MSI 2024 broke LoL viewership records. But does it really matter?

This year’s League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational was a roaring success.

With the format change for the tournament fully settled in its second year, a lineup of teams with strong, supportive fan bases, and a host time zone that favored the teams that made it furthest in the bracket, the tournament naturally etched itself into the professional League history books for all the right reasons.

But while MSI cemented itself as one of the most-watched League tournaments in recent years, fans of the game are divided down the middle as to how much that actually matters. In a thread posted to the official League subreddit, players debated just how important it is that the game’s esports scene is experiencing some type of growth, even years after its initial surge of popularity in the mid-to-late 2010s. 

MSI 2024 logo highlighted on stage in Chengdu, China.
MSI 2024 brought League back into the front-of-mind for many casual esports fans. Photo by Colin Young-Wolff via Riot Games

The big accolade that MSI 2024 took home was the title of being the most-watched non-Worlds League tournament of all time. The event peaked at just under three million concurrents, according to viewership stats site Esports Charts, maintained a consistent average of over one million, and was supported by over six dozen co-streamers around the world. “The ‘League is dying’ crowd has been very quiet lately,” one user named Liewvkoinsoedt said on Reddit. 

The fact that MSI 2024 was the most-viewed non-Worlds event in League history holds some negative and positive connotations. While it’s clear that Worlds is in an echelon of its own when it comes to viewership numbers, MSI is the only other international League tournament on the esport’s annual calendar—at least for now. The competition isn’t exactly stark in the “non-Worlds” category. But last year’s MSI was trumped by the 2023 LCK Spring Finals, so it’s not that wild of a concept for a domestic tournament to outperform an international one. 

“Realistically though, this is what success looks like for a video game,” one Reddit user named Calvinee said. “Esports viewership peaking 15 years after its release. For a competitive game, the playerbase is never going to get bigger than its initial years of hype. [It’s] not exactly reaching new, unexplored markets. Most people who are able to play League have either played or decided not to play the game.” 

Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok of T1 during MSI Play-Ins features day in Chengdu, China
If Faker plays, fans are tuning in. Simple as that. Photo by Lee Aiksoon/Riot Games

Another massive reason why this tournament was able to draw in so many viewers was something the League community is referring to as the “T1 Effect,” an occurrence where more fans tend to tune in when a popular team (like T1) is playing. Faker is undeniably a draw, and if he’s not on the Rift, many casual fans would much rather watch something else. This type of phenomenon occurs relatively often in traditional sports, especially when stars like Shohei Ohtani, LeBron James, and Travis Kelce (although there are likely some other reasons at play for that last one) take the field. 

According to Esports Charts, four of the five most-watched individual matches of the tournament were best-of-fives in which T1 were on the stage. T1’s lower bracket final against Bilibili (the final match in which they appeared at MSI) ended up being the most-viewed contest of the event with over 2.8 million viewers.

Some fans are convinced, though, that the team will lose some level of appeal (like they did last summer when Faker was injured) whenever the GOAT eventually decides to hang up his mouse and keyboard for good. 

“I agree and I think it’s inevitable,” one Reddit user appropriately named SKTT2Dyrone said on Reddit. “The league that started the Faker legacy probably allowed a strong player to actually 1v9 and he was really leagues above competition for the cherry on top; while it’s less possible in the pro level now, so I’d bet that it’s almost impossible to have another Faker.”

To combine both talking points, we’d need to see more tournaments in the near future without T1 present. If there is a notable dropoff in viewers between the tournaments where Faker is playing and the Faker-less ones, that hypothesis will obviously be true long after he retires.

Until then, though, fans of League should reframe their view and move away from the notion that Faker is inflating League’s successful viewership numbers as of late, and rather cling on to their biggest star for as long as they can. No one in esports can draw a crowd quite like he can. 

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