The most popular esports events of 2020

Posted on December 30, 2020 - Last Updated on December 31, 2020

A lot of the world has been stuck at home this year. Maybe for a couple of weeks, maybe for 9 months, but we all needed to find something to do. What better things to do than sit down in front of your PC and watch some esports?

Despite the lack of in-person offline tournaments, interest in the scene has never been higher. We have seen some of the most watched tournaments and competitions this year and it is fantastic to think that more and more people around the world are coming together to watch and support esports. Here are some of the most popular events of 2020.

1. League of Legends 2020 World Championship

It would be silly to start this list off with any other event. The League of Legends 2020 World Championship was a ground-breaking event. The total number of hours viewed by the public was 139,000,000. That makes this event the most-watched esports broadcast in history.

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions and the general uncertainty of the year, the event was held in person in Shanghai from September 25 – October 31, with the finals held at the Pudong Football Stadium. The final event was the first esports event of the year to have a small live audience since the beginning of the pandemic.

2. League of Legends LEC/LCK Summer and Spring

Are you noticing a trend here? League of Legends continues to dominate the top of the charts. These are the regional tournaments for Europe (LEC) and Korea (LCK). I’m lumping these two events together, but the Korean League was by far the most popular.

The LEC, the regional league for Europe had a total of nearly 73,000,000 hours watched while LCK, the regional league for Korea had a total of around 137,000,000. That puts the LCK close to the top figure at the LoL World Championships.

It’s is important to remember that the World Championships was a one-off event whereas the LCK was a longer and more involved league.

LEC Most Watched Esports

3. Free Fire Continental Series Asia

The popularity of this event is a high watermark for the inclusion of mobile gaming in the esports scene. Despite the popularity of more widely known mobile esports games like Call of Duty, PUBG Mobile, and Fortnite, the most popular event of the year for mobile gaming and esports was the Free Fire Continental Series.

Like most popular games nowadays, this is a mobile battle royale. It is very popular in the Eastern markets and drives a lot of views. The event had an average viewer count of 827,000 and more than doubled that number at their peak viewers, drawing in more than 2,560,000.

The event was short, only eight hours long, but the reduced nature of the event meant that many viewers tuned in for its entirety.

4. PUBG Mobile World League 2020 East

Another trend is beginning to emerge here. One of the biggest events in esports this year is another mobile battle royale event that is held in Asia. This event is significantly longer than the Free Fire Continental Series and as such, the audience retention of the event was not as high.

The length of the event did contribute to another metric however, total hours watched. This tournament has the fifth highest total of hours watched for the whole year. This is crazy when you think that back in 2019 no mobile games even managed to break into the top 20.  The event managed a total of around 37,000,000 hours watched.

5. The ESL Pro League

Now we are finally leaving the realm of MOBAs and mobile battle royales. One of the most popular leagues this year was the CS:GO ESL Pro League. The league broadcast a total of 642 hours of play time this year.

In order to reach that number, ESL has had to include the American and European events of their 11th season as well as the entirety of the 12th season (which includes five regions and two qualifiers). They set their own record. This years European events had the highest peak viewers for any ESL CS:GO event in Europe at 568,000 peak viewers.

The biggest win for the Pro League was their total hours watched, around 77,000,000 hours watched across a total of 642 hours of play time. It took a lot of events to get them to that number, but they still had a good year despite the pandemic.

6. Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2020

Another CS:GO event! This event was one of the first in the world to refuse a live audience during the early days of the pandemic. It may not have the biggest numbers in this article, but it is included because of what it managed to do in such short notice.

The event managed a total of 18,000,000 hours watch for the whole event, with a peak viewership of around 1,000,000 and an average viewership of 280,000.  For a live event going forward with no audience in the beginning of the pandemic, it was very impressive.

Most-watched-esports-tournament

Notable Exceptions

The biggest esport that was not on this list was DOTA 2. The game did not rank in the top five of any metrics this year. This is absolutely because of the cancellation of their most popular event, The International. It has been postponed until 2021. Interest in the game has not declined, according to newzoo.com, DOTA 2 was the most watched esports title on Twitch this year.

Other FPS titles like Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Valorant didn’t manage to break into the top levels of viewership. Call of Duty only managed 15,000,000 hours watched across all tournaments and events, Overwatch didn’t fair much better, pulling in a total of 25,000,000. While these are massive numbers for the average person, they do show the decline in interest for the two esports. Valorant is a relatively new scene and it is expected that it will grow in the coming years.

What’s next?

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the future for esports seems bright. Many events made a seamless transition from in-person tournaments to online, events set world records for viewership and more and more mobile esports have become popular making the world of esports more available and lowered the barrier of entry for everyone.

There may be a few events that don’t survive the transition, but they are outweighed by the sheer volume of new ones that are sprouting up all over the world.

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Andrew Boggs

Andrew is a Northern Ireland based journalist with a passion for video games. His latest hobby is watching people speedrun Super Mario 64 and realising how bad he is at platformers.

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