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.
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.