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Once again Riot Games’ League of Legends was the most impactful PC game. Being the landmark for the most impactful esports-related PC games, League of Legends was joined by Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Epic Games’ Fortnite in the TEO PC Games Impact Index’s Tier 1 category.
The effects of COVID-19 policies on esports competitions carried over from 2020, resulting in several games such as Rainbow Six Siege and Rocket League underperforming. Furthermore, the first quarter is generally the period of the year hosting the lowest count of major esports tournaments. This seasonality of esports competition is reflected in The Esports Observer’s PC Games Impact Index for the first quarter of 2021. For a detailed breakdown of the key performance indicators that determine a game’s Index score, click here to review 2018’s initial Impact Index report.
League of Legends Remains Top Esports Title
A major part of League of Legends’ dominance over the Impact Index stems from the game’s enormous player base. Furthermore, the game once again was the most-watched title on live streaming platform Twitch during the first quarter of the year.
Most professional League of Legends regional leagues started in mid-January and generated stable viewership throughout the quarter. Riot Games reported viewership by hours watched for its Los Angeles-based League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) increased by 30% for the full spring split season compared to last year, while viewership by hours watched for its Berlin-based League of Legends European Championship (LEC) grew by more than 40% year-over-year.
Strong Start into the Year
An early start into its 2021 competitive year helped Counter-Strike: Global Offensive secure the Impact Index rank 2 just like last year. Throughout the quarter, more than 80 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments were held and $3.6M was distributed in prize pools. The game’s competitive year was kicked off with the $1M BLAST Premier: Global Finals in January won by Natus Vincere and the $1M Intel Extreme Masters XV – World Championship in February won by Gambit.
While Fortnite’s competitive scene has been lagging behind most other esports titles throughout the last year, the regionalized Fortnite Champion Series: Chapter 2 Season 5 – Grand Finals, which Fortnite developer Epic Games organized, paid out a collective prize pool of just over $3M. While COVID-19 caused a general decrease in esports tournaments run, Fortnite provided the third-largest prize pool throughout Q1 2021 helping the title secure rank 3 on the Impact Index.
On the Rise
While spiking as a Tier 1 game during the playoffs of the inaugural Call of Duty League (CDL) season, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare maintained strong Twitch viewership and the third-highest player base just falling short to League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Since the Call of Duty League’s 2021 season features Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War the game’s esports scene’s prize pools didn’t exceed $1M.
Strong Twitch viewership numbers and the $7.1M PUBG Global Invitational 2021 helped PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds to secure rank No. 5 of the Q1 Impact Index. The PUBG Global Invitational was one of the first in-person events in 2021 taking place in Incheon, Korea. Participants from China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau competed from LAN venues in their respective countries while the remaining teams underwent a two-week quarantine before taking part in the six-week league.
Riot Games’ first-person shooter Valorant saw its viewership and player base numbers drop off moderately compared to when the game first launched in summer 2020. Its viewership for the quarter was similar to its first-person shooter competitor Counter-Strike: Global Offensive while its player base dropped below Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and Fortnite.
Crippled by the Pandemic
The viewership and prize money contribution from the regionalized Rocket League Championship Series Season X helped Rocket League improve its ranking to No. 7 on the Impact Index. Several regional events that are part of the RLCS Season X paid out $100K prize pools.
Valve’s Dota 2 remains one of the titles significantly affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Driven by the regionalized Dota Pro Circuit Season 1 2021, Dota 2 was able to retain some relevance and place rank No. 8 on the Impact Index.
Electronic Arts’ Apex Legends was the sixth most watched Impact Index eligible game on Twitch and the seventh most played game during Q1 2021. While the lack of major esports tournaments for the game was slightly offset by the regionalized Apex Legends Global Series Winter Circuit the game’s currently comparatively small esports scene resulted in Apex Legends placing No. 9 on the Impact Index.
World of Warcraft, Rainbow Six Siege, Overwatch, and FIFA 21 – The Midfield
Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is one of the few esports titles thriving under the current circumstances. The game’s continued success is driven by its Twitch viewership and the Arena World Championship, which started in March.
Probably the biggest loser of the current circumstances is Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege, which plummeted from a Tier 1 rank in Q1 2020 to rank No. 13 in Q3 2020 and continues to remain outside of the Top 10. The main contributor to the game’s recent downfall is the lack of major competitions.
As the Overwatch League was in its offseason during Q1, the game’s viewership stats plummeted. Because the same was true for Overwatch’s whole esports ecosystem, with only minor tournaments held during Q1, the game dropped back into Tier 3 just like in the same period of last year.
Electronic Arts’ FIFA 21 claimed rank No. 13 on the Impact Index. The game’s impact on the esports ecosystem is underlined by its viewership and success of its esports initiatives, including the FIFA 21 Global Series, which was kicked off during Q1 2021.
Making the Cut
Hearthstone, which is one of the game ecosystems that traditionally sees little competition of the first quarter of a year, kept a sport on the Impact Index’s Top 15 due to its active player base and Twitch viewership numbers.
The last spot on the Q3 2020 ranking was secured by Hi-Rez Studios’ third person MOBA Smite, which made its comeback into the Top 15 of this ranking thanks to solid viewership and coming off well in the esports tournaments rankings as other game’s esports scene are currently relatively inactive.
The esports initiatives of most games mentioned in this article have been severely affected by COVID-19 policies. Check out our COVID-19 coverage on all things esports business to learn about the latest developments in the ecosystem.