#EGQ4mVirtual – Is esports a safe bet or a bit of a punt?

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With peak viewership in Valorant Champions dropping for the first time in 2023, Naim ‘Enkay’ Rosinsky, Editor at THESPIKE .GG, explores the path to esports growth in an exclusive interview with Rivington Bisland who witnessed the defining moments of both games.

2023 saw the continued rise in overall viewership in esport titles of League of Legends and VALORANT, video games released by the famed game developer Riot Games. While League of Legends, a title released in 2009, continues being at the forefront of popularity in the esports sphere, VALORANT has been climbing the ranks in the competitive first-person shooter sector of the esports market, despite it being a still young title, released during the COVID-19 times of 2020.

Naturally, League has established itself as a powerhouse in esports. An immense growth in viewership has not slowed down over the last couple of years as the MOBA genre continues to thrive, with Dota2 being the game’s main competitor in the sphere.

Meanwhile, VALORANT entered the competitive FPS scene with many more well-established competitive titles. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (now Counter-Strike 2), Rainbow Six: Siege, Call of Duty, or even Overwatch, have been on the market for much longer. Despite that, Riot Games’ sole FPS title continues to surprise year-on-year with improvements and new initiatives to its esports landscape. In 2023 one such initiative was the introduction of the franchised Tier 1 League, named VCT International Leagues 2023. This follows in the footsteps of League of Legends’ League Championship Series (LCS) which features a top-tier franchising system.

CHAMPIONS VS. WORLDS: CONCURRENT PEAK EVENT VIEWERSHIP

The VALORANT Champions and League of Legends’ World Championship (also referred to as “Worlds”) are the most notable events for the respective titles in any given season. These events boast only the finest Tier 1 teams that have excelled over the year in other events, granting themselves an entry to the elusive Champions or Worlds. It’s safe to say that the team that wins Champions or Worlds is typically considered to be the best team in the world in that season in the respective esport.

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For the sake of a fair viewership comparison, this article compares seasons 2021, 2022, and 2023. VALORANT launched in June of 2020, and while it did hold esport events, it wasn’t until 2021 that it began to fully implement a more fleshed out structure with Masters and Champions events featuring the best teams. League of Legends has been seeing an immense growth in terms of peak viewership year-on-year. Each event that attained the peak viewership numbers given in the graph was the year’s Worlds event.

 

 

 

According to data that thespike .gg received from escharts .com, peak viewership in 2021 and 2022 both saw VALORANT Champions in the respective years feature a growing concurrent peak viewership. However, 2023, saw VALORANT Champions Los Angeles attain a peak viewership of 1 291 045, a dip compared to 2022’s Champions in Istanbul. The tournament with peak viewership of 2023 was VCT 2023: LOCK//IN Sao Paulo, which was a “kick-off” event featuring all teams of the newly introduced VCT International Leagues. To take it a step further, it would be fair to compare the numbers of the first three Worlds events against the first three VALORANT Champions tournaments. The following graph shows the peak viewership for the first three VALORANT Champions and LoL Worlds events held.

 

 

While the first Worlds event featured a mere 210,000 (still a hefty number) of peak concurrent viewers, 2012 and 2013 Worlds had garnered a lower concurrent peak viewership (excluding television viewers). Given that the two events took place ten years apart, it remains impressive how League of Legends managed to attain such a hefty viewership, especially considering the popularity and reach of esports in general back then was nowhere near as it is today.

RIVINGTON ON GROWING ESPORTS VIEWERSHIP

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Rivington Bruce Bisland III, known as Riv, has been heavily involved as a commentator and analyst at both League of Legends and VALORANT.

He started his journey in 2012, being invited as a commentator for Season 2 Worlds. Since then, he’s been invested as a caster, commentator, and interviewer in League of Legendseach year until 2019. Starting from 2020 however, Rivington transitioned to being a commentator and analyst at a plethora of VCT events, including VALORANT Champions, Game Changers, or VCT Americas League. Additionally, 2023 saw him receive and invitation to a collegiate finals event, Red Bull Campus Clutch.

“So from League to VALORANT, it was a godsend because 2000-2010 was my Counter-Strike 1.6 phase. I played, competed, never professionally or anything cause the scene just wasn’t there yet,” said Rivington. “It was around 2019 when Riot said, ‘Would you like to do this thing? We have a side-project going on.’ And I was just like, ‘What?!’ Cause they knew I was a Counter-Strike player and that just lit my eyes up. It felt amazing to go back to my roots, to call the shots that got me into the commentary and be able to relate to the 2v1 site takes or the defuse clutch that for a while turned into baron steals and dragon fights to then go back to FPS.”

Given the large gap in viewership, we asked Rivington at Campus Clutch Finals in Istanbul, what does he think Riot Games should do to bring the viewership numbers of VALORANT closer to that of League. With a smile on his face Riv exclaimed: “T1 Faker in VALORANT!”

Despite a clear joke, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok has become a global esports icon. In 2023, the famed League player won his fourth Worlds, being the only player to do so ever with Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong taking the number 2 spot with 3 World trophies behind his belt.

Naturally, each discipline, be it esport or traditional sport, features icons that are globally recognizable. Be it football’s Ronaldo or Messi, Formula 1’s Schumacher, League’s Faker, Counter-Strike’s s1mple, or VALORANT’s Boaster. Knowing that, Rivington argues that the storylines that develop from competitions are what drive viewership forward.

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“I think the stories are huge,” he continues, “the way they’re growing the scene (Riot for VALORANT), from collegiate here, Red Bull is helping with that. We never had this kind of stuff in League of Legends and LoL was able to take the world by storm.” “So I think we’re in that growth period now for VALORANT and it’s going to be exponential with how it’s grown for League of Legends because it’s still Riot. They still know how to grow and how to create those stories to get people attached to a team you may not know in China, but you’re going to love them at the end of it. You don’t have to like VALORANT to do that. That’s one of the greatest things that can bridge that gap for people. Like ‘What’s this game?’ I may not know, but I’m involved with this story.”

VALORANT recently held its next iteration of VALORANT Game Changers Championship with Shopify Rebellion lifting the trophy in Brazil. With a growing interest in women’s and marginalized genders’ scene, hopeful improvements to the Tier 2 ecosystem, and the VCT International Leagues slightly revamped for the 2024 season, VALORANT has many more storylines to unfold. And with that, according to Riv, soaring viewership for the competitive shooter.

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