Video game competitions have been around since the 70’s, the first major public competition was arguably The Space Invaders Championship in 1980, but The Cambridge Dictionary defines esports as “the activity of playing computer games against other people on the internet, often for money, and often watched by other people using the internet, sometimes at special organized events”.
Considering the modern day definition of esports it is safe to say that Riot Games, the makers of League of Legends, was the first to actually organize a professional league and make gaming a lucrative profession.
How it began
Marc Merrill, co-founder of Riot Games, recalls that in the early days, not a lot of people at the company had faith in the future of competitive play. LoL was successful but it was still a game like lots of others in the genre. With time, and gathered data, the proponents of Merrill’s idea outnumbered the opponents. Thus in 2011 the first League of Legends Championship took place in Jönköping, Sweden.
The success of the first championship was overwhelming, thousands showed up at the arena to watch the contestants live and hundreds of thousands followed the games online. More than anyone in the company had anticipated.
With the success they experienced in Sweden, Riot was convinced that they are on the right track. As the concept of computer gaming events was quite new and explaining the game play to an outsider was not that simple, the company was having problems getting mainstream outlets on board. This left Riot with no other choice as to take things in their own hands and to develop the League Championship Series by themselves. The aim was to make the game more like a real sport, with teams, a schedule and paid players.
Where it stands now
When Riot Games first developed LoL they had to decide between the conventional way of publishing a paid package or offering free game play and earning on in-game purchases. As we all know they chose the latter, this decision was crucial in attracting the masses and making the game so popular. It was a bumpy road until the game actually turned profits but it was worth it.
The League of Legends World Championship evolved to one of the best esport’s leagues, if not the best. The opening ceremonies are packed with crowds and famous music acts, as you can see in the teaser below. Players, teams and sponsors are making millions. Riot believes that the key to the event’s success is the focus on the players. Fans celebrate the teams and their players just like their counterparts in real sports. Top players are treated like pop stars and can make as much money as pop stars.
The success was not by chance, Riot Games knew from the start that the Championship only stood a chance if it was planned and executed professionally. That is why they hired experts with a track record in big events to help out, nevertheless relying on their own experience to shape the tournament the way they thought an esports event should be.
Riot put their money on the right horse when they decided to keep the game free and earn money on in-game purchases. It is estimated that eight million play LoL daily, the skins and currency, Riot Points, have real market value outside the game. Louis Vuitton has jumped in as a sponsor and designed skins for the more prominent female champions in the game and sites like Gamehag give away free rp points as rewards for players on their own platform.
Another key factor to the success of the Championship is the money involved, players earn six to seven digit dollar incomes and tournament prize pools are in the millions; breaking records every year. This encourages more people to play LoL and attracts larger investment sums, which in return makes the Championship even more attractive for fans and competitors.
As the Washington Post puts it, the League of Legends World Championship is the Super Bowl of esports.
The esports market is growing at a rapid rate. With or without Riot Game’s initiatives, it was inevitable that esports would grow in popularity. Battles between surrogates is a part of Sci-Fi culture and we always manage to follow course in real life.
There are different opinions on how much the global esport’s market is actually worth, estimates are between $800 million to a few billion. Yet everyone agrees that the market is on an upwards trajectory.
Find more statistics at Statista