How League of Legends Became the Biggest eSports Game

How League of Legends Became the Biggest eSports Game

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How League of Legends Became the Biggest eSports Game

February 16 , 2018


When it comes to eSports, there’s no denying that League of Legends is the king. In 2016 14.7 million people tuned in to watch the finals between SKT1 and Samsung Galaxy. That’s more people than the CS:GO and DOTA 2 finals viewership’s combined!

With millions of people watching League of Legends, this raises the question: How did League of Legends become the biggest eSports game in the first place?

With plenty of other eSports games out there, what made League of Legends tower above the rest and what can other games learn from it?

To see how League of Legends became so popular, we need to go back to 2009 when League of Legends was still in beta. Back then, eSports, in general, was still in its early stages and only a few main tournaments took place throughout the year.

Luckily, the developers behind the game, Riot, had a plan on how to turn themselves into the market leaders in eSports. Here’s how they did it.



League of Legends was officially released in October 2009 after having a 3 month beta period for players to test the game. As soon as it was launched, thousands of players signed up in the first couple of weeks.

Based on a free to play addon called Defense of the Ancients for Warcraft 3, LoL was the first stand-alone MOBA ever seen. For many players, it was a whole new genre that they had never experienced before and it quickly became very popular.

The game featured an early ranking system where players could compete against each other to climb the leaderboard. In order to become the best, players had to continually win games to move up and climb to the top tier.

In the first few months, LoL attracted hundreds of thousands of new players thanks to its refer a friend system. By 2011 League of Legends had 4.2 million daily players and 11.5 million active monthly players.

With so many active players playing the game, it was only a matter of time until they made an eSports tournament. And in 2011 they held the first ever League of Legends World Championship at the Dreamhack event in Sweden.

Even from the first tournament, it was clear how popular competitive League of Legends gaming was. Throughout the tournament, over 1.6 million people tuned in to watch the matches with over 210,000 simultaneous viewers watching the final game.

Around the same time as the first LoL eSports tournament, a new website was just launching that would soon become the go-to place to watch online events.



In June of 2011, a few days before the first League of Legends World Championships, a streaming website called opened it doors. If you play any video game today, then you’ve probably heard of Twitch and know exactly what it is. However, back in 2011, the whole idea of online streaming was completely brand new.

It might not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but Twitch was precisely the platform League of Legends needed. With its ability to significantly increase their exposure and put the game in front of millions of viewers, this helped LoL’s popularity skyrocket. Before Twitch came around there wasn’t really a place for gamers to watch eSports tournaments. Many games hosted their live streams on their own websites which meant viewers had to find the official site to watch it. Combine this with the low tech management, and many live streams would be slow, laggy, and keep going offline.

To take full advantage of this new live streaming platform, the developers behind LoL started to invest the company’s own money into the eSports division. Instead of hosting the events alongside other gaming events such as Dreamhack, they decided to host them at their own venues instead. This meant they could have a much larger in-house audience and sell more tickets to viewers which in turn meant a bigger prize pool for competitors.



There’s no denying that helped League of Legends grow its audience. The chances are that without it, LoL would be nowhere near as popular as it is today. To give you an idea of the growth of LoL, here are the peak viewership figures of the LoL tournaments throughout the years:

● Season 1 (2011): 210K

● Season 2 (2012): 1.1M

● Season 3 (2013): 8.5M

● Season 4 (2014): 11M

● Season 5 (2015): 14M

● Season 6 (2016): 14.7M

● Season 7 (2017): ???

As you can see, Season 1 was held in 2011 and was around the same time was launched. With only 210,000 peak viewers throughout the tournament, it wasn’t exactly record-breaking at the time. But a year later in 2012, the tournament was held in its own venue while being live streamed on the Twitch platform. Comparing the Season 1 and 2 peak viewing figures, you can clearly see there was an increase in the number of viewers. In just 1 year the peak viewership figures increased from 210K to 1.1 million! All thanks to Twitch helped increase their exposure and popularity.

Currently, the peak viewership figures for the latest 2017 World Championship haven’t been released yet. However, it's likely that the numbers will continue the trend and beat 2016’s record. With the latest figures showing 14.7 million peak viewers, that's more people than the NBA finals!

If you want to try League of Legends and see what all the fuss is about, then you need an account. Leveling a new account from scratch is tiresome and can take new players 2 months or longer to reach level 30! Since the fun only starts at level 30 when ranked play is unlocked, players have to spend hours grinding games to gain experience. Luckily there is a much faster way to get to level 30.

Most new players buy a League of Legends account account to skip the boring stuff and jump straight into the action. Not only is it much faster than levelling yourself, but it allows you to experience the competitive side of LoL instantly. After all, who wants to play unranked games all day?

We hope this article gave you an insight into how LoL became the king of eSports. By being the first stand-alone MOBA that invested into eSports, the game has grown tremendously over the years. Today League of Legends is considered the number 1 eSports game and attracts millions in both physical and online viewers. With its popularity showing no signs of stopping, we can’t wait to see how popular eSports becomes over the next few years. In the meantime, see you on the Rift!


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