'League of Legends' players become eSport stars

Mar 08, 2014 by Glenn Chapman
Team members including "Krepo" of the "Evil Genius" team are seen on the screen during the live taping of the League of Legends North American Championship Series Spring round robin competition, in Manhattan Beach, California February 22, 2014

In front of a rapt audience in a Los Angeles film lot, Krepo hooks an enemy with his scythe and harvests virtual souls with a signature move called a "death sentence".

The grim scene played out time and again as Krepo and his Evil Geniuses team battled to victory in a "League of Legends" computer game match broadcast to viewers around the world.

After the triumph, Krepo—a 23-year-old Belgian whose real name is Mitch Voorspoels and plays the game as the dreaded character Thresh—was swarmed by fans hungry for autographs and photos.

Welcome to the booming world of "eSports," where seemingly sun-starved players compete with their wits and a few mouse clicks.

"Professional gaming has been trying for years and years to catch on and now it is suddenly spreading like wildfire," said long-time game analyst Scott Steinberg, now general manager of Phoenix Online Publishing.

"League of Legends draws a die-hard crowd, constantly hungry to learn more."

League play with characters such as mages, assassins, and marksmen is so visually compelling and action-packed that it is a natural for online viewing, according to Steinberg.

Celebrity status

League of Legends is the king of the hot trend in videogame play as a spectator sport, complete with sold-out stadiums and fans camping all night for tickets to matches.

"Playing League has earned us a bit of celebrity status," Voorspoels said after stepping away from a sea of adorers. "I don't think that is something any pro player dreamed of at the start."

Voorspoels began playing League while at university in Belgium because it is free, and online bouts—in which teams of five players each battle to capture opponents' bases—last about as long as a decent study break.

"Basically, it is a 30- to 40-minute slaughter of people trying to kill each other to get to the other base," Voorspoels said. "On the best level, it becomes a chess match—you want to outsmart your opponents."

The diversion from studying engineering became a priority. Voorspoels quit school to play League for a living.

Big name sponsors

His team's sponsors include Monster Energy drinks and high-performance computer gear maker Razer.

Coca-Cola recently became a backer of the League championship series run by Riot Games, the company behind the eSport sensation.

"Some games are like movies, and some are like amusement parks," Riot Games co-founder and chief Brandon Beck said in a statement.

"League of Legends is like a sport."

Belgian player Mitch "Krepo" Voorspoels of League of Legends team Evil Geniuses poses at the MBS Media Campus in Manhattan Beach, California February 22, 2014

Last year, the US State Department began letting League players train and compete here under the same type of work visas provided to athletes in soccer, baseball and other pro sports.

Voorspoels's international team lives in a house on the Los Angeles coast, not far from the headquarters of Riot Games. A live-in coach keeps them battle-ready.

"The first years, it was rough, a risk, but as time has gone by it has exploded," Voorspoels said of going pro.

Million-dollar prize

League seasons culminate with top teams from North America, Europe, and Asia fighting for the crown and a top prize of $1 million. Players and fans depict the South Korean teams as undisputed "gods" of eSports.

The League championship at the roughly 18,000-seat Staples Center in Los Angeles sold out last year in an hour.

Matches play out on stage, with team members sitting game show-style at computers and giant monitors displaying close-ups of their faces and imagery of clashes on the virtual battlefield.

Announcers referred to as "shoutcasters" deliver animated commentary, and analysts assess play between bouts.

Matches are broadcast online using platforms such as YouTube and Twitch TV. The latter also powers videogame play sharing features on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One consoles.

Twitch vice president of marketing Matthew DiPietro put eSports on par with traditional sports, saying both take dedication, training, skill and mental agility.

He described the League viewing audience as something television or cable shows might envy.

"You can watch just like you are watching a football game," DiPietro said. "You have celebrities people like to cheer for and pariahs people like to boo at."

Riot provides bird's eye perspectives on play, and focuses on making action pop out for viewers, according to League lead game designer Ryan Scott.

"Big moments happen in team skirmishes that allow for big plays and stars to arise," Scott told AFP. "That is a big reason League has taken off as an eSport."

Shoutcasters

Shoutcasters, all former players, do "an awesome job" of keeping spectators up on what is happening, Scott said.

"It's a romp," said California university student and League lover Mitchell Kernot.

"I know the thrill of an open back door and the pain of a lost baron fight. There is a lot going on for me when I watch League."

More than 67 million people play League every month, with the number taking part simultaneously during peak times topping 7.5 million, according to Riot, in which Chinese Internet titan Tencent has a majority stake.

Privately-held Riot does not disclose earnings figures.

A pro League player's career might typically last three years or so. Shrewd competitors can bankroll their studies or other endeavors, according to Voorspoels, who hopes to become an eSport commentator.

"Pro gaming is pretty cutthroat; there are a lot of people who want to take your job," Voorspoels said. "So there is a lot of pressure, especially if you have a losing streak."

Explore further: Footballers not running for their money

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Videogame play becomes a spectator sport

Jun 07, 2012

Videogame play is becoming a spectator sport. "It is the next evolution in gaming," said Matthew DiPietro of TwitchTV, an online platform that enables people to stream play live online.

'League of Legends' champs win in legendary venue

Oct 05, 2013

When it comes to sports, the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles is usually home to award-winning basketball and hockey. However, the behemoth arena hosted a very different kind of competition this weekend: ...

Footballers not running for their money

Dec 20, 2013

Millions of pounds may be splashed on elite footballers in the English Premier League, but it is those who play in the second and third tier of football who run further on the pitch, new research reveals.

China's Tencent buys US Riot Games majority stake

Feb 06, 2011

Chinese Internet firm Tencent has taken a majority stake in US online game developer Riot Games less than two weeks after announcing plans to launch a $760 million fund to invest in such companies.

Recommended for you

Government ups air bag warning to 7.8M vehicles

44 minutes ago

The U.S. government is adding more than 3 million vehicles to a rare warning about faulty air bags that have the potential to kill or injure drivers or passengers in a crash.

HP supercomputer at NREL garners top honor

21 hours ago

A supercomputer created by Hewlett-Packard (HP) and the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that uses warm water to cool its servers, and then re-uses that water to heat its building, has been ...

User comments : 0