League of Legends 2013 World Championship at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Over 100 million people play League of Legends. It’s popularity has grown exponentially; some of its matches are played in basketball arenas (Los Angeles Lakers’ Staples Center) and soccer stadiums (Seoul’s World Cup Stadium) that house over forty thousand fans. Electronic sports (eSports) have apparently come out of nowhere and have continued to grow in popularity and revenue. eSports have recently began to be broadcast on cable, on channels as big as ESPN and The Big Ten Network. I was not surprised at how quickly eSports became not only mainstream but incredibly popular, but more than likely the majority of people would be surprised to realize that eSports consistently have larger audiences than major sports events. While it will be tough for eSports to outcompete the Super Bowl’s 120 million viewers, the League of Legends World Championship in 2014 had more viewers at 27 million than the Masters (25M), the NBA Finals (15M), the Baseball World Series (14M), and the Stanley Cup Finals (5M). The DOTA 2 World Championship had 20 million viewers, as well, so it’s not like League of Legends is the only major eSports game. eSports are a worldwide phenomenon, too. In fact, League of Legends is more popular in Korea, China, and Taiwan than in the United States. Denmark, Russia, France, Germany, Canada, Poland, and Spain also have incredibly large eSports revenue and popularity.
The growth of the eSport industry.
The Internet allowed for these video games to be played between players across the country and across the world. The Internet helped in the development of the eSport world with exponential growth. eSports exploded in the United States with the introduction of the fast-growing League of Legends and its organized tournaments allowed because of the Internet; the origin of the culture of electronic games could traced to South Korea with Starcraft in 1998 and moreso Starcraft II in 2010. Even the average skill level Koreans could obliterate the professional American Starcraft II players just because of how the subculture of Starcraft is injected into the national Korean culture. Everybody plays Starcraft in Korea.
An American League of Legends team (Team Solo Mid Snapdragon) and a Korean team (SK Telecom T1).
As I will talk about later in this post, all the Korean children desire to become the next great professional Starcraft player as American children desire to become the next great Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, or Joe Montana.
eSports have garnered incredible sponsorships as a direct result of its popularity. Coke, Nissan, Logitech, and Red Bull are only some of the major advertisers who take stake in the eSports community. Not all of the revenue goes to the companies who develop and advertise their games; players receive traditional sport salaries. In fact, DOTA 2 and League of Legends world champions make more money than the average NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB player.
There is an incredible eSports community that makes up these millions of fans. They not only play the game, dreaming of becoming the next great champion, but intensely follow their favorite gamers on social media and watch their games live-streamed on Twitch. These players, who may vary considerably in skill level, all strive to become the next Lee Sang-hyeok, or as most everybody knows him, “Faker”.
SK Telecom T1 “Faker”
I actually remember when Faker exploded onto the League of Legends scene with his incredibly fast and precise skills and absurdly ridiculous plays (By the way, he was only 16 when he received worldwide praise). Everybody wanted to emulate his playstyle in their own games. This subculture is extremely powerful. This desire for the community to aspire to become the next Faker is akin to children in the 90’s practicing for hours in their driveway to emulate Michael Jordan and his incredible basketball moves, or the children nowadays trying to perfect the Kobe fadeaway jumper or trying the same kinds of absurd, long-range shots as Stephen Curry. Faker’s sudden influence on Koreans in South Korea and the United States patterns the similar viral explosion that the Chinese-American basketball player Jeremy Lin created in February 2012 (you may remember Linsanity, I certainly do), inspiring Chinese in China and America to play basketball like him. They even made a movie out of it! Linsanity (film)
Linsanity at its peak in February 2012
One of SKT T1 Faker’s signature plays
Michael Jordan’s signature “Air” dunk
Kobe Bryant’s signature fadeaway jumper
Stephen Curry’s signature deep three pull-up
How are the desires to be the next Faker or the next Kobe Bryant different? How are the contents of these athletes’ signature moves different from one another? They aren’t.
If you would like to learn more about eSport history, games, design, competition, teams, or media coverage, I encourage you to check out the eSports Wikipedia page. The League of Legends Wikipedia page also gives information on its explosive popularity boom and current state.
Next time I will talk about Millennials (oh boy).