League of Legends Changes the Landscape of eSports
Danny Berkman / Nov 6th, 2012 2 Comments
The League of Legends (LoL) season 2 world championship series concluded in October with the stunning success story of the underdogs, Taipei Assassins (TPA), taking the championship (for a full recap, read Alec Levine’s Playoff Results and Finals Results). Many gamers will nod their heads, and move on to the next thing that interests them, but there are some surprising facts here which may lead some to stop and do a double-take. Facts that might turn one’s head include the 1 million dollar prize that was awarded to the winners, the over 8 million viewers who watched TPA dismantle their opponents to lift the Summoner’s Cup as Forbes’ website reported, or the nearly 10 thousand people who filled a sports arena to watch this event.
[adsense250itp]Yes, those numbers are correct. More people tuned into to the internet coverage of the LoL finals than the average viewership of the Stanley Cup Finals. Each player on the winning TPA team walked away with two hundred thousand dollars for one series of matches, not to speak of all their earnings from previous tournaments and endorsements. Fans of this rising eSport filled the Galen Center, the basketball arena of the USC Trojans, to capacity in order to watch two teams from Asia play a video game!
If the gravity of the situation still has not struck yet, then perhaps it’s time to simply face a new reality – this is no longer a paying pastime, it is a career and professional sport. People cannot simply brush the LoL finals off as another hobbyist convention, because this event proved that eSports are a popular and growing sport that has the potential to draw in millions. In just a few short years, League of Legends has drawn in fans as devoted and passionate as any small-market sport out there, and it is still growing!
Season 2 of LoL awarded 5 million dollars in prizes for tournament winners, the largest prize pool ever offered for an eSport in a single season. While the finals were a groundbreaking event, much of the season followed the typical patterns of other eSports. We saw bracket-styled tournaments crowded into gaming conventions around the world, with cash awards given to the winners. LoL pros drew hefty endorsement deals, enough for some teams to even relocate to a single city, live together, and practice everyday for a living. Competitions were aired with play-by-play commentary across the internet and some series even aired on primetime Korean TV. For those unfamiliar with the eSports world, this all sounds astounding, but these patterns are actually quite typical for successful eSports such as Call of Duty (COD), StarCraft 2 (SC2)or even the yet unreleased but highly anticipated rival to LoL, DOTA2.
What makes the LoL Season 2 Championship stand out however is the sheer mass spectacle of the event. Fans paid between 60 to 80 dollars for admission, and traveled great distances to witness the event. The Galen Center was filled well before the matches began, with fans even fighting the traffic created by the passing parade of the Space Shuttle Endeavor (and for those who do not know, arriving early for a sporting event in Los Angeles is near impossible on a typical day). Viewers tuned in hours early to watch a lengthy pre-game show that included in-depth analysis of the two teams, and interviews with pros who had fallen to the two teams. The pre-game ceremony included a musical performance of the LoL intro theme with a fully conducted orchestra and choir, while a light show and video clips of past tournaments played in the background. Riot even went all out and created a metal-alloy “Summoner’s Cup” trophy, complete with a plaque ring around its base on which to engrave the names of the winning team members (much like the Stanley Cup). Combine these elements with an electrified crowd, a spectacle of laser-light shows and fireworks, and at least three solid and competitive matches out of the four, and this spectacle could rival any sporting event in the world. All that was missing to make this a typical sporting event was hot dog vendors walking the aisles and a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to start the game.
So what is next for the transcendence of eSports as it moves out of the hobbyist world into the wider sporting world? In an interview with ESPN.com, Riot Games’ CEO, Brandon Beck, reveals that LoL is taking the next step by offering salaries to 32 teams of professional eAthletes. These salaries are intended to cover the costs of living so that these teams can focus their time on training, preparing, and devoting their energies to their career. These salaries are added to complement the earnings from competitions and endorsement deals, in an effort to make this eSport a viable career path. Riot has yet to announce next season’s award pool, but it will likely break records once again given the success of LoL Season 2 (Lol’s 5 million dollar Season 2 prizepool nearly matched all eSport prize rewards combined from 2011, as Gamespot’s website pointed out).
With the eSport now boasting professional salaries for players, and cash prizes capable of making pro-gaming a career, what more can be expected in the future? Perhaps there will be exclusive broadcasting deals on stream feeds like Justin.TV, Twitch.TV and Own3d.TV? Maybe there will be more pay-per-view eSport tournaments, more prime-time broadcasts in Korea, or even the first tournament broadcasts on American TV? We might even see team owners emerge one day, and entire professional leagues with more viewers, more endorsements, and more sold out arenas. The sky is the limit at this point in the growing eSports entertainment world. One thing is for certain, LoL has taken eSports to the next level. Now the stage is set for other games such as COD, SC2 and DOTA2, to take it even further.
The question is, what eSports will the fans chose to watch? Let Gaming Illustrated know what eSport you like! What eSport would you pay money to see live? What broadcast would you watch over the internet? Let us know in the comments section below!
tags: cod , DOTA2 , esports , league of legends , lol , opinion , riot games , sc2 , Summoner's Cup