More People Watched League Of Legends Than The NBA Finals

LeBron James delivered one of the most compelling sporting performances of the year yesterday by leading Cleveland to a NBA championship with a triple-double against the Golden State Warriors. And people watched in the millions.

But more people watched League of Legends.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

The New York Times reported earlier today that the Cavaliers' triumphant performance against the Warriors caught the attention of almost 31 million people.

It's the highest viewership for an NBA finals on the American ABC network in the last 18 years, and it's the highest for an NBA finals on ABC or ESPN in a decade. ESPN's online service, WatchESPN, also broke records with 1.76 million unique viewers.

But while that might be an all-time high for the NBA, it's still not as gargantuan as the crowd that tuned in for last year's League of Legends world finals.

Around 36 million unique viewers tuned in for last year's final between Koo Tigers and SK Telecom at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, Germany, according to figures from Riot.

The last ten minutes of the Cavaliers-Warriors game pulled 44.5 million, which is understandable given that the game was effectively decided by a free throw from James towards the end. There was also a four minute stretch at the business end of the final quarter where neither team scored, something ABC executives undoubtedly enjoyed. In comparison, the peak concurrent viewers for the SKT/Koo Tigers match was 14 million.

It helps highlight why more and more players and executives affiliated with sports are aligning themselves with esports. They can see the writing on the wall: the viewership numbers are huge, rivalling and even surpassing some of the largest sports in the world.

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Comments

    Is this comparing US ratings to worldwide viewership of League though?

      That's part of the trick: esports isn't geographically restricted in the way traditional broadcast media is. WatchESPN app is available to some international providers/ISPs, although not broadly so.

      I have no doubt that more people would have tuned into the NBA finals yesterday if viewing was a lot easier, or if it was more broadly distributed in the way the Olympics is. But it isn't. The NBA League Pass? That costs $400 if you're buying it in Australia. It's cheaper if you VPN and buy from another country, but that's a step a lot of sports fans won't and don't do.

      Esports, in the meantime, has locked itself into the more accessible world of streaming where anyone can tune in at any time. That poses different problems down the road for everyone. But still, it's a fun future to think about.

        That costs $400 if you're buying it in Australia.

        Wot? isn't it like $80 for an annual pass. If you're purchasing monthly it's $50 per month. Obv they've done that cause most people must have just purchased one month sub for the business end of the season.

          I've been getting it the last 5 or 6 years and it's never been that cheap. It was $330 at the start of the year for all regular season games plus finals. That $400 price was for premium subscription.
          You could VPN internationally to get it for $150.

            150? Try about 40 bucks. Think I got signed up just prior to the all star break.

              Well you got it halfway through the season, the price becomes cheaper as the season progresses. The cheapest I saw from looking at forums/reddit at the season start was $110USD from Cameroon.

            http://watch.nba.com/packages?ls=iref:leaguepass:nbasites:leaguepass:redirect:landing

            Am i missing something? Or is it a fluctuating price i was only looking at getting it for the playoffs. So at the start of a season is it that much - well fuck that.

            Last edited 21/06/16 7:36 pm

              Yeh it's a fluctuating price - get's cheaper as the season goes on. That $77 will give you access to the archives through to the start of next season and then it will reset to next years price. Which if history stays true will be another 10% or so more expensive than this year.

        To be fair NBA viewership isn't geographically restricted to just the US, but your stats for their ratings appear to be. Id like to see the Global Viewership so were looking at the same audience.

        On the same vein, if your comparing an international "world Championship" to a "national championship" your comparing apples to oranges. Why not compare a the finals of 2 non geographically restricted events if thats the trick of esports.

        Around 36 million unique viewers tuned in for last year’s final between Koo Tigers and SK Telecom at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, Germany, according to figures from Riot.

        Some key TV viewing figures from the 2014 FIFA World Cup
        - Total in-home audience reach (1+ minute): 3.2 billion (no change on 2010)
        - Final match total in- and out-of-home audience reach (1+ minute) hit 1.013 billion
        - In-home audience for final (+20 minutes) up by 12% on 2010 to 695 million
        - An estimated 280 million people watched matches online or on a mobile device

        I'm not saying that esports isn't huge business but it still has a long way to go to match to pull of traditional sports.

          For sure. And the FIFA World Cup sells broadcast rights in a similar manner to the Olympics, which massively improves the reach and audience that the event hits. It's much more accessible than the NBA Finals, or even the NBA regular season, is.

