moved to YouTube, the steady decline in main-broadcast Twitch streams still indicates a dire situation for the LEC and its crew. Though numbers for the summer playoffs and season finals are still unknown, the LEC's main broadcast has seen some of its lowest viewership ever this year, notably due to the fragmentation of viewership with the addition of co-streams. While Riot used to peak at numbers as high as 441,356 viewers, the LEC now struggles to push past the 100,000-viewer mark on any given day, with its 2024 peak currently resting at 121,273 viewers.

The question is as follows: Will Riot Games change its approach and see this as a threat, or is the era of co-streaming upon us, and will cuts to official broadcasts continue?

Viewership Data Sourced from: Esports Charts, Twitch Tracker, and Playboard.

Header Photo Credits: Wojciech Wandzel/Riot Games

- Armand Luque -