Opinion: Top Five Franchise Esports Leagues in the World
Franchised leagues in esports have become common in the past five years with the Call of Duty League, Overwatch League, NBA 2K League, and other esports leagues attempting to offer an experience similar to traditional sports leagues. With esports viewership expected to cross 474 million in 2021, according to Newzoo’s latest Global Esports & Live Streaming Market Report, franchised leagues have the potential to go head-to-head against some of the biggest traditional sports leagues. Here are the top five franchised esports leagues that you need to know about.
5. MLBB Professional League (MPL)
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’s MPL event is one of the biggest franchised leagues in mobile esports with multiple leagues in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore since 2017. The event expanded to Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Brazil over the years.
Viewership: Season 7 of MPL Indonesia had over 162,000 concurrent viewers.
Prize pool: MPL Indonesia is the biggest league for Mobile Legends with $300,000 USD up for grabs in prize money with other regions competing for lesser but still significant prize pools.
4. ESL Pro League
The ESL Pro League is a semi-franchised league with multiple permanent partners as well as other participating teams who make it to the event via ESL world rankings and premier events. It is one of the biggest events for Counter-Strike globally and Season 15 is set to be the biggest event yet with 24 teams set to compete.
Viewership: ESL Pro League 2020 had over 627,000 concurrent viewers and over 88 million hours watched globally.
Prize pool: ESL Pro League 2021 will have a prize pool of $750,000 USD.
3. League of Legends Championship Series (LCS)
The League Championship Series is the top level of professional League of Legends in the United States and Canada. The esports league is run by Riot Games and has ten franchise teams. The LCS is not the only franchised league for League of Legends. Europe has the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) and China has the Tencent League of Legends Pro League (LPL). The regional franchised leagues tie into Riot Games’ global esports and the league standings collectively determine which teams qualify for the world championships.
Viewership: The most recent mid-season LCS event peaked at over 416,000 concurrent viewers in April 2021.
Prize Pool: Up to $200,000 USD per season leading up to a prize pool of $2.25 Million USD for the world championships (Worlds).
2. Overwatch League
Overwatch League (OWL) is the professional esports league for Overwatch, organized by Activision Blizzard. The league is marketed as a global esports league featuring teams from around the world. After starting off with 12 teams, it expanded to 20 teams in 2021.
Prize Pool: Overwatch League 2021’s prize pool is set at $4.25 million USD.
1. Call of Duty League (CDL)
The Call of Duty League was announced in 2019 with its inaugural season starting in 2020. The CDL is a professional esports league that was launched by Activision and it follows a model similar to the Overwatch League as well as traditional US sporting leagues. There are permanent city-based teams that are backed by separate team owners. There is no relegation system and all teams compete in a tournament point system which leads up to a playoffs format.
Viewership: Call of Duty League 2021 broke its all-time viewership record in May 2021 with a peak concurrent viewership of 330,000 viewers and an average audience of 206,000 viewers.
Prize Pool: The total prize pool for the event is set at $5 million USD.
Other major franchised esports events include King Pro League (Arena of Valor), Flashpoint (CS:GO), and NBA 2K League (NBA 2K). While major esports organizations and game publishers are pushing for more franchised leagues worldwide, there is a distinct lack of centralized organizations to oversee the welfare of players.
While open tournaments are much more volatile, some of esports’ biggest moments were created with underdog teams beating the best of the best. It will be interesting to see how these franchised leagues evolve in the coming years.