            I know what your getting at. Sure it's more accessible due to the way the rights are sold but it's also that they can sell the rights like that because of the expected audience. If esports could achieve and expect a similar viewership you can bet they'd do the same.

            That said, if you want one with similar distribution to the NBA finals to show the gap how about the Super Bowl. It's on CBS in the US so it's a similar distribution to the ABC with the NBA. 100 million plus viewers in the US alone. 3 times the Record for esports And not including the global stats.

        What trick? The NY Times article quoted states the 31 million is from ABC viewers. The LoL finals numbers are worldwide viewers.

          Was an expression, not a literal use of the term. My bad there.

        You could've watched/streamed it free if you were with crownbet.

    Wasn't GoT on at the same time as well? As historic a finals as this NBA one was GoT still gets a lot of fans due to not wanting to be spoiled by the internet, GoT was probably finishing up around the time, the final few minutes kicked in.

    TV ratings and unique stream views aren't a fair metric to compare.

    One is the average amount of viewers at any one point through the broadcast, and the other is just a total number of cookies that opened up the stream. In reality the TV reach if you calculated it the same way wouldn't be 31 million, it'd be 60+ million.

    That's only domestic TV and official espn streaming however, so worldwide reach would have been in the hundreds of millions.

    I have trouble reconciling the figures that get thrown around about e-sports viewership with the fact that seemingly nobody gives a shit.

    Seriously. Who the hell are these people who care about this stuff?!?
    Are they ALL nerds living in their parents basements? Do they not have jobs? Do they vote? Do none of them have media profiles?

    I’m a normalish person in his early 30’s. I have a job in an office with several hundred other people. I’m involved in sports that mean I hang out with people aged from 15-60. I have an assortment of social media accounts….

    I also have a large interest in games and ZERO interest in basketball.

    Why is it that I casually hear about the basketball all the time but I don’t know anyone who gives a sh*t about watching e-sports or who I’d imagine secretly has an interest in e-sports?

    Let’s have some context here: GTA V has sold 65 million copies and is a massive mainstream thing that people understand. It’s something that is bought by millions of people who aren’t hardcore gamers, who don’t normally pay attention to these things. It could well be the best-known game franchise on the planet. Like the basketball you DO hear about it all the time.

    Now think about more than half of those people, all going out of their way to log into a relatively obscure service to WATCH a game, all at the same time. Does that REALLY happen and nobody notices?!?

    I’m not sure if RIOT just pulls those figures out of their ass, or they’re intentionally lax in ensuring they’re correct, or if there’s some countries out there where every boy under the age of 20 watches…. It’s baffling.

      Think of 30 million people all in one country watching one event, paying attention to one basketball league in that country.

      Now think of 36 million spread out across the entire world watching esports online from wherever they happen to be.

      Who are you more likely to come across and hear talking about it in your day to day life? Pretty easy to explain if you give it a couple minutes of thought.

        I understand how may people 36 million is. It’s every man, woman and child in and Australia and New Zealand with a few extra New Zealand’s left to spare. It’s a lot of people.

        I’m not in the country where the basketball is, I’m in Australia where the vast majority of people don’t give a 1/8th of a shit about basketball…. but people mention it at work. It’s on the news. It’s on my social media. People care because it’s a big event.

        League of Legends is also an event apparently…. yet somehow nobody anywhere cares?

        It’ just boggles my mind that so many people would all tune in to watch something like that without it garnering some level on mainstream interest.

        Let’s crunch some numbers. The highest figure I can find is that LOL has a daily player base of 27 million, or 67 million a month with a peak period concurrent player base of about 7.5m.

        So those are gamers who enjoy PLAYING the game. Assumedly they have an interest in that varies from “I don’t give a shit at all” to “this shit is my life” with the vast majority falling in between.

        That 36m figure means that more than the people who log in every fucking day to PLAY the game all connected to watch a stream of the game being played over the course of the final because they’re that interested in watching the game being played at a high level? It means that 4.5x the peak concurrent player base ALL logged in at the same time and not one of them went “I don’t care about watching someone else, I just want to play”.

        I’m not saying it’s definitely wrong, but that seems like a ludicrously high rate of people who have gone out of their way to watch a game that let’s face it- isn’t the height of must-see entertainment… despite it receiving no mainstream marketing and without it attracting any more than the most fleeting of mainstream attention?

        That doesn’t seem weird to you?

          No, doesn't seem odd to me at all. I don't come across basketball in my facebook and I don't hear about it through media. I ignore all sports posts because I'm not interested, if they're there I don't see them enough to tell what they're about. I only know there was an NBA final now because of this article.

