The State of Esports in 2021
As we all know, the Covid pandemic has had a huge impact on the world as a whole. The same goes for Esports, which saw a mixed 2020, and like much of the world, has yet to recover in 2021.
Between event cancellations, delays, and a host of problems adjusting to gameplay solely online, there have been many ups and downs. However, with vaccines rolling out and regulations being slowly eased, events are once again starting to be hosted in LAN environments and there’s even potential for crowds to be back down the line.
Let’s take a look at how Esports has fared so far in 2021 and how things could look going into the second half of the year.
The Esports Online Era
Esports has lived through what many have referred to as an ‘online era.’ All events were confined to just being played online, with everyone from teams to casters and background crew being confined to their homes, or a small office.
This led to somewhat of a stagnation in the scene. Fans felt that most events were practically the same and there was little organizers could do to make things feel unique, as regulations meant anything beyond a simple remote broadcast was difficult or even impossible to accomplish.
Riot's LEC broadcast adjusting to an online setting
With the online era feeling a bit stale and not much changing in the first few months in 2021, it’s difficult to see any reason for viewership to improve. However, in the past couple of months, events have been able to step up the production value and become more unique, as well as bring something new.
We even saw the return of LAN events, with Valorant’s VCT Masters being hosted in Iceland and becoming a huge success. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the progress of Esports viewership in 2021 so far and what we can expect to see in the future.
Esports Viewership in 2021
Esports viewership has remained pretty stable throughout most of 2021. As expected, games peak and fall in between events on Twitch. However, overall viewership has remained stable as events come and go, with a slight decline due to the aforementioned stagnation of the scene during the online era.
The best example of this is Counter-Strike. It sees big events once or twice a month and the viewership of the year so far really shows how events are both still popular, but slightly falling due to stagnation.
One of the first events of the year, the Blast Premier Global Finals, peaked at around 20 Million Hours Watched in a week, from Jan 18 - 25. Then, ESL Pro League saw a smaller 16.9 Million peak in March, followed by a small bump and averages of lower peaks throughout.
This was very likely caused by stagnation, especially with CSGO having so many massive tournaments, all of which couldn’t really bring anything new in terms of production.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, we have Dota 2. Big events are rare in the game and we’ve only seen two so far in 2021. Viewership remained fairly stable throughout the year, but spiked massively for their two events, the second of which was actually one of the first LANs of the year.
The week of March 29 saw a spike of 16.9 Million Hours Watched for Dota 2’s Singapore Major, followed by another huge spike at the AniMajor, at over 20 Million Hours Watched in the week of June 7.
This shows two things. Firstly, because big events were so sparse, there were more fans willing to tune in to a rare occasion, unlike CSGO where stagnation led to a fall in viewership. Secondly, and most importantly, the AniMajor was a LAN event, which made it possible to create a unique event, which brought a ton of interesting and engaging production that stimulated growth in viewership.
Valorant followed a similar pattern to Dota 2, there were few major events, so when something big finally happened, viewership exploded. At Valorant’s VCT Masters (one of the first LANs played in 2021) viewership spiked to almost double the average, hitting a peak of 36 Million Hours Watched in the week of May 24. This once again showed the importance of having scarcely placed major events, as well as the power of a LAN production that can bring a unique viewing experience.
However, there was also an outlier in all of this - the most popular Esport of 2021, League of Legends. The game saw huge viewership, raking in over 40 Million Hours Watched in its competitive leagues opening week in January, before slowing down.
It then peaked again at the Mid-Season Invitational, which was a LAN event that brought in 43 Million watch hours in the week of May 17. Then, the opening of the game’s Summer Seasons again saw over 40 Million Hours Watched at the start of June.
This points to League of Legends strangely being unaffected by both stagnation, as well as the effects of a LAN environment on viewership. It’s difficult to say why, but it could be due to their unique league format, quality of online production, the overwhelming popularity of the game, or something else entirely. No matter what the reason is, it will be very interesting to see how 2021’s numbers measure up to 2022’s.
What Can We Expect In The Second Half of 2021?
Judging by what we’ve seen so far, especially with the return of LAN events having a sizable impact on event viewership, it’s safe to say that esports will see a strong end to the year. As more events are able to move to a LAN environment, we’ll see unique production elements that are able to draw in and retain more of a crowd.
Overall production quality will go up too and we’re also likely to see game results change, as teams move from playing from the comfort of their own home or office to a stadium with cheering fans and a completely different atmosphere. Many fans also consider LAN events to be more competitive, so we may see a subsection of the esports fan base return to watching events.
All in all, we’ll likely see numbers go up for esports viewership, especially with some huge events like The International 10, ESL One Cologne, and many more ahead of us on the calendar.