Riot Games focuses its North America strategy on VALORANT
League of Legends might remain the top-performing esport produced by Riot Games globally. However, the company is now positioning its tactical first-person shooter, VALORANT, to become the top esport in North America.
Ahead of the 2023 esports season, Riot Games announced schedule changes. Based on the announcement, the Valorant Champions Tour (VCT) Americas league is going to take the prime-time broadcast slot on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays at 2pm CT.
The prestigious slot was previously reserved for the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). The schedule changes, which moved the LCS to Thursdays and Fridays at a 2pm CT start time, are likely to further widen the gap between the two major Riot-managed esports in North America.
Riot Games has also announced a new format for its VALORANT esports competition, starting in 2023. The new format will be split into three regions: Americas, EMEA, and Pacific. VCT Americas league will feature top-tier teams from North America, Latin America, and Brazil.
The viewership war
In North America, the popularity of professional VALORANT and League of Legends has been diverging. VALORANT has been receiving more attention and support in North America compared to League of Legends in recent years.
The NA Challengers and LCQ events for 2022 saw a significant increase in viewership compared to the previous year, while LCS viewership has been steadily declining since 2020.
Some speculate that this has caused Riot to have a shift in priorities and a focus on promoting VALORANT in the Western Hemisphere. However, with their latest moves, it is now clear that Riot is positioning the first-person shooter video game as the primary focus for North American esports.
This has been reflected in various ways, including an increase in fan and player feedback being taken into consideration by Riot Games, the decision to include 10 teams in the VCT-partnered league rather than 8, and the inclusion of promotion opportunities.
Additionally, VALORANT will have its own dedicated space in the Riot Games Arena, which was previously named the LCS Arena.
This schedule change has been met with criticism from fans and players, as it is expected to lead to a further decline in live viewership and dwindling live in-person support due to the timing inconvenience. However, it will be difficult to revert these changes because it would require adjusting the schedules of both leagues.
“It’s a change I raised a ton of concerns about internally, and it’s one that makes me worried for the future of the league that I love, and for my career as an LCS caster,” said NA League caster Isaac “Azael” Cummings Bentley on social media.
“There’s data showing as many or even more viewers in some cases are watching Twitch on weekdays, but how will this apply to our audience? There’s a ton of questions left to be answered, and honestly only time will really tell how things will pan out.”
VALORANT has seen a significant increase in viewership over the past two years. According to data from Esports Charts, eleven of the top fifteen VALORANT events in terms of total hours watched took place in 2022, and the year-end Champions event for 2022 had the highest peak viewership of any VALORANT event.
According to data from SullyGnome, a statistics and analytics service for Twitch, VALORANT was the third most-watched game on the platform in 2022, with approximately 1.16 billion hours watched. This marked an increase from its fifth-place ranking in 2021, when it had 950 million hours watched. In addition, some of the top streamers of the year, such as tarik and fps_shaka, primarily played VALORANT.