          That said, mainstream sports in general are more widespread in the media because that's been sport for the last decades. Esports whilst pulling in big numbers is still a very new sport and media just don't know how to deal with it or cover it yet so it doesn't enter the mainstream segments on news sites or radio stations. It's not in the mainstream, so the hundreds of millions who will randomly hear about a sport they're not interested in don't hear about esports at all.

          Don't confuse big numbers of people being interested in something with equally large coverage in media. They don't always go together.

          In terms of people playing LoL being the only ones who watch it...that's not necessarily the case either. Since you've quoted 27 million players per day but 67 mil per month I'll assume that 67 mil is unique users. Not everyone plays every month, so their active user base would likely be higher again, something closer to 80 mil. Then factor in that not everyone who watches a sport wants to actively play that sport. Plenty of people watching soccer/basketball/AFL don't play it themselves, the same applies to esports. You don't have to want to play the game to be interested in watching high level play. Equally, just because you play it doesn't mean you want to watch it.

          So the audience is much larger than you're giving it credit for and it can't be measured by looking at the active player base.

          Looking at those numbers again though...36 million viewers is a lot when you're talking Australia/New Zealand, true. Try looking at other countries though. Something like 300 million in the US, the UK has 60 Million people in a country the size of Victoria, China has something like a billion people.....36 mil is nothing on the global scale.

          Looking at those demographics too it's mainly people in the US and asian countries who are interested in LoL. The countries with the largest populations who have some people that are interested in watching LoL...36 mil is nothing.

          In Australia we often have a hard time comprehending large numbers of people because we are a very large country in terms of land mass but in population we're tiny.

            I agree that whatever the numbers are, they probably mostly out of US, China and Korea.

            I’m not sold that any significant portion of that 36m are people who don’t play LOL though, especially given the complete lack of mainstream attention. It would be a small handful of invested journalists and that’s about it. People watch other sports but don’t play them because they run on television every week and people understand the rules, it’s part of the cultural makeup of the country and even then a fairly low percentage of people watch even the biggest of sporting events. There’s also media coverage, family members playing sports…. It’s just an entirely different environment to games and particularly PC games where your average casual spectator sees nothing more than the back of the players head 99% of the time.

            I just don’t buy it. Even when I was at school I played Quake 1/2/3 with friends and I used to go out of my way to watch online, but that was the nichest of niche behaviours even amongst people who play it.

            The AFL Grand Final is a HUGE cultural event in Australia but it’s still not viewed by 50% of the population or anything near 50% of all people who ever watched or played the game before. It’s viewed by about 3-5m people in a country of about 24m. For 50%+ of the monthly user base for a game that for most people to all log in to watch someone else play, all at the same time seems ridiculous to me.

            You can say 36m is nothing but it doesn’t really translate when the article above says it out rated the basketball finals that generated significant interest from normal people.

              In terms of people who watch but don't play they may have played at some point but are no longer part of the active player base. This is more common than you'd think. Personally I watch some CS:GO on YouTube fairly regularly, I played it myself for all of a few weeks but it's entertaining to watch so I watch but not play.

              You're still missing the scale that esports reaches though. Typically great TV ratings are around 10% of the population, for Aus that's 2-3mil, for the US that's 30-35mil. When ratings for anything hit that high they get reported in the news...like this.

              Again, the basketball league is in the USA only. The population reach there is much smaller than esports. Sure it's televised elsewhere but it's locked into pay TV contracts.

              Esports are available pretty much worldwide and are streamed for free. There's no restrictions on people who are interested and want to watch and there's a much much larger potential audience. That leads to larger numbers pretty naturally.

              It seems more like your perceptions are just a bit old fashioned. You don't seem to view esports as a real sport and hence can't understand why people would want to watch it compared to conventional sports. I personally don't watch esports (the CS:GO stuff I watch isn't competitive) but I can understand why others are interested.

      I've got a similar experience to you. Big office, same age, same experience in chatting about GTA with casuals. I think their numbers are right, though. I think there are other countries that have a much larger audience of stream-watchers.

      You also have to think, we live in Australia (presumably), with the 60th fastest speeds in the world. We only got Netflix last year, and then a bunch of other companies tried to create streaming technologies. If you go to ABC's The Drum when they have an NBN article, you get comments from people saying why would you need NBN anyway, just to stream tv shows?

      If you go to ABC's The Drum when they have a game-related article, you'll still get comments from people thinking games are a waste of time and why don't you get out and go play some sports? In fact, some of your comments ("Are they ALL nerds living in their parents basements? Do they not have jobs? Do they vote? ") suggest this same dismissive attitude towards electronic entertainment.

