A New Sports League: League of Legends - Network Week


By Mark Falanga

Photo courtesy of Marco Verch.

It goes without saying the personal computer is one of the most amazing inventions of all time. It can type, do a spreadsheet, defend ancient realms, build an army to destroy space insects, or try to destroy your opponent’s base. If those last three options don’t sound familiar to you, then it seems you’ve never heard of LAN parties.

A LAN party is a temporary gathering of video game players who establish a local area network, or LAN, and play a video game together over their computers. What started out as a curiosity in the early 1990’s has exploded in popularity since then. In fact, an event in Sweden called Dreamhack is considered by the event organizers to be the largest LAN party in the world, wiring up to 12,000 computers on a single network.

The game of choice that has a rabid worldwide community is a new one that’s taking the world by storm. It’s fast paced, competitive, and blends the elements of speed and intensity. Two teams of powerful champions, each with a unique design and play style, battle head-to-head across multiple battlefields.

Sounds exciting, no? What new game is this? You won’t find it being played on fields or on TV. It’s called League of Legends, a computer game released by Riot Games. Just how popular is this video game? According to Forbes magazine, it’s the most played computer game in the world. In 2012, gamers logged 1.3 billion hours of time playing that game, far more than the second place game, World of Warcraft, in which gamers only played 600 million hours.

Part of the appeal may be that the gameplay can be customized in a number of ways. Long gone are the days of choosing two identical characters, like Mario or Luigi. League of Legends boasts 116 different “champions” to choose from, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses.

You then use that champion to defeat your opponent’s base called a Nexus. But before you do that, there are lanes to conquer, minions to kill, and inhibitors to topple, all while also killing members of the other team. Games take place over the internet, or a LAN, where you can challenge teams from all over the world.

But why is this game so successful? Other games have come before it, like Defense of the Ancients, a custom game for Warcraft III, but none have achieved the popularity of it. To find out why, BTR asked League of Legends gamer, Frank Florio of East Stroudsburg, PA, what he thinks.

“While it’s true that there are several other games which offer similar game play, and I’ve played all of them…none of them have the large community League of Legends commands,” said Florio, “and I feel that makes a huge difference when deciding on a game to play.”

The community that Florio refers to is the message boards on the official League of Legends website, which has garnered nearly 3 million posts since the game was released in 2009.

The appeal of this game is not just in the United States, but all across the world. “Europe, China, and Korea all have well established and strong League of Legends followings, even larger than the USA,” said Florio, “I feel this also gives League of Legends a very strong advantage over its competitors.” Florio then went on to explain that Riot Games wants to recruit more countries to play this game, to make it a truly global experience. This international flavor can sometimes see rivalries between countries that were once only reserved for the Olympics.

“There are also tournaments and competitions that are held between countries,” said Florio, “creating rivalries such as Europe vs USA which are really enjoyable for all of us fans.”

How many fans? Well, if it was gauged by this year’s League of Legends World Championship in Los Angeles, California, 13,000 people packed the Staples Center, which is normally used for the NBA’s Clippers and Lakers, not to mention roughly 1 million watching online across YouTube Live, Twitch.tv, and Azubu TV.

The audience watched as Korea’s SK Telecom defeated China’s Royal Club to win their first ever title, not to mention $1 million. That’s right, $1 million for playing a video game!

As this becomes more popular, it’s getting respect not only from the sporting community, but the United States Government as well. This year, US Immigration Services, granted a special athlete visa to Danny “Shiphtur” Le, of Edmonton, Canada, so he could compete in the world championship. It’s believed that he is the first professional gamer to receive this distinction that’s normally reserved for more traditional sports like baseball or basketball. “It’s kind of so big — actually kind of mind-blowing — that there’s a demand for visas for League of Legends,” said Le, to the LA Times.

So with such a large community, corporate sponsored teams, and now recognizing these gamers as athletes, is this the dawn of a new sport?

“If you asked me that question only last year, I’d have said no,” said Florio, “but after seeing the strides made this year by Riot Games in making League of Legends into a whole e-sports community, I don’t doubt that it will have its place very soon.”