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The four cities in the overall League of Legends tour will include New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Mexico City. The international event will span North America from the group stage to the finals. It’s also the first time the event will be held in Mexico.
The event aims to breathe more life into the esports industry, which has been seeing great numbers for online-only events during the pandemic but has been missing a lot of the excitement around physical events. Market researcher Newzoo had to downgrade its revenue expectations for esports in 2020 a couple of times as the magnitude of the pandemic grew and physical event revenues dried up. But most esports online events drew much bigger audiences than in the past.
The 11th League of Legends World Championship is Riot’s biggest event series of the year, and this year it took place in Reykjavik, Iceland, from October 5 to November 5. A total of 22 teams participated and Edward Gaming of China took home the top prize of nearly $500,000 as the LPL World Championship.
The average audience minutes was 30.6 million (up 32%) and peak viewership was 73.8 million people. That latter number is 60% higher than last year, which was the previous record, said John Needham, president of esports at Riot Games, at a press event at the Chase Center.
Riot Games said the tournament will return to a continental tour format, and return to the U.S. for the first time since 2016, when it was held at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Needham attended a press event with Naz Aletaha, global head of League of Legends Esports; Chris Greeley, head of esports North America and Oceania Pacific; Martin Balquier, head of esports for Latin America at Riot.
Also attending were celebrity players such as Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, a League of Legends esports player, currently top laner for Golden Guardians.
Aletaha said, “We are returning to North America for the first time since 2016.” She said the event will kick off in Mexico City, and then move on to New York city’s Madison Square Garden. The semifinals will be in Toronto at the Scotia Bank Arena, and the 2022 World Finals will be taking place at Chase Center.
“We can’t wait to culminate our 12th world tour here,” Aletaha said.
And Balquier said Riot is excited to bring the event to Latin America for the first time, as fans have been asking for that for the past decade.
Greeley said, “We are incredibly excited to bring that excitement to our fans.”
Aletaha said the company is looking at the format for the tournament, which will optimize for a variety of variables.
Needham said the company has wanted to do events in North America for the last few years but hasn’t been able to do so because of COVID-19. He noted that the company has learned how to do the events safely in light of the pandemic.
Aletaha said she didn’t yet have info to share on where the company would pivot if they are forced to pivot because of COVID restrictions. Greeley said Riot was prepared to handle the different visa processes for three different countries.
“We want to make it an amazing experience for the tens of millions of fans who want to tune in from home,” she said. “Right now we are laser-focused on North America for the tour.”
Greeley said that the North American teams are getting more competitive and have had improvements in their amateur and academy teams so that the region will continue to improve for the esports events. With the launch of Arcane, Riot also hopes that there will be renewed interest in the region as well.
Aletaha said the viewership has been predominantly online — at least 90% of viewership is online — and she said it’s not likely going to be advertised much on television. But the marketing efforts will be aimed at setting new records, Aletaha said.
Chris Murphy of the Chase Center said the venue hasn’t had a big esports event before, but he expects more of that to happen over time. Licorice said he was excited to have the big event in the U.S., as he wasn’t even a League of Legends player back in 2016, the last time it was held here.
Chase Center has a capacity of 18,064.
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