On October 19, 2014, at the 2002 World Cup stadium in Seoul, the World Championships in League of Legends were held, a competitive online video game developed by the U.S. company Riot Games. 38 million people watched the event in streaming (with peaks of 8 million viewers simultaneously), 40 thousand people went to see the event live and filled the entire stadium. The cash prize for the winners was one million dollars.
What exactly is the League of Legends?
It's a free online strategic video game. It is often referred to as LoL and is part of the MOBA genre, another acronym for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena and is the largest and most popular eSport (electronic sport, or: competitive video game) that exists at the moment.
In the most popular League of Legends game mode, you play in 10 players, divided into two teams of 5. Each player controls a character (called champion) with unique skills. The aim of the game is to work together to destroy the base of the opposing team and, at the same time, defend their own. It's a bit like five-a-side football, only instead of scoring goals, players have to chop up a giant crystal in the enemy base. And hinder each other to prevent opponents from reaching their own crystal.
It's a team sport and it's a strategy sport. It's a team sport because each champion has a specific role. Just as in football there are goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and attackers. Coordinating roles, and assisting each other to complete the objectives necessary to advance in the arena of play to the enemy base is crucial to winning. And it's a strategy sport because, at each game, players must choose five champions from the more than 100 available. As when a coach completely reorganizes his team - not only by adapting strategies but also by choosing the most suitable players - to better oppose opponents and have a better chance of winning. From this point of view, League of Legends is similar to rugby: you play centimetre by centimetre, and the differences between skills and statistics of the champions can change the outcome of a game.
Why is it such a popular game?
It's a free-to-play game. It means that anyone can download the game for free and start playing (in peak hours there are over eight million players playing League of Legends at the same time). it's very easy to start playing but it's incredibly difficult to win, because it's a video game where a lot of factors, tactics and coordination come into play and lead to success or failure. In addition, all players start from scratch at every game: League of Legends has a system of power-ups that are unlocked as the game progresses, but at every match, they all start from scratch. All that matters is the player's skill and intelligence.
But is it really a sport?
It depends on what you mean by sport and it depends on who you ask. The president of the US sports channel ESPN, for example, said in an interview that eSports are not "real sports" but competitions. Like chess. On the other hand, in 2013, the U.S. government recognized professional players of League of Legends as professional athletes, allowing you to obtain residence permits as workers to play in the United States.
The world around League of Legends is certainly similar to the world of a sport. There are coaches, there are national championships, regional championships, leagues and, as we have seen, the world championships. Players work in teams (which have their own fans), train for hours and hours a week and can be exchanged between different teams. These aspects are not specific to League of Legends, many other eSports, many other video games, have created subcultures of this type. But League of Legends is bringing the phenomenon to its nth power, slowly encroaching on mass culture. And then, of course, there are the games. Viewed online and live by thousands of viewers (there will be a reason if Amazon has spent 970 million dollars to buy a platform that streams people who play video games).
Watching a League of Legends game is as difficult as watching a baseball or hockey game without knowing the rules and tactics. There are a lot of things that move but you have no idea why. This, for example, is the last game of the World Championship.
To understand a little more about the phenomenon, perhaps it is better to meet the players, who are transforming League of Legends from a hobby to a profession, pointing to the professional leagues.
Home of eSports: South Korea Just as Brazil is the home of football, South Korea is the home of eSports. And it's a place to look if we want to understand what eSports can become in the next few years. In an interview with the New York Times, the Dutch professional player said, "The professional game exists in its current form and dimension largely thanks to the people who made it possible in South Korea. Other countries have taken years to catch up and are still trying to replicate its success.
In South Korea, the competitive game is already a mass phenomenon. Since the early 2000s, in fact, thanks to an infrastructure revolution that brought broadband and digital literacy to almost the entire country, and to internet cafes where kids could find themselves playing together, online video games have become part of the country's culture. The Korean government soon recognized the potential of electronic sports, creating a professional league of professional gamers: the Korean E-Sports Association. Today, the teams are sponsored by large companies (the League of Legends world championship was won by Samsung White, but there are also Samsung Blue) and some players have become real stars. A bit like the players here.
The interest of Amazon - and other web giants such as Google and Yahoo - in eSports indicates that the phenomenon will grow soon and a lot in the West. And who knows, maybe we'll start competing for the venue of the World Video Game Championships as League of Legends as we do with football.