No more than a decade ago, there was serious doubt that competitive gaming could rise to such a level as traditional sporting event, certainly not something as momentous as the Super Bowl. But when the numbers show that a simple Mid-Season Invitational—not even a championship event—was only 30,000,000 away from the Super Bowl, most doubts start to fade.
And when a single eSports event is hosted in an arena packed to capacity at 173,000 people, whereas the Super Bowl of 2019’s venue was 75,000, all doubt leaves.
Some eSports events have been especially big, and they attest to the popularity of eSports. Here is a list of the Top 5 biggest events in eSports history.
#5 League of Legends World Championship 2015
Date: 10/01/15 – 10/31/15
Location: Paris, London, Brussels, and Berlin
Live Attendance: 43,000 total
Viewers Online: 36,000,000
Prize Pool: $2,130,000
This list begins with an event watched by 36,000,000 unique viewers for a total of 386,000,000 hours watched. This particular championship broke records of viewership but has since been surpassed; nevertheless, a significant point in the growth of eSports.
Spanning from October 1st, 2015 to October 31st, 2015, Riot Games held its fifth World Championship in Paris, London, Brussels, and Berlin. There were 16 teams facing off on League of Legends Patch 5.18, all set on claiming the $2,130,000 prize pool.
In Paris, the competition took place in the venue called ‘Le Dock Pullman’; in London, the ‘SSE Arena Wembley’; in Brussels, the ‘Brussels Expo’; in Berlin, the ‘Mercedes-Benz Arena. All of those culminated to an attendance of 43,000 spectators.
The event was widely broadcast, earning 550,000 Twitch views on the Riot Games channel, 240,000 Youtube views on the Riot Games channel there, and 30,000 Youtube views on the New Viewers Stream—an excellent resource for those less knowledgeable.
14,000,000 viewers tuned in to the final match to see SK Telecom T1 seize the victory and the huge prize. Of that team, Top Laner MaRin was deemed the Most Valuable Player.
#4 CFS World Championship 2017
Date: 11/30/17 – 12/03/17
Live Attendance: Unstated
Viewers Online: 37,000,000
Prize Pool: $850,000
Up next is an event that attracted 37,000,000 unique viewers for a total of 6,537,068 hours watched. Two years after its predecessor in this list, this event was rooted in China and the majority of its viewership was domestic.
In the Xi’an Gymnasium in Xi’an, 12 teams fought over an $850,000 prize pool. They played Crossfire, a first-person shooter online PC game made by the South Korean developer SmileGate, from November 30th, 2017 to December 3rd, 2017.
18,394 Twitch viewers were among the many who witnessed the Chinese team Super Valiant Gaming win it all. In fact, the vast majority of viewers were domestic. The peak for Chinese platforms was 914,182 views, while the English platforms yielded a peak of 323 and the Russian platforms a mere 133 views.
#3 League of Legends World Championship 2016
Date: 09/29/16 – 10/29/16
Location: San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles
Live Attendance: 47,268
Viewers Online: 43,000,000
Prize Pool: $5,070,000
A year prior to the #4 placeholder, RiotGames once again broke records with their 43,000,000 unique viewers and 370,000,000 total hours watched. Compared to the 2015 World Championship, there is a difference of 9,000,000 viewers, an incredible leap for the ESL.
This event toured the United States, beginning and ending on the west coast between the dates of September 29th, 2016 and October 29th, 2016. Standard 16 teams squared-off against each other on the 6.18 version of the game, vying for that $5,070,000 prize pool with passion and determination.
These tournaments took place in well-established stadiums, beginning with the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, then The Chicago Theatre in the Windy City, then in Madison Square Garden in New York, then finally in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. All of those venues combined brings out a total of 47,268 spectators.
As for the viewership, the peak concurrent viewership was around 14,700,000 with the overall peak at 28,263,260 views. Additionally, the Twitch peak came out to 971,092 views; quite the audience for the team SK Telecom T1 to yet again bring home the gold.
#2 Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2017
Date: 02/25/17 – 02/26/17; 03/03/17 – 03/05/17
Location: Katowice, Poland
Live Attendance: 173,000
Viewers Online: 46,000,000
Prize Pool: $250,000
Sponsored by Intel, the silver medalist of this list was the largest event in eSports history and all involved in its operation expressed immense pride and cheer for being put down as such an epic event. Surpassing #3 by a few million, this championship attracted 46,000,000 unique viewers and accumulated a total of 19,744,073 hours watched.
As opposed to the usual championship for a single game, Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Katowice held competitions for three: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO), League of Legends, and StarCraft II. CSGO is a first-person shooter PC game renowned for its fast-paced and highly-tactical gameplay—it is a very popular game in the eSports genre. StarCraft II, a child of Blizzard Entertainment, distinguishes itself from the other games with its teamless real-time strategy gameplay. In other words, it is a game where forethought and planning ahead is a necessity, rather than just an advantage.
