League of Legends Seeks eSports Crown

Riot Games wants League of Legends to become the premiere eSports game. They’re offering a five million dollar prize pool in tournaments this year, the largest in eSports history. The Season 2 World Championship Tournament in Los Angeles features a 3 million dollar top prize. 12 teams will compete in the World Championship, determined by regional finals.

League is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) that grew from a game that spun off from Defense of the Ancients (itself a spinoff of World of Warcraft III) with players taking on the roles of Champions for their team and defending one of three lanes against enemy Champions and their attacking minions. Killing enemy Champions and destroying their defenses brings on the Super Minions, and from there it’s time to go and crush the enemy’s base, thereby winning the game.

Getting into the competition isn’t easy. Players are required to have a certain Elo score (used for opponent matchmaking) and access to a certain number of Champions. Being able to work with your team is a given, and then there’s the time factor. Many people who’d like to play competitively just don’t have the resources to be able to do so.

The strategy of Riot Games from the beginning was to promote League of Legends as a sport. League’s Spectator Mode allows players to watch featured competitive matches or even a friend’s game. In addition to Spectator Mode, and adding to the “sports” feel is the practice of players live-streaming their matches, with some online outlets charging a Pay-Per-View fee to watch tournaments. In 2011 almost 1.7 million people tuned in to watch the end tournaments over 3 days. League was the most streamed game in February 2012.

Riot co-founder Marc Merrill added that more than two million live viewers watch each circuit event, which is “a bigger audience than a Major League Baseball game on ESPN. It’s incredible to think about.” League is making eSports more popular and bringing them to a wider audience than previous games have done. They have tournaments all over the world and their fanbase is growing larger and larger. Will other eSports pros see the prizes their League counterparts are competing for and decide to give it a shot?