Published on: 17/09/2019
Is League of Legends Dying?
Few questions are as prevalent as “Is League of Legends dying?” Created by Riot Games in October 2009, this multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) title has been at the top of the esports food chain for almost a decade. And it makes a whole lot of sense that—sooner or later—such one-sided dominance has to come to an end.
Or does it?
Between player statistics, viewership numbers, and LoL esports expenses, there are several points of evidence that could be used to argue for or against the decline of this Riot Games title. So, in this article, we’ll attempt to look at these arguments objectively and arrive at a conclusive answer to the eternal “Is League of Legends dying?” question.
Arguments Against the Decline
1. Viewership Keeps Growing
League of Legends is the esport to follow. Every year, Riot Games runs dozens of LoL competitions all over the globe, and international esports tournaments are the culmination of these efforts. Premier events like the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) and League of Legends World Championship (Worlds) regularly make headlines for their scale and viewership figures.
And if you look at the numbers, it’s clear that the interest in international tournaments keeps growing. MSI 2019 hit a peak of 1,704,326 if you exclude Chinese streaming platforms, which is 756,465 viewers (+79%) more compared to the year before.
Older international tournaments display a similar trajectory. And while Worlds 2018 had a -3.2% viewership decrease compared to Worlds 2017, this was mainly because that event had the fastest finals in League of Legends history.
Overall, viewers are still interested in following LoL esports — and that’s a great sign for the game’s future (read also our League of Legends betting review).
2. The Spread of Franchising
The esports scene isn’t doing too shabby either. Over the years, many League of Legends competitions switched to a franchising model with a set number of teams receiving permanent slots and sharing revenue with each other.
This approach brought in some much-needed stability that, in turn, caught the eye of major sponsors and big-time investors. Of course, this isn’t a direct answer to the “Is League of Legends dying?” question.
But it does show that dozens of multi-million dollar companies are putting their stock in the game’s longevity.
3. The Thriving Chinese Scene
If you think LoL esports is big in the West, you probably haven’t tuned in to an LPL broadcast. League of Legends is huge in China, and if we accounted for the Chinese audience in our first point, we’d be dealing with at least a hundred million extra viewers. Yeap. It’s that big.
Chinese teams are also infamous for having their own stadiums and traveling all over the country to play home and away games. Combine that with the constant fan activations, and it’s clear that League of Legends is in a great spot in China.
Arguments For the Decline
1. People are Playing Less Ranked
Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, though. The number of Ranked Solo Queue players—which is the most competitive League of Legends mode—has steadily gone down in major regions.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s a general decline. Ranked Solo Queue isn’t the only way to play the game, as there are many different ways to enjoy League of Legends.
Yet, this trend does indicate there are fewer players taking the game seriously, which puts some weight behind the “Is League of Legends dying?” question.
2. Esports Budget Cuts
As grand as the viewership figures are for League of Legends tournaments, Riot Games still made the call to cut their esports budget.
The best example of this is commentators casting the events from a studio in Los Angeles, USA instead of traveling to tournament venues, but Riot has also made a conscious effort to book cheaper stadiums for esports competitions.
Granted, it’s natural for a company to want to spend less and earn more. But when you’re making that call in view of a perceived League of Legends boom, it does send mixed signals to the onlookers.
3. Stronger Competitors
Back when League of Legends built most of its player base, it was one of the few free-to-play games in the AAA category.
There were no pay-to-win mechanics, and all the transactions were purely cosmetic, meaning that even players that invested zero dollars into the game had a chance of winning their Solo Queue matches. Which, at the time, made LoL a bit of a unicorn.
Times change, though. Nowadays, quality free-to-play games like Dota 2 and Fortnite are chipping away at League’s player base. Meanwhile, iconic esports titles like StarCraft II and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive also switched to a free-to-play model, further challenging League’s dominance. And even though this doesn’t give an affirmative answer to the “Is League of Legends dying?” question, it does create an environment where it’s much harder to remain at the top.
League of Legends is very far from dying. The LoL esports scene is going strong, and high-profile investors are pouring millions of dollars into its growth. However, there is a possibility the game has hit a plateau. And while it won’t disappear overnight, Riot Games need to continue taking steps to keep the gameplay fresh and expand their player base.