All throughout the month of October, something big is happening. An event so large, it has in the past accumulated over 11.2 million viewers at its peak- more than the Canadian audience during last year’s Super Bowl. It is not the start of the hockey season, but rather the League of Legends World Championship that is taking place all around Europe.
League of Legends (LoL) is a fast paced multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) real time strategy (RTS) video game. Two teams composed of five players are pitted against each other’s wits to destroy the enemy’s nexus, which is how a team wins. Each player controls an in game champion, or hero, that can use specific abilities to help themselves or hinder the other team. However, it is not at all a cake walk to the other side of the map and simply attacking it by which a team can win. Many variables are at play here. For example, there are turrets defending the bases as well as many neutral objectives that give the team benefits if they manage to secure it. Think of it as one big chess game that is changing on the fly; the goal is to kill the king, and his subordinates will try to stop it. There are many other MOBAs, like Dota 2 or Heroes of the Newearth, however League of Legends is the easiest to jump into.
Riot games, who develops this popular game, was founded in 2006 by Brandon “Ryze” Beck and Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill in Los Angeles. Three years later, in October 2009, they officially released League of Legends as a free-to-play game with additional optional purchases to make your champions more aesthetically dazzling. It might seem a bit farfetched, but the company has proven that wrong. This type of game is known as “freemium”, where there are micro transactions within the game to unlock bonus content. Many mobile applications now successfully apply this model, like Candy Crush. Back to the point, since their release, League of Legends has grown exponentially thanks to their product model and large sum of investments from the companies Benchmark Capital and Firstmark Capital, both are venture capital firms. Today, according to the Riot Games website, they boast a 67 million players each month and 27 million players each day, a jump from the 32 million and 12 million in 2013 respectively.
Aside from attracting players from all over the world, the rise of electronic sports (e-sports) has also contributed to Riot Games’ huge success. As early as in 2006, video gaming competitions like Major League Gaming (MLG) were broadcasted on television through USA Network. Since then, more and more viewers are tuning in to watch their team compete against other; in 2014, we spent on average 3.7 billion hours watching e-sports according to ESPN, an increase of almost 55% compared to 2013. The US government has now even officially recognized professional gaming as an actual occupation for visa applications to facilitate travel. E-sports has not only created a new medium of entertainment, but new never seen before jobs. There are the obvious “athletes” themselves who get paid to play games for a living, and certain companies are hiring casters, who analyse the game, as well as e-sports coordinators. The former seems like a dream too good to be true. Although some news report the gamers receiving a stable salary and paid expenses by the companies, the job is not all stable. A sub-par performance on behalf of the gamer could get him or her kicked out because of the enormous pressure to win. In the very beginning of e-sports, it was possible to easily make an entrance, but in the year of 2015, there are very little chances to get accepted into a team unless you knock the socks off of everybody.
Regardless, many still choose to purse this futile dream and end up playing in a team. Pertaining to LoL, teams usually consist of five or more players, depending on substitutes. American teams participate in the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). Likewise, in Korea, there is the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) and so forth with the regions that also participate: Europe, China and Taiwan. Throughout the year, the teams compete against each other to be the very best so to be qualified to go to the World Championship, a playoff against all the teams in the world to win the Summoner’s Cup. It’s just like a real sport; League of Legends is not the only video game to host contests now.
To be qualified for the biggest event, the three top teams or “seeds” from each region are selected, plus two additional wildcards. Then, each team is placed into four different groups where they duke it out in a round robin tournament. This is called the group stage. Afterwards, the two leading teams from each of the four groups are selected to proceed to the knockout stage where the final prize is the crown of world dominance. The aforementioned matches span over the month of October, and the grand finale is on Halloween. Korean teams in the past two years have won the Summoner’s Cup with no sign that they will stop this year to obtain it. Furthermore, in addition to winning boundless glory, the events offer ridiculous amounts of money to the contenders. The International 5, Dota 2’s own largest event held every year, had a prize pool of $18,429,613, which meant each player on the first place team won a little over a million dollars. Compared to League of Legends’ measly $2.1 million, it is nothing.
In short, e-sports is a growing industry offering copious career options that were not previously accessible to many. From tournaments to e-sports managers, they are presenting unprecedented opportunities that are a once in a life time experience.
Written By: Charlie Tang
Originally Published: October 2015