Teams competing with millions of dollars at stake. Season, playoffs and championship rounds featuring the best of the best in heated tournaments until a winner is crowned. And viewership that trumps the NHL.
Forget any type of athletics you’re thinking about, because what I’m talking about is the world of eSports, and more specifically, the upcoming season of “League of Legends,” in which professional gamers have quit their jobs (yes, you can make that much loot!) in order to pursue the title and split the multimillion-dollar prize pool with teammates.
And your mom told you you’d never accomplish anything playing video games. If anything, you should’ve spent more time practicing.
The “League of Legends” regular-season kicks off with the next patch (should be within a week), and according to Riot Games, the company is taking their cues from the sports world in order to deliver a more competitive product.
“Fans have always wanted eSports to be on the same playing field as traditional sports, but it hasn’t really gotten there,” said Dustin Beck, vice president of eSports for Riot. “One of the reasons for that has been a lack of structure. We looked at what the NFL’s doing, what FIFA’s doing, and we created this league that now has consistent programming four days a week, and we’re giving compensation to these teams so they’re actually making legitimate salaries so they can focus on ‘League of Legends’ as their viable career path.”
Players are now living in gaming houses and practicing for events up to 15 hours per day. If only Riot would provide maid services. I can already envision the bottles of Mountain Dew littering the floor.
“Players and fans love eSports, but this structure is really about building the foundation,” said Riot’s senior eSports manager, Whalen Rozelle. “We’re hoping to build a Monday Night Football-type experience where you can see an exciting, high-production-value show. With this structure we are setting up, fans will be able to tune in Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and see their favorite teams play. We created a studio in Los Angeles and hired producers with backgrounds from the NFL and the Olympics in order to do that type of storytelling that they do so well in pro sports.”
One story Riot will be pushing includes the founder of a team whose parents stopped talking to him when he decided to pursue “League of Legends” as a profession. His franchise is now worth more than a million dollars, according to Riot.
“There are so many stories, and we’re really just scratching the surface,” Beck said. “We’re going to have cameras following these players as they qualify for events and move to the gaming houses in L.A. to pursue this as their career.”
It’s a career that includes not only gaming, but media interviews, production schedules, and a strict regimen of practice and strategy sessions.
Added Beck: “With the league, we’ve been able to mimic a traditional sports structure. The season is going to be 11 weeks, and each team is going to play the other teams four times each for a total of 28 games. And then there’s a playoffs, and even an All-Star break where we’re going to fly out the best players from around the globe. We’re going to have this All-Star game in China, with ramifications similar to MLB’s home-field advantage. Then we’re going to have a world championship, with a big announcement coming soon about the venue.
“There have been eSports events in Korea with over 100,000 attendants, and we see that as something in our near-term horizon. For us, it’s go big or go home.”