The 2023 League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational has recently concluded, with two teams from the League of Legends Professional League (LPL) battling it out for the championship.
JD Gaming emerged victorious over Bilibili Gaming in a 3-1 victory and took home the US$50,000 grand prize.
However, it seems that having a battle between two teams from the same region, specifically the Chinese region, is not something most fans were interested in. According to a report by Esports Charts, the finals had a peak viewership of 1.1 million viewers, the lowest for a grand final since the 2019 event.
2.29M Peak Viewers on #MSI2023. @T1LoL l vs @JDGaming is the most popular match of the event. Grand Finals peak - 1.1M, @JDGaming vs @BilibiliGaming.
More stats:https://t.co/nU9VcoeU5r#LoL @lolesports pic.twitter.com/ny9OnFbgRb
— Esports Charts 🇺🇦 (@EsportsCharts) May 21, 2023
What’s even more interesting to note is that previous matches set all-time high viewership numbers, with battles between two major regions drawing a much bigger audience.
With a peak audience of over 2.2 million people, Esports Charts reported that JDG's 3-2 victory over T1 became the most-watched match in MSI history. There were 2.19 million viewers for the MSI 2022 final between T1 and RNG, which was the previous record.
On the other hand, the MSI 2023 Grand Final didn’t even reach the top 5 games with the biggest audience in the entire tournament.
Yet cross-regional matches this year broke records and recorded all-time highs for the Mid-Season Invitational. So, it seems to not be a matter of the LoL esports audience dwindling.
Why did an all-Chinese MSI grand final fail to draw a bigger audience?
Despite the LPL being one of the most popular regions in LoL, amassing many fans from across the globe, many factors were in play for this year’s lacklustre MSI viewership.
For one, grand final matches between two different regions draw more hype, with long-time rivalries and the hope of winning a title for their region on the line. It’s also interesting to note that viewership for the 2023 MSI grand finals on Chinese platforms wasn’t impressive either.
According to a screenshot tweeted by Kony Ying, the Bilibili Gaming platform’s stream numbers weren’t as high as other MSI matches this year, with BLG’s match against T1 gaining the most audience.
For ppl curious about viewership on Chinese platforms. A screenshot from Bilibili streaming. In it, the highest viewership is BLG v T1 3.9M, BLG v GEN.G 3.1 M, T1 v JDG 2.2 M, then the final 1.2M. They’re not real viewer # but that # scaled up by a factor decided by the platform. pic.twitter.com/nttGshWGdH
— Ying Xiao (@Kony_Ying) May 22, 2023
Chinese fans knew that their region was a shoe-in for the title, so the excitement of potentially getting the MSI title and beating their biggest rival region (League of Legends Champions Korea) is not there.
It’s not that JDG and BLG didn’t perform well in the competition. In fact, both teams came out on top because they were better at reading this season’s meta and had their strategies down to a T.
But both teams have been butting heads throughout the LPL Spring season, with matches generally tending to be one-sided (sorry, BLG). So, watching both teams duke it out in an nth rematch seems less interesting.
Another major factor would be the absence of a compelling narrative for the grand finals.
While this is the first time LoL Esports has had an all-LPL grand final, it’s not the first time for a grand final to have two representatives from one region at the grand finals of a top-tier international LoL competition.
Just last year, an all-LCK grand final occurred at the 2022 LoL World Championship. The heart-racing, adrenaline-inducing match between LoL giants T1 and underdogs DRX drew more than 5.1 million peak viewers, making it the most-watched esports match of 2022.
The biggest reason for these numbers is the compelling narrative of then DRX’s AD Carry, Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, in search of his first title after a decade of playing, vs LoL G.O.A.T. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, who was hoping to get another (and potentially final) title years after T1 (SKT)’s three-year reign.
DRX’s Cinderella run seemed to be something Anime or K-Drama worthy, and the games were unpredictable, and the skill level was evenly matched, keeping viewers at the edge of their seats.
Personally, the only draw I was looking forward to in the grand final was JD Gaming’s Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk, who was with Gen.G since the organisation was created and was then hoping to get his first international title as a member of an LPL.
With JD Gaming winning against T1 (which was honestly heart-breaking as a T1 fan), I felt like JD Gaming had already won the entire tournament, and the grand finals felt anti-climactic.
There still are many highlights throughout the tournament. G2 Esports’ intense 4-game match against BLG kept European fans high on hopium, and T1’s run, despite coming to an earlier-than-hoped-for end, was always filled with excitement.
And, of course, the 2023 MSI Champions JD Gaming were flawless. Simply put, their gameplay was beautiful to watch, with the tournament's Most Valuable Player, Zhuo "knight" Ding, being the hero of the series.
So, while the grand finals match was a bit less exciting than the semis, the MSI Champions are definitely still deserving of the title. If only more people had watched them claim it.
Anna is a freelance writer and photographer. She is a gamer who loves RPGs and platformers, and is a League of Legends geek. She's also a food enthusiast who loves a good cup of black coffee. Views expressed are the writer's own.