Coming up on Oct. 1, the first round of the fifth annual League of Legends World Championship tournament airs live from Le Dock Pullman in Paris, France. Five years in the running, the LoL World Championship has taken place in such venues as the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA and the Sangam Stadium in Seoul, South Korea.
While the finals are held on Oct. 31 in the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin, Germany, the 16 professional teams competing will all have to prove themselves in a group stage round-robin style mini-tournament before advancing through two more stages to the finals, where the alleged best two teams in the world compete in a best-of-five to see who will take home the million dollar grand prize.
League of Legends, simply put, is two teams of five members each playing a game where the end-goal is to capture the opposing team’s base, or nexus. Before that, though, each player goes through a phase where they can pick one of approximately 125 different “champions” to play in the game. Each one is designed to be unique and memorable, such as Gnar, the Missing Link, who serves as a cute little ancient member of a race of midgets called Yordles who transform into gigantic monsters. Another example is Soraka, the Starchild, a former goddess whose main role is to heal the weak and keep people alive.
Starring in the tournament are international League of Legends players, such as Korean Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, Spanish stud Enrique “xPeke” Martinez, and Dane-turned-North-American-superstar Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. Joining in to cast and analyze the games are other popular names such as Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles, Trevor “Quickshot” Henry, and David “Phreak” Turley.
This might have been nothing more than noise so far, but to millions of fans around the globe this surpasses the realm of gaming. Odds are any given person would have heard about the game in passing because a friend plays it or simply via any random picture found on the Internet. However, this game has largely gone unnoticed despite the massive numbers of fans. USA Today posted an article listing that 27 million people tuned into the Season 4 World Championships last year, which is largely due to the accessibility of it being streamed online for anybody to watch. For comparison, the MLB World Series that year averaged 15.8 million viewers per game, the NBA Finals averaged 15.5 million, and the Daytona 500 averaged a measly 9.3 million. Even the World Cup, a massive international event, only brought in 26.5 million viewers.
Also take into consideration that the finals took place in South Korea. As a viewer, I was up at 2 a.m. when it started and it was on for several hours. This means that throughout the United States, the showing started anywhere between 2 – 5 a.m. and that goes to show how dedicated League of Legends fans can be.
This brings to mind a question: Why is it that sports like baseball or football or basketball get international recognition as a sport when League of Legends managed to rack up 179 million viewing hours divided between everyone who watched it over the course of 15 days? For some perspective, that adds up to 20,000 years of a random citizen sitting in front of a computer watching what we consider a sport achieved in just over two weeks.
For those who still wish to call it just a hobby, the second part of professional LoL consists of what we call streaming. Using sites such as Twitch.tv or Azubu, gamers can stream and potentially make money by playing video games.
Top streamers like Bjergsen or Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi can make up to $1,000 in daily income by streaming. Twitch.tv in particular has become so successful as a website that Amazon bought it last year for $970 million.
In my opinion, what makes League of Legends such a great sport is that it is accessible to all. While to become pro at football or basketball requires years upon years of staying in top physical shape and training hard, LoL and other electronic sports, or eSports, don’t have any prerequisites. This doesn’t go to discount those who try hard; professional League of Legends players practice 10 plus hours a day in North America and up to 14 in Korea where it is taken much more seriously.
Teams in Korea have actually accumulated some monster sponsors, such as telephone companies Samsung and SK Telecom. In fact, Faker, the mid lane player for SK Telecom, said, “After the all-star games, we will get a very long holiday.” This holiday he mentioned was two weeks at most. Many players also believe a sound body makes a sound mind and thus attend a gym regularly.
There is no reason that League of Legends isn’t a sport in the public eye yet, there is no shortage of practice time or dedication on the scene, and it’s not as if the players are all broke. As the viewing community continues to grow and League of Legends continues to rake in money and players, then coverage of it by ESPN or similarly popular sports networks is no less than inevitable.