League of Legends and the world of eSports

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[Photo by: Julia Pitel]

Imagine a stadium full of screaming fans rooting on their favorite team, with faces painted the colors, and team flags decorating the crowd. Imagine 15,000 people all sitting and watching a single screen that captures the game play of 10 young adults playing a video game.

This is the world of eSports, and it is growing at an incredible rate, with over 30 million people tuning in, according to The Independent.

League of Legends is the biggest eSport in the world, handing out a top prize of $1,000,000 to the winning team that can successfully defeat its opponents in an online multiplayer battle arena, a creation of gaming company Riot.

League of Legends is not the only eSport in the world right now, with Just Dance, Hearthstone, and Dota 2 also playing a role, but it has pulled down the largest numbers, growing from 27 million views of last year’s World Championships to 30 million this year, according to The Daily Dot.

For many people, traditional sports are watching feats of strength of the human body, perform at their highest levels, and show passion, according to several DU students. So what makes playing video games a sport?

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[Photo by: Julia Pitel]

“What do we look for when we watch sports? Competition, dedication, to watch someone perform at the highest level. We see that in eSports as well,” Richard Colby stated.

Colby is a writing professor at The University of Denver (DU), focusing on video game rhetoric and what it means for the future of communication.

So why do more people not see eSports as an “actual sport?”

According to Colby, it is simple: it is a generational thing. For the generation that has grown up playing video games and watching “Let’s Plays,” a way of watching other people play through video games online, seeing video games played at the highest level is attractive and just as exciting as traditional sports. He also stated that some games just are not fun or interesting.

“For people who have never played the game, it’s perplexing,” stated Colby.

He said that games such as Counter Strike never caught the following that League of Legends did because it did not show the game play in a mass appeal way. With modern viewers, they want to see things a certain way and games like Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and League of Legends all provide that.

He went on to address the issue with the online competitive gaming world, noting that those playing at the highest level can practice up to 50 hours a week sitting in front of a computer screen and eating take out. He asked whether anyone should spend that much time doing one thing.

With eSports on the rise, many companies are offering scholarship competitions to players, similar to that of colleges offering sports scholarships, stated Colby. This offers more incentive for young players to reach a top level and earn money for their education.

The top players enter the field at the age of 17, with many retiring by their mid-20s, according to Polygon. With top players at such a young age sitting in front of their screens for so long, this generation is going to see some interesting things in the future, according to Richard Colby.

So why is eSports a thing?

“ESports doesn’t have the ‘nerd label’ associated with it,” said Jeffrey Edgington.

Edgington is a Computer Science professor and eSports club adviser at The University of Denver, who accidentally wound up in the advising position because of his history with the club members.

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[Photo by: Julia Pitel]

Many eSports fans are involved somehow with computer science, according to Edgington, and it is a part of the culture. Winding up as the adviser made sense since he taught many of the club members. Those students also went on to see a classmate go on to be relatively successful in the games, he stated, though he could not remember the name.

By mixing precision with math and logic, it is no surprise these types of students are drawn to competitive online games such as League of Legends, Edgington stated.

Who even plays?

At The University of Denver, there is currently a competitive League of Legends team, playing games on a regular basis. The coach of that team, Ian Price, is a professional gamer, competing in competitions for Heroes of the Storm, another eSport, and League of Legends.

Price believes that by coaching a team, it betters him as a player, and it allows him to help others who otherwise struggle in the game.

So what exactly is a practice like?

Price stated, “Drills, lots of drills. If you want to draw an analogy to a traditional sport, players have to learn dribbling, passing, shooting, mentality, endurance, strategy, team cooperation, etc. Except, unlike traditional sports, they are also required to keep track of hundreds if not thousands of spells and effects, techniques, items, stats, and an ever changing flow of a battle, all while being confined to only observing a small portion of what is going on.”

Price went on to explain that many times, a player cannot see their opponent for up to 30% of a game, forcing them to develop skills in spacial awareness.

In practice, players play a game of “dodge ball,” where they practice landing and dodging spells (which is a big part of the game) and performing drills to enhance their skills. They then move on to the big picture strategy talk in which they can add in their drills to gain advantage over other players.

“After we play games, we go over replay and footage and address mistakes both the small and the large, then we rinse and repeat,” Price stated.

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[Photo by: Julia Pitel]

In discussing the draw of eSports for many young players, Price noted that it grows strength in character and develops team work, as well as allowing for personal growth.

“This coupled with the monetary benefit combine to make eSports now and in the future, a force to be reckoned with,” Price said.

Monetary benefit indeed. At the League of Legends World Championship, the first place team wins $1,000,000, with 16th taking home $25,000, according to The Independent.

The money is a nice plus, but what is the draw for the fans?

“Many people watch soccer and see somebody do something amazing and believe ‘I could never do that,’ but if you see somebody in a video game do something, you can get that same game, play that same character, and instead are saying to yourself, ‘I could do that.’ It is a baseline positive experience, and I think that draws people in,” Ian Price concluded.

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