[A journalist's notes] The winds of change are blowing hard in the esports scene... But we might not know it yet

A while ago, I had a chance to meet with an insider who works in the Western League of Legends scene. He asked me whether or not I still play LoL. Since I have to keep myself up to date with the current meta and write articles about the game, I said, “Yes, obviously.” His response was an unexpected one, as he was confused how I could ‘enjoy’ the game that’s been out for over ten years, and that there are a lot of those around him that do not enjoy the game anymore.


Another industry insider who works in Korea told me something else that could qualify as very interesting too. He says that the current state of LoL Esports is ‘saturated’, by which he meant that it’s already grown as big as it could. The org that he works for is struggling to find sponsors, and to deal with the high player salaries, they are now focusing on growing their academy system. He says that most orgs will shift their focus in the similar direction.


In Korea, League of Legends is still incredibly popular. According to the data from Gametrics.com, League of Legends has been the number one game played in Korean PC cafes for over 200 weeks, a record that started all the way back in 2018. Games like Overwatch and PUBG have been strong contenders to take that throne from LoL, but they weren’t able to topple League from its throne. League of Legends is still the most popular game in Korea.


However, the growth of LoL Esports has definitely slowed down.


The peak number of viewers during the LCK Spring split in 2020 was around one million viewers. Compared to 2019, that number has grown by 30%, and that number once again, grew by another 30% in 2021. However, this year’s peak number of viewers is around the same as last year, as it went from 1.31 million to 1.37 million viewers.


Things are looking more grim worldwide. In recent years, LCS has suffered a massive drop in viewership. According to escharts.com, a website that ‘provides comprehensive metrics for esports broadcasts and live streams’, the average viewership for the 2022 LCK Summer split was around 90K viewers, with peak viewership being around 140K, the lowest number in the last five years.


The same trend goes for the LEC and the LPL as well. LEC hit its peak viewer count in 2020 Summer and 2021 Spring. However, their viewership has been steadily dropping over the past three splits. As for the LPL, due to limited access to such data in China, it’s hard to gauge exact numbers. However, according to an insider within Chinese LoL esports, LPL’s growth has slowed down as well. 

As the growth of LoL esports has slowed down, there has been another category that’s seen steady growth: VALORANT.


From the start of its service in 2020 to today in 2022, VALORANT viewership has grown by over 40%, hitting a new peak in the first half of 2022. As most major esports competitions are in the latter half of the year, VALORANT esports viewership will look to break their own records.


Even on Twitch.tv, arguably the biggest video game live streaming platform in the world, VALORANT is ahead of League of Legends in viewership. Although the current total number of concurrent viewers for both VALORANT and League of Legends are neck and neck, VALORANT consistently has more total viewers than LoL.


In terms of growth rate of the game, it’s safe to assume that VALORANT has surpassed LoL. Riot Games announced that there were 14 million monthly active players in June 2021. For League of Legends, they had 32 million monthly active players in March 2018. However, not only is it hard to directly compare the two figures due to those numbers being surveyed from different years, you also have to consider the fact that much of VALORANT success is piggybacked from that of LoL.


LoL esports, especially in Korea, is still very dominant. There’s no esport in the world that’s close to the level of League of Legends, whether that may be in viewership and/or in the scale of it all. However, with everything happening behind the scenes, its growth is starting to plateau, and we may soon be seeing the global king toppled from the throne it once held unchallenged.

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