From a viewership standpoint, 2021 has seen new records be broken and titles surge to the next level of popularity.
Whether it is traditional games steadily developing fanbases or mobile esports continuing its growth, the year has seen many esports tournaments amass over 1m peak viewers — 22 events in fact. As the year draws to a close, Esports Insider, in collaboration with Esports Charts, details the top 10 highest viewed esports events of 2021 (excluding Chinese viewership).
10. Mid-Season Invitational 2021
Coming in at number 10 is League of Legends’ Mid-Season Invitational 2021. The title’s second-largest international event garnered a peak viewership of 1.83m and an average viewership of over 711,465.
To highlight the continued popularity of the MOBA title, League of Legends is only one of two games to have more than one entry in this list. The peak viewership was recorded during DWG KIA vs RNG, with DWG KIA also being the team with the highest average viewership at 924,130.
Interestingly, the team with the second-highest average viewership was paiN Gaming (879,770). The Brazilian organisation’s peak viewership figure came during its clash with MAD Lions during the group stage with 1.15m viewers turning in.
9. MLBB Southeast Asia Cup 2021
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’s Southeast Asia Cup 2021 is ninth on the list, recording an impressive 2.28m peak viewers. The tournament, which was ultimately won by Philippines-based esports organisation Execration, garnered an average viewership of 514,617 and over 29.42m hours watched across its 57 hours of runtime.
The success of the event further highlights the scene’s impressive growth. MLBB’s Southeast Asia Cup 2019, which was the event’s previous edition, recorded 276,579 in peak viewers.
8: MPL ID Season 8
MLBB’s Indonesian league is the only regional competition to make it into the top 10 most received esports events this year. Generating a peak viewership of 2.39m, the league was actually the most popular esports event in August and September, beating the likes of the LCK, LEC and the ESL Pro League.
The over two-month competition reached its peak viewership number in October’s lower bracket final between ONIC and EVOS Legends. It is hard to fully decipher how much MLBB has grown in popularity with regard to the Southeast Asia Cup. However, the statistics between MPL ID’s seventh and eighth editions already highlight constant growth.
MPL ID Season 8 garnered over 500,000 more peak viewers than its previous edition and an extra 100,000 average viewers throughout its runtime. This is seemingly more impressive considering Season 7 only concluded in May 2021.
7: The International 10
Coming in at number seven is DOTA 2’s longstanding esports spectacular, The International. The event’s tenth edition was DOTA 2’s most successful esports event ever, recording a peak viewership of 2.74m with viewers spending more than 107m hours watching tournament broadcasts. The latter statistic is the fourth highest in esports ever, with only League of Legends’ World Championships recording a larger statistic.
When breaking down which teams were popular at TI10, Team Spirit was the most-watched side (in terms of average viewership). The Russian esports organisation recorded an average viewership of 805,216. This was followed by PSG.LGD (767,762), Team Secret (561,481) and OG (517,908).
Despite being one of esports’ ‘old guard’ titles, The International seems to be gaining more and more popularity within the sector.
6: PGL Major Stockholm 2021
Also recording a peak viewership of 2.74m, albeit still being slightly higher than TI10, was PGL Major Stockholm 2021. CS:GO’s first Major in over two years failed to disappoint by becoming the most-watched tournament in the tite’s discipline.
According to Esports Charts, the previous record held by ELEAGUE Major 2017 was 1.33m, which is 52 percent less than the new figure. In addition, four of PGL Major Stockholm 2021’s seven playoff matches secured higher peak viewership figures than the ELEAGUE Major 2017.
With many wondering what CS:GO’s future would be in 2021 now that VALORANT’s esports ecosystem has commenced, these figures argue that CS:GO is here to stay when it comes to S-tier esports events.
5: M2 World Championship
Travelling back to the world of mobile esports, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’s M2 World Championship places fifth with a peak viewership of 3.08m.
Being the first of two MLBB world championships in 2021, the event was the title’s highest viewed tournament ever and currently ranks seventh in all-time esports events. According to Esports Charts, the tournament’s eventual winners, BREN Esports, recorded 21.43m hours watched on the team’s matches alone. Despite that, it was actually M2’s third-place team, RRQ Hoshi, garnering the best average viewership at the event (1.10m).
4: M3 World Championship
Taking the top spot of MLBB’s most viewed esports event ever is the M3 World Championship, which took place earlier this month. The tournament, won by Tier One’s Blacklist International, secured a peak viewership of 3.19m with a total of 62.61m hours watched by fans.
Despite being higher than the M2 World Championship, it is important to note that the competition did have a lower average viewership for the event – M2 recorded 689,737 whereas M3 garnered 602,588. This, however, can be a result of M3 having a significantly longer airtime of 104 hours compared to 62 hours.
Overall this is MLBB’s fourth entry in 2021’s top ten, which is more than any other title. Despite not securing the top spot in terms of viewership this year, 2021 has showcased the growing popularity of MLBB, at least from a viewership standpoint.
3: PUBG Mobile Global Championship Season 0
Despite starting in November 2020, PUBG Mobile’s Global Championship Season 0 makes the list due to its conclusion – and largest peak viewership – occurring in January 2021. Recording an impressive 3.80m peak viewership, the title has managed to maintain relative strength throughout 2021.
The title recorded an average viewership of approximately 528,000 across its 122 hour airtime, with the event’s most popular period being its Round 1, Day 1 Finals. In terms of peak viewers, the tournament performed best across Indonesian (2.12m), Arabic (494,393) and Russian (415,412) broadcasts.
2: League of Legends 2021 World Championship
Coming in second is the 2021 League of Legends World Championships with a staggering peak viewership of 4.01m (again, excluding Chinese viewership). This is now the title’s most viewed tournament and the first competitive PC esports event to attract over 4m peak viewers.
In addition, the event also holds the title for most hours watched by an esports tournament ever recorded (174.82m). League of Legends is highly regarded as the biggest title in esports and its viewership figures highlight that. Given that Chinese viewership figures are excluded in the list, these numbers could be significantly higher.
In fact, Riot Games issued an announcement stating that its Grand Final series between EDward Gaming and DWG KIA recorded an audience of over 73m peak viewers. This not only highlights the popularity of League of Legends, but how mainstream esports is in China. Whilst these viewership figures look impressive, Chinese viewership statistics are difficult to confirm due to platforms in the country not publicising numbers.
1: Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore
According to Esports Charts, the most viewed esports event of 2021 in terms of peak viewers is the Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore. The mobile title garnered a peak viewership of 5.41m and an average viewership of 2.08m across its short none hour airtime.
Whilst Hindi (1.95m) and Indonesian (1,03m) peak viewership numbers were particularly high, what notably helped secure this record figure was the title’s popularity in Brazil. The title’s Portuguese broadcasts at one point reached a peak viewership of 1.06m. Moreover, its Spanish broadcasts also recorded figures up to approximately 890,000.
Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore is, as of this writing, not only the highest viewed esports event of 2021, but the highest viewed in history.
Given that so many titles have grown and developed this year — with most games breaking previous records for its respective disciplines — 2021 has been an unbelievable year for esports. It’ll be interesting to see if the mobile esports trend continues, or whether new titles such as VALORANT or even Halo will strike a challenge for 2022’s list.