How many people view esports events?

The esports industry has always been growing fast, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, numbers in 2021 are higher than ever. Some key esports events have helped this success, as well as a lot of creative content building hype and increasing the esports revenue. Let’s dive into all of them!

Esports viewers: numbers in 2021

Watching esports events became a mainstream activity recently — while once considered a very niche pastime, not even close to being comparable to traditional sports, esports fans now make so much noise that the entertainment industry is seriously influenced by the esports audience. This movement began long ago, but it was only in the past five to ten years that competitive esports started really conquering the world. Viewership started to go off the chart, with more than one million people who concurrently watch professional esports content becoming very common, stadiums selling out, and premier events became are made through mega-productions, enhancing the esports revenue even further and gathering a global esports audience. The in loco (physical) esports audience for League of Legends in 2018, for instance, was bigger than the NBA audience — that fact alone can give a notion of how huge the possibilities for the esports market are.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected a lot of industries, and at first glance, the esports market was no exception. Many important tournaments had to be postponed, canceled, or transferred, which immediately hurt esports viewership, worried stakeholders, and also preoccupied players and staff.

But the esports market reacted well after the changes last year, both in terms of revenue and audience. According to the analytical agency Statista, in 2021, the projected total viewership for esports events is 474 million people, a growth rate of over 8% if compared to 2020. Also, a study from Newzoo shows that esports revenue is going to reach $1.1 billion this year, capitalizing on the recent esports investment from leading companies such as Tencent (owner of Riot Games).

                                                                  Data source: Statista

Another thing we have to consider is the perspectives of mobile esports. In July 2021, the most-watched event was the PUBG Mobile’s World Invitational 2021, with an impressive result of over one million peak viewers, and in May (2021), the Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore made history and became the most-watched event in the history of mobile gaming (and gaming as a whole, if we disregard Riot Games’ numbers), with a peak of over five million concurrent viewers. Those tournaments hold so much for esports audiences that numbers might turn out even better than predicted, and games such as Free Fire represent a niche in the esports market for previously less visible countries such as Brazil and India.

With such incredible growth, the term “accelerated” is not hyperbole.

Accelerated growth rate: What it means

The gaming industry has many ways to generate revenue, but the entertainment sector has almost infinite growth ideas and scenarios. That’s why esports enthusiasts always separate the gaming market from the esports market: brand activation ideas and the revenue from cutting-edge esports events vary widely.

Esports marketing capitalizes on almost every aspect of an event. From occasional viewers to hardcore merchandise buyers, everyone is looking to dive into their passions – thus, esports is about emotions, thrill, and fun. Esports can offer a myriad of events to keep the audience entertained: the esports viewership base interests can range from gaming fairs to premier events, and the attendance can be both physical (as mentioned, surpassing the numbers of traditional sports leagues such as the NBA in the times before the COVID-19 outbreak) or through online platforms — with the plus that those provide a good level of immersion since the production value is usually off the charts.

Therefore, if we consider every piece of data mentioned before, from esports viewers to esports revenue, everything is skyrocketing. There are no stepbacks in absolute numbers in esports, which is kind of scary — it’s an industry on a steady growth curve. Even in the face of major adversity such as the pandemic, somehow the revenue survived and increased, and the same happened with the total esports audience. More than a million esports enthusiasts watch every event on average, engaging, shaping a trend, and making mainstream what once was just a niche — an “up-and-coming” sector in entertainment.

This all happened at very short notice when compared to other established sectors of our economy. From the popularization of games such as Starcraft II to the 474 million total spectators, only a bit more than a decade has passed, and this tremendous growth seems to know no limits in esports.

The greatest esports tournaments this year (so far)

Despite the premier events being held later in the year (this article was written in late August 2021), some incredible events still broke records and gathered a fair amount of audience. Some of those events had such a detailed and well-made production that it’s only logical that they feature in this section. Also, there are the traditional League of Legends regional leagues which always get a lot of attention.

League of Legends Regional Leagues (LCS, LEC, LCK, LPL, among others)

The League of Legends regional leagues are a blast for those who like keeping up with a tournament for a long time. In Europe, for instance, there are above 60,000 on YouTube and over 100,000 average viewers on Twitch. Those leagues exist since 2012 (in this format) and are very popular from the beginning.

Nomenclatures might be a little harder to keep up with, but the major leagues regarding esports audience are from Europe (LEC), North America (LCS), South Korea (LCK), and China (LPL). They’re divided into Spring Split (qualifying teams for the Mid-Season Invitational, a very important tournament) and Summer Split (qualifying teams for the most important LoL event in the year, the World Championship). All five continents have their domestic league with different seeds in those tournaments, making the LoL leagues one of the strongest in terms of the global esports audience.

Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore

Image credit: Garena

Hey there, it’s time for mobile gaming. Free Fire is a hit in Latin America, China, and Southeast Asia, and gamers from the whole world gather together to enjoy the scene.

