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GDC: How Sports Coverage Influenced ‘League of Legends’ Esports

Dustin Beck, Chairman of the League of Legends Championship Series, the Riot Games sponsored esports league, revealed today how much baseball, basketball, and other real world sports have influenced the state of competitive gaming today.

Today, League of Legends dominates as the most-played game worldwide. The popularity of esports leagues, from the LCS here in North America and Europe to the LPL in China, has never been bigger. And it’s growing.

League of Legends is the fastest growing sport ever,” Beck says. “In some markets, like China, it’s the #1 sport. Period.”

However, this wasn’t always the case. Beck and his team, along with Riot, looked to traditional sports coverage for guidance in growing the nascent competitive scene. During its infancy, League of Legends esports was a fractured collection of independent and sponsored tournaments.  Beck looked to what he called “aspirational heroes” like Kobe Bryant as models for what an esports player could hope to become. “To be at their best,” Beck says, “the sport deserves pros with dedicated careers.”

Riot’s creation of the LCS format was their solution to a consistency problem. Without regularly scheduled events, players couldn’t have a reliable source of income, and without steady opportunities to watch professional-level competitions, fans couldn’t nurture their fandom for specific teams and players. While we do see player volatility in esports, more and more League of Legends is retaining a group of teams and players across competitive seasons, and fans are paying attention.

On top of consistency, Beck added inclusiveness and quality as two central pillars of League of Legends‘ esports success. This year at the upcoming World Championship Series, League fans have the opportunity to see matches across the U.S., at venues where audience excitement is front and center. As Beck explains, the intent has always been to make something more inclusive than, say, the Super Bowl, where few fans have the opportunity to travel to the one location and spend upwards of $10,000 for a ticket. “High ticket costs would price out our best fans,” Beck says, and the team knows how many of their player base are young and unable to afford high event prices.

League of Legends at the Staples Center

Nevertheless, Riot has also taken a lesson from traditional sports coverage in investing in the quality of their live events and streams. Today, League of Legends esports fans can see play-by-play commentary popular in traditional sports broadcast coverage. Likewise, Riot’s shoutcasters and analysts have all received extensive training, from basic speech best-practices to learning how to riff during technical errors. Many of these lessons came from a need to catch up to the rigor of traditional sports coverage. Riot even went so far as to consider hiring esports cheerleaders — which they thankfully decided against.

Now Beck is looking to the future, beyond what even traditional sports coverage has accomplished. According to Beck, second-screen consumption of esports is an important landscape to consider and his team is always looking to support players hoping to land more top-tier sponsors. With the news today that Shaquille O’Neal is investing in League of Legends team NRG, it’s easy to agree with Beck in saying “this is only the beginning.”

 


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