      Basically Australia is terrible, and a lot of Australians have terrible ideas. But it's getting better.

        I agree with you about our internet, but for 36m people to watch the that means more than 50% of the peak monthly player base (67m) all watched the final.

        Think how many of those 67m log in once a month, how many don’t give a shit about watching others play games, how many didn’t know it was on, didn’t know how to watch it, would rather play themselves during the final…..

        36m is 9m more than the daily player base.
        It’s 4.5x the peak concurrent usage.

        Even if THOSE numbers aren’t horseshit (they all come from RIOT games) then it still seems pretty unlikely that so many people would all log on and be interested, particularly when you consider that, as noted, nobody in the real world ever mentions it.

        Who knows, but it seems to me RIOT wouldn’t mind if the methodology used to calculate viewership was slightly iffy.

          Then think of all the people in China and Korea who watch esports but don't play it themselves or who share user accounts in internet cafes because that's how they access computers over there...

          The numbers are correct.

    Game 7 was terrific. It was neck & neck for the entire game, a deserved win for the Cavs. Even though I've been an avid gamer for more than 20 years, competitive gaming has never peaked my interest. Except maybe for EVO, competitive fighting games work imo because it's short, quick, exciting and has plenty of theatrics.

      It was a fucking incredible game, although it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if the Cavs didn't give Green so many open looks in the first half. I guess they figured someone who went 0-10 for the first 6 games wasn't a threat, but if you take away the damage he did the Warriors would have been in a lot of trouble.

      By that consideration, the scoreline flattered the Warriors to a degree. But it's going to be hard to beat the intensity of that last quarter. Top, top game.

      It would be nice to know how these figures are calculated. Obviously its easy to tally each visit to a stream, but do they watch for more then 15 seconds? What were the viewer numbers for the NBA online and in China?

      What are the demographics tuning in, and do they have similar amounts of disposable cash, or is the average LoL viewer 10 years younger then the NBA viewer with far less access to funds and therefore of less interest to advertisers?

    It seems 'weird' because for years people had the same mindset you apparently have. That these gamers are watching others play in the basement at mom's house. The thing is with esports it appeals to a wider variety of people simply b/c it is a 'non-physical' game that you can be a professional at. If I'm 5 ft nothing for instance, I automatically have huge odds against me getting into the NBA (on top of the skills themselves). These pro gamers now are making pro paychecks now too, another thing that has/is gaining traction. Basically it tells these "basement dwellers" that its possible (although probably equally as likely for a basketball fan) that they can reach that level of fame and fortune without being a star player on the high school team they couldn't make or didn't get playing time. Times are changing - even this year there are a LOT more interests in esport team ownership - both here in the US and in Europe are catching up to where Asia has been for a while now. Large corporations, venture capital firms, even ex-NBA players/current owners are all interested in owning a team and/or being involved in the scene in someway. It's accessible, it's free, it's competitive, it's relatible to 'normal' gamers (being the #1 online game in the world right now), it's growing in all of these categories due to the attention it's been getting recently from 'mainstream' outlets/people/celebs. It's still not so big its going to fill up your slew of social media streams - but it's on its way.

    Personally I don't care too much about catching every game whether it be traditional sports (apart from the NFL of course) or Esports - but I can see the appeal of both once you have an understanding or had some experience playing/participating in those sports. I played baseball, basketball, football, some soccer - and could understand/relate to a good play or good overall game if I was to sit down and watch it. Same comes with esports, kids that aren't physically able or feel they aren't 'adequate' enough to play traditional sports - relate to these online games the same way I look at the NFL/NBA/MLB/etc. (and esports too now that I'm older, lol). I play almost daily if even for just 1 or 2 games with friends - and over the weekend (or during the week if work's not bad) I watch a little LCS (pro League of Legends) as well. I can relate to a good play or game the same way.

    My suggestion would be to try it and/or watch it - look for local viewing parties at bars/cafes (they do exist in Australia, I promise). You might find people you know there, maybe not wanting to share that they watch competitive video games - due to the archaic mindset that most of society have towards 'sports' in general (if you're not physically playing 'ball' or something it CAN'T be a sport/worth anyone's time). Esports is a young, broad genre - it's coming though, ready or not.

    Thanks - this wasn't really directed at you personally other than to answer questions, so I apologize if some of it comes off as being an asshat, not meaning it that way. A lot of society just wants to keep the status quo (for more things than sports) and I think we should be evolving what we think/accept as sport.

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