China Leading Esports Boom

Adela Sznajder
200 million Chinese Esports fans watched the 'League of Legends' 2019 World Championships

More than a quarter of Internet users in China watch esports at least once per month, a new report finds, more than double the rate of audiences in the U.S. and Western Europe.

China is leading the fast-growing market for Esports, where professional video game players compete in front of a live online audience.

A report published Monday by research group Ampere Analysis finds that 26 percent of Chinese Internet users watch esports at least once per month, more than double the rate of audiences in the U.S. and Western Europe. One single esports tournament, The League of Legends 2018 World Championship, drew a concurrent audience of 203 million in China, Ampere found, compared with just 2 million for the rest of the world.

But esports is already big business in western countries as well. High-profile tournaments such as the 2019 Fortnite World Cup, which drew 20 million viewers worldwide on the Amazon-owned  Twitch platform, or FIFA 19 eWorld Cup (50 million global viewers across multiple platforms), are evidence of the growing popularity of esports competitions.

Among western countries, the Scandinavian nations lead the pack, with 9 percent of Danish Internet users and 8 percent of those in Sweden reporting watching esports on a monthly basis. Ampere points to investment by Sweden's Modern Times Group, which owns several esports competitions and leagues, including ESL and DreamHack, as a prime reason for their popularity in the Nordic region.

Chinese Internet giants have also doubled down on esports. Tencent subsidiary Riot Games, for example, specifically built its Pro View streaming service to carry League of Legends tournaments. In China, esports events also benefit from their apolitical nature. Unlike imported films or TV series, esports streams are unlikely to be censored by Beijing.

Twitch remains the principal esports platform in the West, with some 65 percent of esports viewers in North America and western Europe using the platform every month, according to Ampere. YouTube is a distant second, with around 35 percent of Esport fans reporting using the Google-owned video platform over the past month.

“The rise of esports viewing on a global scale presents a potentially lucrative opportunity for new and existing players,” says Ampere analyst Hazel Ford. “Platforms such as Twitch and YouTube are currently market leaders but face growing competition from a number of newcomers, including the developers themselves. As with the traditional sports world, exclusive rights deals will become crucial for platforms looking to control high growth esports audiences.”