As of Sunday, all three of North America’s representatives at the League of Legends World Championship have been eliminated at the first possible stage of the competition. North America will be the only one of the game’s four major regions (including Europe, China, and Korea) without a representative in the bracket stage.
The region’s struggles have become an expected part of the Worlds experience. Since the first World Championship in 2011, North America has only placed among the top four teams twice – once by TSM in that initial competition, and again in 2018 through a surprise run by Cloud9 to the semifinals. No North American team has ever won a League of Legends World Championship.
These continued failures are cause for concern among fans, brand partners, and team owners. Following North America’s elimination last weekend, Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne took to Twitter to voice his frustration, writing that “all of our teams need to reevaluate how we operate as this is not acceptable.”
Worlds is arguably the biggest esports tournament of the year. Viewership grows with each stage of the competition, meaning significantly more global exposure for brand partners the further a team progresses. This week, dark horse Chinese team Suning Esports secured a partnership with one of the largest food delivery services in China, Eleme, after it secured its place in the tournament’s Top Eight. If brands are looking for global exposure at the most-watched tournament of the year, they have a decade’s worth of evidence showing that North American teams are a less reliable investment.
Additionally, North America’s continued struggles may be having a lasting impact on regular-season viewership for the LCS. In any major sports league, teams at the bottom can struggle to sell out stadiums or draw big audiences on TV as there are simply better teams to watch. With the ability to watch esports matches easily on demand on YouTube, viewers could simply choose to watch a replay from China or Europe to get a better affinity for the teams that actually have a shot at claiming the game’s most prestigious prize.
This appears to be reflected in the disparity between regional viewership figures. While LCS viewership was up year-over-year this Summer, its regional finals match generated an AMA of 485K. The LEC finals saw nearly double the viewership at an AMA of 819.4K. What’s more, the LEC’s viewership grew 70% year-over-year while the LCS saw an increase of less than 30%.
This difference in growth aligns with Europe’s recent rise in performance at the World Championship. While North America saw a decline in 2019, Europe sent a team to the final match for the second year in a row. In essence, the LEC’s finals pitted two potential World Finalists against each other, while the LCS championship would have likely had little significance for the international competition – a substantial difference in stakes.