In the Spodak Arena, brimming with 173,000 spectators, 12 teams participated in the event for the surprisingly small prize pool of $250,000. The Polish city in which this event took place, Katowice, was saturated with eSports fans on two separate weekends: February 25th, 2017 to February 26th, 2016; March 3rd, 2017 to March 5th, 2017.
Bright lights and plenty of new technology showcased by Intel only heightened the excitement and entertainment of those that attended the event, but the viewers were not excluded from the fun. 444,339 peak Twitch viewers and 724,317 overall peak viewers also got to admire the latest and greatest of Intel.
The CSGO team Astralis came out on top as champions, but what made this event so extraordinary was that there was no single winner. There were three. In the League of Legends competition, the Flash Wolves scored the win; in the StarCraft II, the glory of victory went to Jun “TY” Tae Yang.
#1 LoL Mid-Season Invitational 2018
Date: 05/03/18 – 05/20/18
Location: Adlershof and Paris
Live Attendance: >7,000
Viewers Online: 60,000,000
Prize Pool: $1,370,520
At last, the champion of this list, the biggest eSports event in history, isn’t even a championship! With 60,000,000 unique viewers, this Round Robin invitational is ‘exhibit A’ for the popularity of eSports. This event alone yielded 2,077,897,606 total hours watched. Two. Billion. Hours. That is insanely massive, and such is the world of eSports.
In Riot European Studios in Adlershof, Germany and Le Zénith in Paris, France, 14 teams contested each other on the 8.8 version of League of Legends. This event pulled in 448,451 peak Twitch viewers, 426,296 peak Youtube viewers, and an average concurrent viewership of 24,590,504. Anywhere the internet reached, someone could watch the event.
This enormous event unfolded from May 3rd, 2018 to May 20th, 2018. In the end, the prize pool was a $1,370,520 and team RNG came out on top. The prize pool was underwhelming, given the magnitude of the event as a whole—but it does make sense that a pool for an invitational would not be as hefty as a pool for a championship.
More on the Growth of the world of eSports
Sales Revenue of Video Games in the United States
2014 = $41,000,000,000
2015 = $61,000,000,000
2016 = $99,600,000,000
2017 = $108,900,000,000
2018 = $135,000,000,000
In 2018, the Major League Baseball (MLB) sat on the pinnacle of the list of professional sports leagues by revenue at $10,300,000,000. Also in 2018, the revenue of video games came out to around $120,000,000,000 more than the MLB.
An important reason why the world of video games dwarfs the world of baseball is that it’s a natural component of the technology and innovation that is rapidly proliferating. Video games are effortlessly marketable products, perfect for sponsors because of their groundbreaking popularity with younger generations.
The Super Bowl
In 2019, the Super Bowl received an estimated 98,200,000 unique viewers and filled the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta at 75,000 people.
The year before that, the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational received an estimated 60,000,000 unique viewers. Le Zénith, the multi-purpose arena in France, fit up to 6,293 people.
It’s interesting to see to such a comparison because it demonstrates the grounded prevalence that traditional sports have. Of course, eSports are looking to swim in the same pool, not kick out those that were there before them.
In terms of attendance, not very much can be gleaned from this comparison; an invitational is going to have significantly lower attendance than a championship. And the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational is compared with the championship of the NFL.
In this particular pairing, there is a parallel between marketability. The Super Bowl is famous for its advertisements, and more specifically, it is known for the win-win-win nature of its marketing. The advertising brands earn more, the NFL earns more which it can put back into the Super Bowl to improve it, and the viewers are typically very entertained.
To grow, there has to be space. UCI understands this and has constructed an arena on campus for their eSports team. That is a wonderfully progressive move, and there is a good chance that other schools—likely those with more successful and prominent teams first—will be inspired by this and follow UCI’s lead. ESports is beginning to be regarded as a true sport, and like athletes, players need a place to train and a place to play.
Don’t expect other schools to designate large portions of property to this endeavor yet, but there is a strong hope for the future accommodations of collegiate eSports teams.
Vegas. If it’s flashy and vibrant, it can be found in Las Vegas. What’s more visually stimulating than video games? That’s why it is no surprise that the city has built its own high-end eSports and “high tech nightlife” arena, outfitted with all the aesthetic pleasures it’s infamous for.
However, the eSports arena was not built just because of the aesthetic; this is a strategic advancement. The deepening vistas that are the eSports have proven to be cash machines with tremendous promise for the future. The arena will suit the purposes of many of the other notable buildings in the city: gambling.
Sports betting is a well-endowed market because of its intimacy and universality. That is, it is done between close people yet for as long as any human beings contested each other, there have been others who wagered for one or the other in a test of foresight. ESports won’t be very different, if at all.
As popularity grows, value is affirmed. When value is affirmed, that enables it to increase. The world of eSports is a pubescent one where it’s quickly developing into a more mature phenomenon. A very good sign that this is something worth investing in for the future is how niche it remains despite its gross revenue and increasing notoriety. It’s creating its own sub-market, in a way.
The bottom line: annual increases of viewership, sponsorship, and revenue give only positive projections for the future of competitive gaming.