Sports are firmly entrenched in society. There are a plethora of them, and most people enjoy either playing or watching one sport or another. At the time of writing this article, the football Champions League was ongoing. Earlier this year, many of you likely cheered on your favourite teams as they competed in the Super Bowl. Sports and devotion to the sporting achievements of others have been part of civilised society for as long as civilised society has existed. But in recent years, a parallel to traditional sports has emerged: the League of Legends World Championship.
ESports, or electronic sports, are a relatively recent phenomenon that’s been struggling to gain both attention and legitimacy in recent years. Although they’ve been around since the ’90s in the form of small-time tournaments for early competitive games like Quake, Counter-Strike and Warcraft, eSports began as very much a niche thing. They had little in the way of meaningful profit or outside interest. So, it’s quite impressive that in the space of less than 20 years, the most popular eSport, League of Legends or LoL, has grown to over 100 million active monthly players and over 36 million unique viewers tuning into the 2015 World Finals. eSports still seem like a strange concept to the uninitiated, but despite all the obvious differences, there are a shocking amount of similarities between sports and eSports. Listening to famous pros from both worlds, one begins to realise that they compete for the same reasons. What drives them, be it in basketball or LoL, appears to be the competitive aspect: the desire to win and be the best.
Indeed, just like regular athletes, eSports pros must adhere to rigid and intensive training programs, as well as manage their diets and bodies to be at the top of their physical and mental game. Strategies must be practised, teamwork and synergy built and core skills maintained. League of Legends teams work with coaches, analysts and sports psychologists to refine themselves and their play. The best LoL players must essentially give up their lives to the demands of competition. Many other trappings are the same. Most major eSports have national leagues that span months as well as major international events. Games take place in packed arenas, and higher profile international games attract thousands of viewers. Indeed, the World Championships have taken place in venues such as Wembley Arena in London, the Staples Center in LA and Madison Square Garden in New York. For each of these events, tickets sold out almost immediately.
Each game is presented by professional commentators who attempt to make the subtleties and complexities of each game understandable to the average viewer. The LoL off-season looks remarkably similar to traditional sports as well, with teams bitterly competing to buy and trade players and investigative journalists fighting to break the news of large transfers ahead of their peers. Although average salaries are of course much lower, the more famous and storied players earn millions. Prize pools for major tournaments have begun to reach impressive figures, too. The largest prize pool across all eSports this year exceeded $20 million. eSports have also started to create major waves in the world of business as potential sponsors and investors realise how incredible of a demographic remains largely untapped. Many large companies who make products you probably own have an interest in eSports. Intel runs multiple tournaments each year. Samsung owned the team that swept to victory in the 2014 World Championship. FC Schalke 04, one of the largest sporting clubs in the world, owns a LoL team, and the Philadelphia 76ers recently bought their own team. American basketball legends such as Rick Fox and Shaquille O’Neal have invested majorly in the scene. Even brands like Coca-Cola and Pringles have attached themselves to LoL in the past. Every week, new partnerships and deals are announced between huge brands and eSport teams. Many of the companies that bring you sports on television are hungrily eyeing broadcasting rights to individual eSports like League of Legends, Overwatch and Dota 2.
eSports are still new. They are strange to many people. The fact that they exist at all is a product of changing times and the modern world we live in continually supplying new ways to entertain us. eSports are a thing. They’re growing, and they’re actually quite fun. With the World Championship heading towards its conclusion, it might be worth giving the lolesports.com website a visit and checking out some of the games. Who knows? You might even enjoy them.