In 2011, just two years after making its debut, League of Legends boasted an impressive monthly player base of around 11.5 million. That number grew to a whopping 67 million by 2014 making it more popular than DOTA and Warcraft III. As a result, League of Legends ascended the esports throne. By 2017, the monthly player base ballooned to over 100 million leaving its contemporaries in the dust.
Perhaps even more astonishing is the number of people who actually watch League of Legends competitions on streaming services like Twitch and YouTube. Several major television networks have also caught the wave by airing LoL events. Then there are the thousands of fans who pack themselves into the newly built esports arenas to watch major events like League of Legends Championship Series.
Naturally, you will always find bookmakers lurking in the shadows whenever competitive events mix with large audiences. It wasn’t all that long ago that a few intrepid bookies began offering odds on esports. These days, League of Legends betting is a standard feature at most online sportsbooks and millions of people bet real money on LoL matches. It may be true that LoL’s exponential growth in popularity has slowed, but it’s still the king of the esports scene. How has this esports occupied the throne for so long?
There was a lot of doomsday talk in 2018 when World of Warcraft surpassed League of Legends in monthly revenue. Many people were quick to declare that LoL’s long reign was over. In March 2018, LoL also fell behind Dungeon Fighter Online in terms of monthly gross revenue which added more fuel to the fire. Other factors such as the rising popularity of other esports like Fortnite along with some ill-timed PR gaffes created more chatter about LoL’s imminent demise.
Despite so much negativity, League of Legends remained the most viewed esport on Twitch and YouTube. By late 2018, fans had watched a staggering 240 million hours of LoL competition on those services. CS:GO had the second most viewing hours with 212 million while DOTA 2 viewers combined for 180 million hours. No other esports broke the 100 million hour plateau although Overwatch came close. To top it off, an estimated 100 million people tuned into the League of Legends Worlds Finals in 2018. To put that into perspective, about 98.2 million people watched Super Bowl LIII. There are many other reasons for the game’s sustained appeal.
Many people will argue that major sports like NFL football and Major League Baseball would garner much less interest if it wasn’t for gambling. These people could use the same reasoning to explain why League of Legends is still king. Esports represent the fastest growing segment of the betting market. Bettors wagered $315 million on esports in 2015. eSports betting projects to eclipse the $20 billion mark by 2020. Mind boggling! Can you guess which esport is the biggest contributor to the betting handle as of mid-2018? Yes, it’s League of Legends which is responsible for 38% of all esports bets. 29% of esports bettors wagered on CS:GO while DOTA 2 accounts for 18% of the action.
Generation Z and millennials combine to account for over 60% of the world’s population. Not surprisingly, these age groups also happen to make up the vast majority of League of Legends players, viewers, and bettors. While traditional sports remain relevant within these groups, esports seem to be a bit more relevant and LoL leads the way.
The Business Side
History has shown us countless examples of traditional sports evolving into big businesses. LoL has followed a similar path. Many professional LoL players make the same kind of money as pro athletes do and some enjoy celebrity status. Individual and team sponsorship deals have become increasingly lucrative. League of Legends generates even more money through media rights, advertising, merchandise, and ticket sales. Furthermore, countless bookies have increased their bottom lines thanks to League of Legends. A lot of people stand to make huge amounts of money from LoL’s continued success.
How Long Will LoL’s Reign Last?
Technological advances paved the way for the success of League of Legends and esports in general. Unfortunately, technological advances may also end up being LoL’s undoing. Technology is changing quickly and it’s hard to predict what the esports scene will look like in 5 or 10 years. With new innovations like virtual reality taking giant leaps forward, it’s just a matter of time before the esports of today become a thing of the past. Of course, there is a chance of LoL’s reign being extended well into the future if Riot Games can continue adapting to the changing times.