I know what you’re thinking.
“eSports is just a fad. It’ll be gone in a few years.”
“Videogaming isn’t a sport.”
To this, I present to you… Toronto’s Air Canada Centre this past Sunday:
If you closed your eyes you could’ve mistaken the roaring crowd for an NBA play off game. And that is what a sold out arena with ~20,000 attendees looks like for The League of Legends North America Summer Finals.
For the uninitiated: League of Legends is Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (“MOBA”) game developed by Riot Games in 2009. Its deep level of strategy and ultra-dedicated, growing fanbase has made it the #1 most popular PC gaming in the world, with 12 million people playing each day, and an estimated ~32 million unique players every month (Source: Nowloading).
For the record- I’ve played League of Legends before. And I’m pretty terrible at it. Which is why I have a big appreciation for the level of skill shown by the pros.
I expected the LoL NA Finals event to be busy. But when I embarked on the trip to downtown Toronto, it was only when I saw more U.S. and out-of-province license plates on the road than local ones did I finally realize how big this event was going to be.
And for that day’s match up, we saw SoloMid (TSM) face off against Cloud9 (“C9”) for the Finals. And judging by the crowd’s near-deafening chanting and cheers TSM was the crowd favourite. So you can imagine the crowd’s reaction when C9 beat TSM in the 1st round. TSM would go on to win the North American finals, and take the $50,000 prize pool (2nd place got $25,000).
Four big things stood out to me. First, was the professional management of these teams. The teams have full-time managers, sponsors, and press conferences. They. Are. Serious. And I mean this in the best way possible. They put work into marketing these teams, and making sure that these world class events happen without a hitch.
The second was the loyalty of the fans to their favourite teams. Many attendees were holding homemade signs with not-so-secret messages for their favourite players, and signs that were created for the sole purpose of trolling the opposing team. I even saw a flag-bearer waving a big flag bearing the TSM logo on it… and nearly shed a majestic tear. Just as any Toronto Raptors fan will shell out big bucks for an official ‘We The North’ jersey or T-shirt and hashtag #GoJaysGo #WeTheNorth on the daily, these teams’ fans are all too line up to buy a jersey emblazoned with their favourite team’s logo and rally behind their team on social media.
The third thing that impressed was the fans. The League of Legends eSports fan isn’t anything like the casual baseball fan who needs to be distracted by the arena DJ’s “EVERYBODY CLAP ‘YO HANDS” anthem (not a crack at arena DJs! They do a good, important job. Really.). At the LoL NA Finals, every attendee was dialed into the action. Mentally, and silently breaking down the gameplay strategies that they saw unfolding in front of them. The stadium was eerily quiet during the action, and would quickly explode into excitement whenever there was a good kill.
Fourth was the production quality behind this event. You’ve seen the pictures. But even before the event kicked off in Toronto at 3PM EST we were watching a live cast of the League of Legends Europe finals in Berlin. And once that match finished Riot Games’ beautifully transitioned the event (live) from Berlin to Toronto. It isn’t often that you can experience an international event across multiple timezones like that, and watch the excitement pour over the Atlantic and onto Canadian shorelines.
All in all, I loved attending this event. The fans were excited but civil, and really showed their love for the sport.
Mark my words- eSports is here to stay.
A big thank you to Riot Games’ Lisa Neshanian and Aditya Prabaswara Prayitno for making my attendance to this event possible.