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Numbers show LCS viewership drop isn’t stopping anytime soon

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The North American League of Legends competitive scene has been through a lot over the years, and it seems is dark days may yet be getting darker.

Viewership has long been among the best ways to measure success in esports, and the latest numbers for the LCS’ viewership paint a bleak picture for the North American competition. Is there any turning it around?

And even if it can be turned around, is developer and publisher Riot Games the right partner to make that turnaround happen?

What was the LCS viewership in 2023?

The peak number of concurrent viewers achieved by the LCS in the summer of 2023 was around 223,000. That may not seem like too bad of a number, but when compared to past numbers, it really stands out as being poor.

Only one year ago in 2022, the LCS managed to accrue a summer peak of 370,000 concurrent viewers. That means that 2023’s summer peak was about 150,000 fans lower than the peak of 2022. That’s a massive drop in attention.

It gets worse when you look further back into the league’s history. 2020 saw a strong concurrent peak of nearly 550,000 viewers for the LCS. That’s roughly twice as many as what the league is now able to achieve. And that wasn’t just a one-off aberration either, as the league has managed a summer peak of close to 500,000 the year before in 2019.

For an additional point of comparison, CBLOL, the top League of Legends competition in Brazil, saw a summer 2023 viewer peak of about 330,000. That’s around 100,000 more than the best number the LCS could boast. Considering that CBLOL is considered a “wild card” region while the LCS is supposed to be a “major” region, that’s a disappointing comparison for the North American region’s fans.

But it’s nothing new. CBLOL drew higher peak and average view counts than the LCS throughout 2023, and dating back to the summer of 2022. This is an going trend, and the disparity is only growing.

Why is LCS viewership so low?

There isn’t any one factor to blame for the LCS viewership being low, but there are a few factors that are among the most likely culprits. It can be hard to separate them from each other, but we can try.

One of the factors that’s most discussed now is a series of changes made to the LCS schedule. Games have traditionally been broadcast into the weekend, with LCS matches showing in the early evening following each week’s slate of LEC matches. This meant that viewers could settle in and watch an entire day’s worth of games from the western world of League of Legends.

Riot Games switch up the LCS schedule to broadcast games more towards the afternoon and on weekdays. This means that games are often broadcast during workdays for fans, who are then unable to watch or follow. Riot has claimed that this new schedule is actually better for fans, but the data doesn’t seem to line up with that claim. Instead, some fans are guessing that it may be an attempt to separate LCS match filming times from times taken up by the VCS, the regional Valorant competition that has continued growing in popularity.

Another factor that Riot may be less able to affect is regional success. North America has traditionally been the least successful of the four major regions, relative to the LCK, LPL, and LEC. But there have been some successes in the past.

Cloud9 managed to quality for the playoffs of several League of Legends World Championship events, even making the semifinals one year after sweeping an LCK opponent in the quarterfinals. Two LCS teams, Team Liquid and Counter Logic Gaming, qualified for the final of the Mid-Season Invitational. And LCS teams dominated the first annual Rift Rivals event against their European competition.

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But these accomplishments seem far in the past now. It has been multiple years since a North American team seemed a serious challenger for international success, and while that could change at the 2023 League of Legends World Championship, there’s no guarantee that it will.

Some fans have suggested that the LCS should focus more on domestic players and local accomplishment, but that would be a big change for a region that has come to rely so much on imported players and has focused so heavily on international events.

One thing remains clear: There’s no easy solution for Riot Games in trying to improve LCS viewership. And any fix is likely going to take some time to come into effect.

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Written by Jared Wynne

Jared Wynne has been covering gaming and esports for the past two decades. He's a former competitor in Counter-Strike, and still counts it among his favorite games along with RPGs like Baldur's Gate and Mass Effect. He studied journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

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