Statistics for mobile esports are blowing up the charts. Free Fire has its live-streaming platform (not exclusive to the game, but most of the game tournaments are streamed there) called Booyah!, and through there comes the majority of audience for its events. However, the World Series 2021 Singapore was something off the charts. Data (from the analytical agency Esports Charts) shows that this is officially the most-watched esports tournament ever, disregarding numbers provided by Riot Games, with 5.4M peak viewers. Those numbers are so huge that they can even match some traditional sports mega-productions.

And we can only expect more from this scene since the prize money keeps getting bigger and the games (such as Free Fire itself, PUBG mobile, and Arena of Value) are still growing.

Dota 2 WePlay AniMajor

Image credit: WePlay Holding

With an insane production value, the second (and last) major of the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) this year was one of the last-chance qualifiers for the most important Dota 2 event of the year: The International. WePlay’s major was met with a lot of hype, gathering more than 800,000 concurrent viewers — which puts WePlay AniMajor as the second most-watched Dota 2 major in history (coincidentally, the top place belongs to another major that took place in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2017).

Esports enthusiasts understood how important this tournament was since qualification for The International was at stake — Dota 2 operates through a system called DPC, and the main criteria for playing in the biggest event is that ranking. The event was held without public presence, but nevertheless, was still played with great success.

The most anticipated tournaments that will take place in 2021

It might be bit unfair, with other events also having everything to be awesome, and keep in mind that there will be many interesting tournaments in newer disciplines, such as VALORANT, but let’s take a look at the more traditional international events that make the live esports scene vibrate.

The International 10

Image credit: Valve

After being postponed in 2020, Dota 2 The International became the spotlight event of 2021. With the highest prize pool in the history of esports, at over $40 million, the anticipated viewership average of this event makes it a contender for the most-watched Dota 2 tournament ever.

We will have to wait and see if statistics will follow the hype, but there is already a lot of content created, occasional viewers discussing it in in-depth forums (such as Reddit), and so on. Everything points to The International 10 being the most successful Dota 2 event of all time.

The event will take place with the public present in Bucharest, starting on Oct 7 and ending on Oct 17. Don’t blink, or you might miss one of the most anticipated esports events in the world!

League of Legends World Championship

Image credit: Riot Games

This esports event is always a storm. Riot Games’ official numbers are ridiculously above-average when comparing to those of analytical agencies, but the viewership statistics, even excluding China (agencies often don’t have access to statistics from China) are insanely huge.

This year, esports fans are already biting their nails after some huge esports organizations, such as G2 Esports and Team SoloMid, failed to qualify. Stakes are higher than ever, and while the official prize money is a far cry from The International (at $2.25 million), there is more hype to this event than any other. Global esports audience might break the 40 million concurrent viewers mark!

Media rights to the World Championship belong exclusively to the LoL company.

PGL Stockholm Major

Image credit: PGL ESPORTS

Playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive over a LAN is very different from playing it online. And the PGL Stockholm Major is one of the first offline Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments since the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s enough to make gamers sweat in excitement. Not convinced? Usually, the prize money for a CS:GO major is $1 million. In this one, they doubled down the stakes. That’s correct: 2 million dollars. Quite a pool, considering that CS:GO doesn’t have a “world championship” (other than BLAST Premier World Finals. However, the prize pool is still the same as in the majors), but many majors in a year instead.

Data shows that the CS:GO public isn’t shrinking, despite the adverse conditions for the game. That can only mean one thing: this tournament will break the charts since it’s a known fact that public presence only adds more spice, if we talk about a CS:GO event.

The esports market and the gaming industry can set a new standard from here. The PGL Stockholm Major goes from Oct 23 to Nov 7.

Where does the audience gather? The key streaming platforms

Live-streaming platforms are the bread and butter of the esports industry, especially with COVID-19 still striking hard; they’re accessible and completely free to use on PCs, TVs, or mobile devices. The most well-known platforms to watch esports events are Amazon’s Twitch and YouTube Gaming — the latter grew in popularity recently, but Twitch is still where most people love to chat and watch their favorite events.

Esports viewership is heavily influenced by the interactions on those platforms. On Twitch, the organizers can create polls, integrate apps to diversify and keep the audience focused, run giveaways, and much more. The amount of possibilities on Twitch explains why it’s so favored and why its numbers are so impressive.

YouTube Gaming has the feature of creating searchable content (VODs or marketing videos), and their TV app is much better. Also, most people have Google accounts, which are used by YouTube — on Twitch, you need to create an account and username if you want to interact. YouTube Gaming is much more focused on the viewing experience, while Twitch is more about the community, the interactions.

The future of the esports industry

Projections are as good as can be. The growth rate of the esports market might not keep the same pace, but that doesn’t mean that the esports industry will dry out; it’s expected to continue growing, developing more disciplines, and creating even more reasons for an outsider to join the party.

The esports audience watches much more than a million hours a day, and the viewership numbers keep growing. Statista predicts that we will be more than 570 million people in 2024 (imagine the number of total hours watched). It’s a great opportunity to venture into esports investment, become part of the esports enthusiast crew, or simply follow your favorite discipline a bit more closely. You wouldn’t want to miss this ship!

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