Focus on: League of Legends
Twenty years ago, no one could have imagined that video games would be characterized as a sport, let alone have millions of viewers. As the esports scene continuously grows, we will take a step back and examine the history of how the different video games have dived into this realm of sport and the future that each of them promises. Moreover, we will examine the details behind tournaments, the status quo of the scene, while also looking at famous players and connections to the real world. The second esport scene we'll have a look at, is League of Legends, the scene with the world's largest online gaming community.
Back in 2003, real-time strategy (RTS) games were at an all time high, with Starcraft and Warcraft III having a firm grasp on the PC gaming market. Blizzard released an expansion for the Warcraft franchise that allowed players to modify the game, creating their own maps and rules. In doing so, the game developer created a beast that would eventually cause the downfall of the RTS genre. A small group of developers created the mod and gave it the name Defense of the Ancients (DotA), which brought to life a new game as well as a new genre. Fast forward to 2006, a small studio with a handful of workers in Southern California who loved to play Starcraft and DotA, really wanted to make a game that players could get behind competitively. This passion for competition in gaming lead to the creation of the world’s biggest name in esports today, League of Legends.
The humble beginnings of League of Legends are often forgotten now that Riot Games has become a company worth $1.5 billion USD. Still, the original concept for the game is what drives the team to improve it continuously: make games for gamers. This results in more than 100 million monthly players. In comparison with other big names of the scene, such as DotA and Overwatch which have between 10-15 million a month and Activision games with around 55 million players per month, this is a completely different level. How does it translate to the live stage?
For a game that has what most consider an extremely high-level learning curve to get used to, it attracts a massive amount of players. Part of it, I believe, is something that you don’t often find today in games. That learning curve is something all games used to have when gaming was fresh and new. Finding a fresh new genre is something exciting for everyone, unless you’ve played DotA, you probably haven’t played a game like League of Legends, and that turns a lot of people away from it. But for those with the mindset that you have to succeed, this is the game for you. When you start you are going to be bad at the game, any player will tell you that. But there is no better feeling in gaming that finally having all of the game knowledge and mechanics come together with teamwork and communication, and seeing that victory animation play after a well fought game against another team of five people. Then just imagine what it would be like to play that same game in a stadium with over 60,000 people cheering you on.
Things really start to heat up when you start talking about the audience numbers this game brings in. Every weekend the professional leagues play at their region's respective game studio, which is usually a small theatre space of around 2,000 with around 100 thousand online viewers. Then there are tournaments such as the Intel Extreme Masters that while hosting tournaments for 5 big games still had a live audience of 113,000 for all the games combined, and 34 million unique viewers online. The League of Legends World Championship Series is comprised of 3 group stage events and then the grand final. All of which take place over the span of a weekend in different cities across the region its being played in that year. In 2016 the grand final weekend had over 43 million fans watching online, peaking at 14.7 million concurrent viewers.
Every year since the game was first released Riot has had professional teams fighting for the championship and its million-dollar prize pool. These professional teams are comprised of the top players from around the world, and are payed quite handsomely for the work they put into playing a video game. After winning his 3rd world championship in 2016, Lee Sang-hyeok (aka Faker) is rumoured to have landed a $2.5 million contract. That is a significant improvement over his already comfortable $1 million dollar contract the season before, which for a 20-year-old South Korean native isn’t half bad. And with huge sponsorship deals with companies such as Intel and Alienware, and promotion from investors like Mark Cuban, its hard to see the competitive scene going downhill anytime soon.
League of Legends made a rather grand entrance from the esports scene. Starting as a small company almost running out of funding and becoming one of the largest game developers in the world over the span of 10 years is a Cinderella story in itself. But there is a lot riding on the backs of this one company, they are a leader and a defining factor in the health of esports as a whole. They have the most players, the biggest fan base, and the most active competitive scene in the market today. As the League of Legends universe expands it seems to promote itself to more and more gamers of all different genres, so if you haven’t already, go download League of Legends. It's free, it's fun, and it's growing fast.