We sat in the historic Chicago Theater. The sound of the crowd swelled up around us, incongruous with the stately golden pillars that stretched up to the ornately painted ceiling. We were here for a sporting event, something that doesn’t usually happen in an old theater and the event is something you are probably not familiar with: League of Legends. To those of you unfamiliar with the game, League of Legends is a MOBA (or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and is a huge player on the e-sports scene. The game play is basically like capture the flag on steroids and the fan base is massive. Last year, 36 million people watched the world finals. That’s more than watched the NBA finals this year.
I only recently got into League (or LoL as it is often called which I find hilarious) after
much cajoling from my husband. It is his favorite pastime as it fills up a lot of the free time that he has (free time that I am insanely jealous of). We all have to make sacrifices for the ones we love, so I finally fell on the sword and agreed to try it. I liked it. It becomes especially fun if you get good enough to not die every 30 seconds.
My interest in League continued to grow and when we found out quarterfinals for the World Championship were happening only 7 hours away from us, I couldn’t say no. This brought us to the crowded Chicago Theater full of mostly men, some women, and many people who (I could smell) had not taken a shower recently. Despite the enjoyment I had recently found in playing League, I did not feel like I belonged as part of the group. I was more like one of the girlfriends and mothers that were dragged to the event as a plus one so that their guy didn’t have to sit alone. But there were women there who were definitely a part of the community. I saw at least three girls with amazing cosplay. One very attractive girl was not left alone the entire night as dude after dude asked to take pictures with her.
League fans are different from sports fans. They have a team to cheer for, but they are mostly just there to enjoy the game. In the round we watched, there were no North American teams left, but the crowd threw themselves behind the underdog team from Russia (because the only thing we Americans love almost as much as ourselves is underdogs). But even when the Russian team lost, there wasn’t the same sense of loss in the crowd. They recognized that the other team did well, and as players themselves, understood that was how the game was. They were respectful and welcoming regardless of the team. They were also trolls on occasion (because the internet) and shouted the name of an American team that didn’t even make it out of groups. But the excitement in the room was infectious and it inspired me to want to throw myself into playing league once again.
Riot, the company that makes League and pays for the tournament, also takes an interesting view of the tournaments they host. The don’t see them as money making opportunities, they see them as advertisement. In fact, they often lose money because of all of the costs they have to front. Unlike other sports leagues, Riot pays for tournament facilities, equipment, and even much of the players’ salaries. However, the tournaments help to build a community for the players, keeping them invested in the game. Riot even gave out free merchandise, like lanyards and bracelets, to every fan who wanted them (we snagged a couple. They are pretty cool). To them, creating that community ensures that players keep playing and keep buying other products from the company. The Chicago theater does not have that same view. They were trying to make bank on their $5 sodas and tiny $4 bags of popcorn.
For me, video games have become a defining factor of my identity and League has become a part of my relationship with Bryan. I didn’t realize how significant it was until we traveled all the way to Chicago just to watch 10 guys sit at there computers and press buttons. I enjoyed myself there, and we would like to do it again if we get the chance. Maybe then I will remember the names of all the champions and I will feel like I am as much a part of the community as the guy who donned the long blue braids and booty shorts to cosplay as Jinx.