ESPN President John Skipper was famously dismissive of the idea of gaming as a spectator sport, which is often called “eSports”.
“It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition….Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports,” he said at a tech conference two years ago.
Hit downtown Toronto this weekend and you’ll learn how off the mark the greying ESPN exec really was about eSports. The North American League of Legends (LoL) LCS Summer tournament is under way at the Air Canada Centre, but if you are looking to check out what 20,000 people cheering on a few specialists in a 3D, third-person multiplayer online battle looks like you are out of luck, because the event is sold out, with tickets fetching between $30 for upper bowl and $50 for the lower bowl on Saturday and bumping up to $35 to $60 for Sunday’s final.
That’s right. The Raptors and Leafs won’t begin play for weeks yet and Kanye West isn’t scheduled to show up until Tuesday for his two night stand. But that won’t stop fans from filling the arena to see teams like “Cloud9” and “TSM” who will be going head to head on Sunday August 28th in the final match of the summer series tournament.
And just like real sports, there’s big money on the line. The world championship match, which will be held later this year, pays out prize money of just under $3-million Canadian total, and about half of that for the winner. That’s more than six times what Lebron James gets paid, per game.
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League of Legends is an Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game that released in October of 2009. The game has developed a very large following since its release and continues to grow rapidly. LoL has received two Golden Joystick awards and a nomination for 2015’s eSport Game of the year award. The game is free to play and stays on its feet by selling players cosmetic character changes called “skins” and also other minor in game bonuses.
The League of Legends Championship Series is one of two professional League of Legends eSports leagues run by developer Riot Games. The game attracts most of its audience by online streaming through Twitch, where more than 200,000 have viewed a single tournament game. But physical events have become increasingly popular; last year’s final was held at Madison Square Garden in New York, and an All Star event will happen this December in Barcelona.
Despite huge international success, there hasn’t been much attention given to the Canadian LoL following up until now.
“For a lot of Canadian fans – and there is a massive Canadian fan base … there’s always been a feeling of being neglected a little bit, or being shunned,” says retired pro gamer Isaac “Azael” Cummings Bentley, who is from Kingston, Ontario and now serves as an eSports commenter. “(This) means a lot to me,” he adds.
eSports can be traced back to 1972 at Stanford University with a game called SpaceWar. The winner of that tournament took home a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. Since that fist tournament the prize’s have risen dramatically. In 2015 eSports tournaments generated $325 million dollars from popular games such as LoL, Dota 2, Starcraft 2, and Counter Strike GO.