China breaks South Korea’s streak in MSI Finals, leading to the most watched match in eSports history

In South Korea, none of their national teams had lost to another country in a major League of Legends tournament in 1,106 days. That streak ended this past Sunday when China’s Royal Never Give Up (RNG) vanquished South Korea’s Kingzone DragonX (KDX) in the finals of the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI). It was not just the championship at stake; not just regional supremacy — it was history in the making, with over 127 million viewers tuning in across a myriad of internet and social media platforms.

The Streak

For the last three MSI championships, South Korea’s banner was represented by SK Telecom-1 (SKT), winning the 2016 and 2017 finals. The only time that team lost an MSI final was back during the inaugural event in 2015, and this was against EDward Gaming of China. So it also comes as no surprise that China’s RNG is looking to turn the tables. After all, they also have their own streak, a losing one, failing to capture the MSI ever since that year as well.

And turn the tables they did. RNG defeated KDX 3-to-1 and hoisted the championship proudly. China’s League of Legends players rejoiced after breaking South Korea’s streak and ending their own. Their countrymen celebrated jubilantly in various parts of the nation as well.

That 127 million viewership is comprised of 126 million Chinese viewers according to tracking and analytics site eSports Charts. It was also the largest viewership for any eSports match in history.

Do the numbers add up?

Take that number with a grain of salt. Or more like an entire bucket of seasoning.

Here’s the thing — for years, China has been known to have a rather curiously huge viewership. Yes, the country does have over 100 million League of Legends players. Yes, the country is pretty much the largest in the world in terms of population. And yes, esports has become a major pastime and event for the younger generation. However, 126 million tuning in for one match sounds a lot.

Are streaming sites over-inflating their view counts? Are we seeing quite a hefty number of bots? Or are Chinese players just heavily invested in the game and are tuning in via multiple streaming platforms? We know that mainstays such as YouTube and Twitch pull in the numbers. Just as well, China’s platforms — Huya, Douyu, Choushou, and Panda TV — all have League streamers and clips. Oh, and that’s not to mention the game’s captive audience also on Twitter and China’s Weibo. Do the numbers add up when combining all of these factors together or not?

What’s also interesting to note is that when RNG faced SKT in League of Legends’ World Championship semis last year, 80 million viewers tuned in. That number is officially from Riot Games. The final which had no Chinese teams participating garnered a 57.6 million viewership as well. Consider that League’s popularity allowed a deal with ESPN and that it’s also being featured in the 2018 Asian games. Is it a stretch to think that over a hundred million would tune in for the MSI finals with a Chinese team competing and subsequently winning it all?

Tencent Controversy

A little bit of controversy has also unfolded during the tournament. News broke out that Tencent Holdings, the Chinese company which acquired Riot Games last 2015, invested around $600 million in Chinese streaming services. This led to accusations of League of Legends’ MSI matches being scheduled at an opportune time to attract more Chinese and Asian viewers, much to the chagrin of those in other parts of the world.

Still, for what it’s worth, Royal Never Give Up truly came in with guns blazing, and the confidence that was needed to achieve their goal. Just ask their star player, Uzi, who’s amassed a following both locally and abroad.

I’m a contributor for various sites under the Enthusiast Gaming umbrella: Destructoid, Dailyesports.tv, and Flixist. Games. Movies. Travel. History. Warhammer. Dad jokes. All around nerdy stuff. You name it, I’ll happily chime in.

I don’t have any backed Kickstarter projects to disclose, although I used to be a CM for a local MMO — this was way back in 2006. I also used to be really good in Counter-Strike, and I mean “bunny hop to avoid AK-47 bursts and shotgun AWP you in the face” good. Then I got old.