League of Legends' aspiration to evolve from eSport to traditional sport
During the introductory presentation about Riot Games and their eSports plans with their cofounder Brandon Beck on October 12th, something dawned on me. Electronic sports are growing globally, and in many ways, League of Legends is the catalyst to cause this market to prevail. After hearing Beck’s presentation, and then the AMA with Beck and Riot’s other cofounder Mark Merrill, it hit me; one day, eSports could be on par with more traditional sports (i.e. baseball, football, basketball).
Culturally speaking, gaming is slowly becoming more mainstream worldwide. I feel the word “slowly” can’t be emphasized enough. In some cultures — let’s use the extreme and say Korea — eSports already rivals traditional sports. With news coverage, television channels and video game personalities/celebrities already in existence, Korea has become a true “Mecca” of eSports. The rest of the world just has to play catch up before gaming becomes as accepted.
Why do we watch sports? Brandon Beck’s answer was to watch super human feats, to see people compete at the very top level of athleticism, to witness team rivals clash, to learn from the best, pick up tips, and to have a bunch of like-minded people to watch and cheer for the same team together. Sports have become a cultural movement throughout history; why can’t eSports reach that sort of level of prestige and respectability?
What separates eSports from traditional sports? The quick answer is ‘tradition.’ While eSports isn’t new, it is still young. Traditional sports have the advantage of having roots that are over hundreds of years old and scattered across the entire world. Beck mentioned that the sports we watch now have legacy, maturity and coaching. This means that sports have had years upon years to evolve into what we have today. This results in generations of players, varying levels of experience and knowledge of the sport. It would be hard to argue that eSports is even on its second generation yet. In this sense, there isn’t much enthusiasts can do but wait for eSports to mature some more.
The Riot Games motto believes that eSports can reach that same level as traditional sports though. The founders don’t seem to believe in sitting back, waiting for times to become more successful, or even just to await an opportunity. The LoL founders defend a rapid moving, mistake potential, constantly evolving movement. Brandon Beck said, “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not moving fast enough.” Riot keeps pushing the envelope on itself to see what greater feat they can accomplish. Due to this, mistakes and new situations are inevitable; it’s not only how the company deals with these issues though but how it also learns from them for the future.
Riot's involvement in the eSport scene is not to just make League of Legends better, but to enhance eSports as a whole. The Riot founders believe that eSports enhance the overall experience. The combination of the teams, rivalries, individuals, fans and players adds that extra level of entertainment and even gameplay. They have admitted that putting on these enormous live spectacles of eSports events loses Riot money — but it is great for both the LoL and eSport community; Riot even supports other eSport games, including other MOBAs. If the players and fans want to watch the League of Legends finals in a proper sporting arena, Riot is going to give their fans just that. When all is boiled down, it’s a very simple equation; the more a developer values the player, the more involvement the developer will get out of the player.
The role of the player is one that absolutely can’t be ignored when talking about the success of eSports. Ultimately, the players are the ones that are going to make a game popular; players will define how big eSports will become. If the passion is there and remains there, then eSports can only expand. The more people who get involved, the more video games will become mainstream in differing societies. With more online viewers than televised baseball games, and with sold out live venues, I can make an educated guess that Riot is moving in the right direction.
From my personal observations from the season 2 championship finals, the energy there was intense. The level of energy there was comparable to college football rivalry games. The fans had signs, were screaming, chanting and beating out rhythms which the entire stadium which would grow, like a slow clap. There were pro player interviews, pro players having "personalities," side line fan attention, t-shirt guns, replays with screen drawing to show plays, shout casters, and even a Stanley Cup-esque trophy which will have champion teams engraved on it.
Culture and traditions are already present, as well. The whole cheering when wards are destroyed started in this LoL playoff series (thanks to CLG.EU's gameplay), and despite the lack of turtle matches in the finals, this new tradition still carried over. I assume this tradition will hold over into season 3 and probably the entirety of live League of Legends matches. Other aspects of LoL culture include the patented Snoopeh stare, David ‘Phreak’ Turley’s famous saying “tons of damage,” the “It’s K” Gangplank oranges, and the Soraka bananas, to name a few. For only just finishing season 2, the traditions have already started writing themselves in the history of LoL’s evolution.
The eSport ecosystem is young, and Riot wants to make sure they both influence it and help make it a stronger beast. With the drive to construct a professional sport, they know they need to be proactive and not just sit on their hands and accept compromises. By jumping straight into the deep end, they’ve make a splash that the world is noticing. As season 2 ended October 13th, Riot has successfully hosted an event in a venue that held 10 thousand screaming fans for a prize pool which is the largest in eSports history; we can't forget the millions of viewers via internet streaming, and even coverage from news outlet like NBC and Forbes. With season 3 on the rise, eSports growing, salaried teams (Championship Series) on the horizon, and League of Legends continually snowballing in popularity… perhaps becoming a mainstream sport isn’t an unachievable goal.