Over the past two years, Europe's premier League of Legends league has mostly been played during the week, featured a poorly justified best-of-two format that was later replaced by a group format and has seen a lot of its big name talent leave to play in other regions. Meanwhile, viewership has begun to stagnate, and the EU LCS appears to be in a rough place compared to its North American counterpart.
The data for the below graph was compiled from Twinge.tv, which pulls data from Twitch.tv every hour or so, meaning the numbers are not perfectly accurate. However, they are as accurate as we can get given that Riot does not release official viewership data. Unfortunately, Twinge also only archives data from the past 365 days, limiting the amount of splits we can track.
This chart also only tracks viewership from EULCS1, EULCS2, NALCS1 and NALCS2, and omits data from Europe's several regional streams. While those streams would bump up viewership, the increase is unlikely to change the data significantly, and would make the chart unreadable if included. With all that in mind though, the numbers paint a picture of a struggling EU LCS.
Editor's Note: This chart omits Week 10 of the 2017 EU LCS Spring Split but all data presented in the rest of this article does not.
It's worth noting that taken at face value, 2017 EU LCS viewership looks really good. It has the highest peak concurrent viewership over the past two splits, but it came in Week 1, which has higher viewership than average across every LCS stream. After that, viewership drops and trends downwards throughout the rest of the season.
Averaged out, this split actually beats the previous one's main stream by approximately 3,000 viewers. However, that does not take into account the second stream, which averaged out to 65,961 peak concurrent viewers across the 2016 Spring Split.
While it's safe to assume that a number of viewers were watching both streams at the same time, it's equally safe to assume that many weren't. The numbers can't be combined and taken as written, but it does show that the EU LCS viewership is either shrinking or stagnating, not growing, while the NA LCS viewership has exploded this past split.
It's unclear exactly why this is happening, but prominent members in the European League of Legends community have some ideas. G2 Esports owner and CEO Carlos "Ocelote" Rodriguez says he believes that it has to do with the state of European teams. Simply put, G2 is too good, and that's boring to watch week in and week out.
"It doesn't help that G2 is winning all the time. I'm serious," he told theScore esports. "I'm G2, but even I myself, I watch every game and I see us playing a team that is perhaps the last place team, and the predictability is what makes the region a little more boring. If the same predictability would be in the NA LCS, I think things would be different.
"I do think though that the European teams are perhaps not ambitious enough when it comes to lineups. I do think that it doesn't do many any favors that some of the clubs, especially the ones at the bottom, simply don't give a shit about winning. That essentially f**ks up my business plan. I don't want to be the guy with two hairs in a bald world. In League of Legends in Europe, there are only three clubs, maybe four that I'm really concerned about putting on a show and beating. The rest are really dead weight. And I hate dead weight."
Ocelote also called the EU LCS Riot's "lab rat," but believes that time has passed. He says Europe is more stable right now, though the format switches may have confused casual fans who don't follow the league as closely.
It's not all doom and gloom though, as FC Schalke 04 coach Michael "Veteran" Archer notes that viewership could be stronger on the regional streams. However, he also says that he knows of players who have left Europe because they see the low views and want something better in North America. Even if viewership is a little low now though, Veteran says Europe is still thriving.
"I just think that naturally, the player base and the culture of Europe means we'll always be more relevant than North America on the international scale anyway," Veteran said. "So I don't put that much through into views even though that I know for a fact that there are European players in North America who are there because European viewership is down and they think they'll get more fame. I'm not that worried about a large-scale exodus, if only because most of the import slots are taken."
On the other hand, FC Schalke 04 and former H2k-Gaming support player Oskar "VandeR" Bogdan says that the format is partially the problem, just not in the way you'd expect. It's not about best-of-two formats or the group stage, but about the fact that the average game just doesn't matter.
"I like the two group system, it's just different so I mean it's more interesting to watch, at least for me," he said. "I'm a big fan of removing playoffs and just having one season with some tournaments in between.
"It would make the season more interesting, because then every match counts. When you have playoffs, not every match counts and the season is too long. Most of the games are not important, so you just chill in the game house and play another week of LCS with low viewership because it's boring."
VandeR pointed out that the space occupied by playoffs could be filled with more international events, something fans are always clamoring for. Otherwise, he feels it's difficult for fans to care about a Week 6 game that has no immediate impact on playoffs, which would explain why viewership tends to spike in the last week of a given split.
It's undeniable that, on average, Europe performs better on an international scale than North America, it's just that that success hasn't translated into a viewership spike across the past two splits. H2K made it to Top 4 at Worlds 2016, but their games didn't see a notable increase in viewership in 2017. It's hard to say why, but like Veteran, Ocelote isn't worried. This too shall pass.
"I think nowadays, Riot EU is treated according to the important of the European Market which, for the record, is a bigger market than the US market when it comes to user acquisition, when it comes to revenue generation, and about 25 percent bigger in terms of player base. And I'm not talking about League of Legends specifically, I'm talking in general. So the European market is super important for any company that strives to be big on a global level.
"As time goes by the European office becomes better and better, and at the end of the day these trends are easily broken by one European team doing really well at Worlds or getting some major talent that hypes the region up."
Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. The first LCS game he watched was a Fnatic vs. Origen game. You can follow him on Twitter.