This coming Sunday a sports event bigger than the NBA final playoffs will be happening in Seoul, and chances are you’ve never heard of it.
The League of Legends World Championship finals will be held in a stadium built for the football World Cup, with 40,000 fans expected and many, many more tuning in online.
But don’t blame yourself if you’ve never heard of League of Legends.
The computer games creators, Riot Games, say 90 percent of the game’s players are males between the age of 15 and 25.
In essence, the game is a multiplayer online battle arena, where teams of characters battle in a fictitious world to defeat other teams.
Last year, the computer-game tournament had 32 million people from around the world tune in online to watch a South Korean team win a 32kg cup and a grand prize of $1 million, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Since starting in 2009 the computer game has become a full on competitive e-sport.
An e-sport is like any other sport – there are teams, coaches, tournaments, uniforms, and die-hard fans.
But all the games happen online and the only physical muscles being flexed are in the fingers.
There’s also lots of money in it, both for players (if you’re good) and for Riot Games, sponsors and advertisers.
Sponsors sign players to game professionally under their brand, and Riot Games also keeps a few hundred professional players on salary, ensuring that they can spend up to 14 hours a day practicing, which is what is required at the top levels.
While the actual tournament is a money-loser for Riot, and the game is free to access and play, the company makes money through players buying inexpensive game enhancements like skins.
The New York Times reports there are now 67 million active monthly players around the world, and that in August alone this crowd spent $122 million, according to SuperData.
25-year-old Wellingtonian Hamish Steele, aka steelybeats, has been playing after work since the beginning of the year, and says he’s hooked.
“The funnest part is that it’s competitive and difficult to master. The social aspect is also great, my friend from Auckland, goldenticket, and I stay in contact by playing it.”
Steele says in-game advertising is light considering League of Legends is free.
“The advertising is very natural and surprisingly minimal compared to other free to play games.
“Only internal League of Legends things are plugged really, like upgrades, which means player sponsorship and stuff is the big way to advertise ‘cause sponsored players stream their games publically for hours with heaps of viewers.”
New Zealanders had an e-sport star for a fleeting moment in Lae-Young “Keane” Jang, a South Korean gamer who came to study in New Zealand in November last year.
Keane had already had massive success in Korea, and was ranked at 11th in the country.
In New Zealand he was picked up fast for his talents, and signed by gaming company Curse as a player.
From there, Keane was noticed again, and head hunted for a North American team, where he now plays professionally.