On Friday Oct. 4, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Riot Games hosted a world championship match for their PC game, League of Legends. LoL, as many gamers call it, just so happens to be the most popular game in the entire world with over 70 million registered users.
To those unfamiliar, competitive gaming, colloquially known as eSports, has taken the world by storm. Competitive gaming is just beginning to parallel many professional sports leagues in terms of popularity, quality of content, presentation and prize pools.
Over five million people across the globe tuned into the Internet live stream of the League of Legends Season Three World Championship on Friday night, where over 10,000 tickets for the event sold out in less than 15 minutes. In the match, which was a best-of-five series, two teams, SK Telecom T1 and Royal Club squared off for a championship trophy known as the “Summoner’s Cup.” Five million viewers is a staggering figure, given how just a year ago, the stream had 1.1 million people watching, and two years ago, 188,000 viewers at its peak.
The winner of the championship, SK Telecom T1, earned a $1 million prize out of a $2 million prize pool that Riot Games set for the season three championship. That’s a figure that increased over 20-fold from the prize pool in season one.
These games are all presented in the same way you would expect any sporting event to be broadcasted, heavily blurring the line between watching an NFL match on Sunday to a professional game of League of Legends. Every match features a play-by-play announcer and an analyst by his side to guide viewers through the action, and between games, a “SportsCenter”-esque analyst desk with five experts who talk viewers through and recap games.
It seems so surreal that eSports have enjoyed nearly exponential growth in the past two years, to the point where millions of people in the gaming community are watching and idolizing professional players excel at their jobs, and standing behind a team just as they would in watching any conventional sport. In fact, the United States government is beginning to recognize professional gamers as professional athletes, allowing international players to obtain a visa and compete in the U.S. under that title.
At this rate, it may be only a matter of time until we see an ESPN broadcast of a big eSporting event, or Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith looking ridiculous on “First Take” while duking it out over the next Tim Tebow of the professional gaming world.