Most Popular MOBA -- League of Legends or Dota 2?
Featured image via Dotesports.

Most Popular MOBA: Glued to the Screen

Feb 2, 2017
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Featured image via Dotesports.

Writing about MOBAs means that I’m constantly talking about players, team roster changes and what I see on Twitch. This usually leads into a discussion about the popularity of the various MOBAs and which game is the most popular. The most passionate debates that I have been a part of are the ones in which we argue about the most popular MOBA. I’m going to look at the two most popular MOBAs—League of Legends and Dota 2—and attempt to figure out which one dominates in viewing popularity.

Calculating Popularity

There’s no clear answer to the number of viewers that either MOBA has. There are a lot of variables that can complicated exactly how many viewers are watching any given game. Newzoo, a popular Twitch statistics website, has recently posted their latest data for Twitch hours watched in December of 2016. Seeing as it was their last posted month for 2016, I felt it might be helpful to use these statistics to reflect on the popularity of Dota 2 and League. I used their latest December statistics in combination with the rest of the published 2016 months to figure out the overall viewer statistics.  It is important to note that the averages that I calculated are missing two months, September and October. Therefore this data is incomplete, but I believe that it gives a good overview of 2016.

The way that Newzoo calculates the most popular esport by ranking each game in accordance to the number of hours spent watching esports per month: “esports hours” translates to hours spent by viewers watching events, not individual streamers. If we are to rank the MOBAs by the actual number of esports hours watched, then League of Legends would annually have more viewers than Dota 2. League had a combined 208.9 million hours of watching esports compared to Dota 2’s 175.4 million hours. However, I don’t agree with this ranking scale, since based on the number of hours spent watching esports, League would be considered more popular.

The core reason I dislike this ranking scale is because it doesn’t factor in the total hours spent watching a MOBA. For example, in December of 2016, Dota 2 had a combined 16.8 million hours of esports events watched — but that was out of a total of 44.9 million hours watched in the Dota 2 category. This means that 37 percent of viewers watching Dota 2 were watching an esport event, compared to League’s 10.7 million hours of watching esports out of a total of 81.2 million hours. That means that only 13 percent of viewers were watching esports events.

If we take another look at the previous statistics, League had a total of 208.9 million hours of esports out of a combined 845.9 million hours spent watching League. This means that 24.7 percent of hours watched were spent watching esports. Dota 2 on the other hand had 175.4 million hours of esports out of a total of 436.5 million hours of watching Dota 2. This means that 40.18 percent of the total hours watched was spent watching esports.

December rankings for number of esports hours watched
via www.newzoo.com

It might seem counter-intuitive to base the popularity of a game by the percentage of hours watching the competitive scene over the actual number of hours watching the game, I believe it better reflects the popularity of the game as an esport.

In-game statistics

Newzoo’s data offers us one way to calculate the popularity of an esport. Twitch is a very popular and easy way to watch tournaments–especially for League players, who don’t have a way to watch the matches through the in-game client. While Newzoo’s data might better reflect the popularity of League, it doesn’t include the number of hours that Dota 2 players watch in the game client. This is because the Dota 2 client has a function that allows players to spectate the matches in-game. While it’s not as accessible as Twitch, it is popular for the larger tournaments that have in-game prizes that can be won.

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In the end

It’s hard to determine which MOBA is the more popular in regards to its competitive scene. There are many factors that contribute to this. As far as viewership is concerned, I suggest taking a look at the data and trying to draw a conclusion for yourself.  I’d love to take a closer look at this year’s monthly data and really examine what happens during each given month. Was the reason Dota 2 the top watched esport in June because that was the month that ESL One Frankfurt was played? Will 2017 see the same trends per month? Will this January’s results see League in the top spot again for most hours spent watching esports?

I’d love to hear your opinions on the data and whether you agree with my extrapolation. Is my method flawed because it minimizes the amount of hours spent watching League in general? Is there a better way to look at the data? Let us know on Twitter!

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Gillian Linscott
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As the quintessential nerd, Gillian comes from a childhood of band camps, video games and fandoms. It wasn't until being introduced to Dota 2 that she realized how passionate she was about MOBA’s and eSports. If she’s not watching Twitch or writing about the latest MOBA community drama, she can be found making lattes or supporting the carry in Dota 2.
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