Former Echo Fox CEO and professional NBA player Rick Fox is more than optimistic about League of Legends’ future. In fact, when asked by TMZ, Fox said that League of Legends is likely to soon overtake massive traditional sports events like NFL’s Super Bowl.
“League of Legends’ is a huge global event. It’s already got numbers right below the Super Bowl so it’s coming… it grows every year,” Fox said, adding: “As much as we love football in North America, it’s not international to the level of gaming.”
On one hand, Fox is right. Super Bowl 2019 was watched by 98.2M, according to CNBC, and while this sounds impressive for a sport that’s primarily North American, it’s actually the lowest viewership the Super Bowl has received since 2008. In fact, for the past years, Super Bowl’s viewership has been going down: 111.9M in 2016, 111.3M in 2017, and 103.5M in 2018.
At the same time, Riot Games reported 99.6M unique worldwide viewers for the 2018 Worlds grand finals between Invictus Gaming and Fnatic — just 3.9M short of Super Bowl’s numbers from that year. And while the developer is yet to produce its official statistics for Worlds 2019, the numbers are expected to be even higher, with several of its matches breaking viewership records in the west.
But there is more than one caveat to these comparisons. First, the 99.6M figure for Worlds 2019 includes Chinese viewers, a metric known to be incredibly flawed and unreliable. As an example, esports metrics website Esports Charts reported a peak viewership of 203M viewers on Chinese streams for the Worlds 2018 finals: more than 10 times the peak viewership of all non-Chinese streams combined, and more than twice Riot’s official number. Something doesn’t add up.
Second, comparing the Super Bowl to League of Legends is somewhat of an apples-to-oranges scenario. It’s reflected in Fox’s example as well: League of Legends is a global game, while the NFL is almost exclusively a United States affair. And on the local market, the NFL smashes League of Legends. The 2019 LCS Summer Finals peaked at just under 500K, a mere 2 percent of Super Bowl’s numbers that year.
The fact that League of Legends still needs the entire world to almost get to NFL’s United States numbers says something about the difference in reach of the two sports. A more apt comparison would be putting League of Legends next to a more global sport like, for example, soccer, whose World Cup 2018 was watched by 3.5 billion people, according to FIFA.