If you haven’t heard, League of Legends is really popular in Korea. So popular, it has been the most played game in Korean PC Bangs (or PC Cafes) for 204 consecutive weeks or almost four years. And then there was Overwatch.
— Calycae (@Calycae) June 27, 2016
So what does this actually mean? Is League of Legends, the king of eSports, dead, especially since Korea, the mecca of eSports, has a new leader? I probably wouldn’t go that far, but there are some interesting things to talk about.
Four years is a really long time for something to be the best in anything. Ask Lebron James — he keeps making it to the NBA final and everyone hates him anyway. However, let’s think about the blockbuster competitive PC games with giant budgets that have all tried to dethrone League of Legends in this time: Call of Duty Black Ops 2 (2012), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012), Battlefield 4 (2013), Call of Duty Ghosts (2013), Dota 2 (2013), Call of Duty Advanced Warfare (2014), Titanfall (2014), Call of Duty Black Ops 3 (2015), Battlefield: Hardline (2015), Star Wars Battlefront (2015), Rainbow Six Siege (2015), Heroes of the Storm (2015), SC2: Legacy of the Void (2015), and Doom (2016), to name a few. CS:GO and Dota 2 stand out the most on this list of games, and sometimes viewerships of majors do match LoL numbers, but other than that, all of these games with millions of dollars in budgets don’t come close. This list doesn’t even include everyone and their cat trying to make a MOBA (Smite, Paragon, Battleborn, Infinite Crisis, etc). Another CoD and Battlefield are set to release this year and, are unlikely to do what Overwatch has done.
So how did Overwatch do it? There is some criticism saying that the game lacks content, and that it’s buoyed by its marketing budget/hype train, but look at the titles I just listed. A bunch of them are Activision/Blizzard themselves! Maybe this is a chicken-and-egg thing, but I think Blizzard knew they had something here, and so the marketing budget came in after they knew the product they were putting out. Blizzard has a great feel for their games and their value. They’ll cancel projects if it’s not there (like Titan), and will market their products they feel deserve the time.
All this early success and these numbers came out before competitive play did last night. I wouldn’t be surprised to see these numbers continue to rise. People realize Blizzard is backing this game, and so they are willing to invest their own time into it. Overwatch isn’t a game going away in a couple of years, nor is it going to get yearly iterations, so the people are here to back that support from Blizzard. It shouldn’t be hard to understand how important Korea’s backing of Overwatch is. eSports is to Korea as hockey is to Canada; they can determine the direction of this trend. Do I think Overwatch will beat out League of Legends in the grand scheme of things? Too early to tell; League of Legends has a loyal following and, even though I’m personally playing Overwatch almost exclusively now, my ties to the LCS and watching competitive matches on League of Legends are strong.
So, again, what does all this mean? We finally have competition! League of Legends has been top dog for so long, it looked unstoppable. Again CS:GO and Dota 2 occasionally pull viewership numbers for their major events but it looked like LoL had an unstoppable lead as the most popular game in the world. However, Blizzard knows something about being number one, and they’ve lost that title before, so you can bet they want it back. World of Warcraft seemed to be unstoppable too, but Blizzard knows firsthand that greats can fall. Last I checked, League of Legends had 90 million monthly players (source), and Overwatch has just gotten over 10 million in sales (source). It’s a good start, and there’s no guarantees anyone can overthrow League of Legends consistently world wide, but it’s good to see Riot finally having some competition.
Jonny eSports is the co-host of the Outplay Podcast that airs live on Twitch.tv/aybtv on Wednesdays at 7:30pm, as well as the host of the reSports Radio Show (Sundays at 4pm on CKUW 95.9FM in Winnipeg) and Director of Into The League. He’ll play support sometimes, I guess, if he needs to like… I guess. His opinions are his own.