More progression towards Riot’s League of Legends becoming a traditional sport
During E3 2013, I had the opportunity to interview Riot Games' eSports Manager, Nick Allen, about some competitive aspects about League of Legends. Towards the end of season two, Riot co-founder Brendan Beck spoke about the direction League of Legends is taking with eSports and I was able to continue this conversation with Mr. Allen. Has LoL evolved past eSports into an actual sport?
Only a few weeks ago, the first LCS All-star break occurred, and eSports have cemented a huge place in the heads of gamers and fans as a result. People from all over the world went to Shanghai to watch the matches live, while hundreds of thousands more watched from the comfort of their own homes. More people are watching these matches than, say, an American baseball game. League of Legends hasn't just become big, it’s become huge.
An interesting question emerges: What is so different from Western culture compared to, say, Korea's culture? The quick answer is a lot. The whole Internet cafe scene plays into the larger spectrum of simply how Koreans play video games. While the west is virtually attached to other players - Korea is physically playing with others players. This makes for a culture that is more widely accepting of video games. Pro gaming can be seen as more mainstream and even a possible career path. Only the absolute best of the best can make careers out of playing video games in America.
These top-tier players aren’t just eAthletes but simply athletes. There is a mental drain on these competitors that rivals that of any other sport. At the highest level, you are competing at a game that demands the greatest of strategies and coordination to win. Even as the mental aspect of the game is the majority of victory, you still need the physical skill and ability to win these challenging games. Knowing exactly what do to at every moment is still not enough if you can't execute what needs to be done when it needs to be done.
The viability of League of Legends as a career choice becomes even more apparent when you look at the 'out of game' cultures and occupations forming. Jobs such as managers, coaches, and scouts are coming out of the void where nothing like this has ever existed. With teams come those to both instruct them tactically and to instruct them from a business standpoint.
North American team CLG recently saw one of their players, HotShotGG, stand down to start coaching is forming generational players. With a relatively new sport like League of Legends, you don't have those players with 30+ years of experience that have studied the game their entire life to coach - instead you have these 2-3 year veterans that have experienced the limelight and know the tactics of the game better than anyone. Suddenly, we have a tier of pro players teaching younger pro players.
The scouts are perhaps the most interesting new component to me. These people know the game so well that they can scout new players to possibly join teams or even work for a team to look for weaknesses in their opponents. Much like knowing certain pitches a batter may never swing at or has a poor percentage of hitting, these scouts look at pro LoL players to see if perhaps when dodging a skill shot they always dodge down. Not only is this a real thing, there are people whose job is to know this stuff to help their team win.
It makes me curious to wonder how long until there is a League of Legends minor league? How long until a team like CLG has a feeder team for new talent. Different regions play the game in drastically different ways. Whose way is the best? This is a worldwide game where the best teams need to know how to both adapt to and defeat certain tactics.
The moral of this story is that eSports culture is growing into a beast that is becoming more sports-like every day. The in-game and out-of-game tactics are evolving, and teams as a whole are getting smarter. Every new breakthrough creates a new tactic and new counter - all that build upon each other.
This is how sports solidify themselves. This is how League of Legends solidifies itself as a sport.