League of Legends (LoL), a free arena battle game put out by Riot Games, logs an average of 27 million players active every day according to this Forbes article, and over 67 million different players on a monthly basis. The game’s most popular mode pits teams of 5 players against one another in order to defeat each other’s characters and destroy the other team’s towers.
What this looks like, at first glance, is just a popular video game. However, electronic sports (ESports for short) such as this game have become increasingly popular to the point that there is significant money, time, and effort invested in games such as this one. Tournaments happen regularly, and there even is a world championship. The community has become so large and the fans so loyal that numerous gamers have been able to make fortunes playing the games as full-time careers, just like professional athletes are able to do.
Throughout my experience in college, I knew people who were avid players of the game, but also were enormous fans of the best teams, and watched the 2015 World Championships religiously. Not being a player of League of Legends or many of the popular ESports games, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the event. When SK Telecom 1 beat KOO Tigers on Halloween 2015 for the World Championship, the final tally counted over 36 million viewers of the final matchup. Fans filled up arenas like the Staples Center to watch on giant screens, and millions of others watched live streams on their computers and televisions.
To put these crazy numbers into perspective, tv ratings show that last year’s Stanley Cup Finals series averaged just under 5 millions viewers each game, under 15% of the LoL championship final. The NBA Finals, pitting the Warriors and Cavaliers, averaged 20 million viewers a game, an ABC record according to Forbes.com. So combined, an average game of both the NHL and NBA finals wouldn’t top the LoL championship COMBINED!!
Part of the reason that ESports, specifically League of Legends, is so popular is that it captivates a world-wide audience. Similar to soccer, the rules are the same everywhere, and it is played anywhere that people have a computer and internet access. Players who enjoy the free games at home are mixed with those who are playing anywhere else around the globe, unifying players from wherever they are.
Another possibility of why ESports are so popular might have to do with the fact that the “athletes” are relatable. In direct contrast to many of the popular professional sports that we watch (Football, Soccer, Basketball, etc.) the athletes in traditional professional sports are almost super-human. They are able to pull off athletic endeavors we might not dream of doing in our lives. However, ESports athletes look, sound, and act like some regular people, without incredibly athletic builds (in fact some could use a decent workout and a couple salads). The fact that people can see themselves in these professionals, and play the exact same game on the exact same platform. I will never be on an NFL field, but the people who watch and play the game know exactly what is happening on the battlefield, and thus have even more respect for what the professionals pull off.
Though I can’t say that I plan on becoming a fan any time soon, you really have to give it to the loyal fans of these ESports communities, and how rapidly they have turned what was originally just a computer game into a whole sport and lifestyle.
Whether you like it or not, plan on joining in or not, or are anywhere in between, just know this; the community is only going to get bigger. The crowds will be larger, there will be more money in the industry, and more people will try and become professional gamers. It’s not going anywhere.
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