Written by: Chelsi Mackie
Grab the beers, burgers and the 60-inch flat screen television. Call all your friends and tell them to come over because we’re watching one of the biggest annual sporting events of all time. Is it the Super Bowl? No. I’m talking about the League of Legends World Championship Finals.
In as little as five years, the peak concurrent viewership for the League of Legends World Championship Finals – colloquially known as “Worlds” – was at a humble two million viewers. For last year’s championship, Worlds 2023, that number tripled itself to a whopping 6.5 million viewers. This made it the most popular esports match and event of all time. People are opening themselves up to a whole new world of fun and excitement: Esports.
And it’s time for you to join the club.
The word “esports” is pronounced “E-sports” and is an abbreviation for “electronic sports.” Esports players usually operate in online teams that play against each other in multiplayer, computer-based video games. Compared to other multiplayer games, esports fall under a different category of its own: competitive gaming. Esports players train like other traditional athletes and compete seriously in tournaments spectated by thousands or even millions of people to win glory and very attractive cash prizes.
But with the rise in popularity of virtual, electronic sports, where does that leave traditional sports? The Covid-19 lockdown forced us to find new ways to enjoy our favourite games, turning a football match at the park into an online round of FIFA with friends over Zoom. It’s no coincidence that esports saw a surge in popularity during the pandemic. It has, quite literally, shifted the playing field of how we view sports.
To put it into more numerical context, the winner’s cash prize for Worlds 2023 was a pretty US$2.2 million. In the past year, the game itself generated about US$1.8 billion in worldwide revenue, comparable to that of the Super Bowl and World Cup in recent years. When it comes to athletes, the highly decorated Lee “Faker” Sanghyuk is considered the greatest League player of all time, with an estimated net worth of US$25 million, excluding his part-ownership and shares in his team’s company, T1 Entertainment & Sports.
Dare I say it, Faker is to League of Legends what Lionel Messi is to football.
Held at the Gocheok Sky Dome in South Korea, the Worlds Finals has an explosive and cinematic opening ceremony, with the highlight being the event’s feature song, not unlike the annual World Cup song. In 2023, the Worlds song was performed by K-Pop idol group NewJeans, with an appearance by fellow K-Pop superstar Byun Baekhyun.
Launched in 2009 by major American game developer, publisher and esports organizer Riot Games, League of Legends is like an esports ‘blueprint’. It has seen consistent growth in both revenue and popularity over the years, enough to gain sponsorship from some recognizable names like Amazon Web Services (AWS), MasterCard, Mercedes Benz and more. In the Worlds Finals, the top teams battle against each other for the coveted Summoner’s Cup, shiny hardware crafted by none other than Tiffany & Co. - the same company that produces the NFL’s Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But League is only part of esports’ full range and potential. It’ll only go up from here. So, pour the beverages, load up on snacks and turn on a huge television, yes, but also, grab your computer, keyboard and headset, because it’s time to play.