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 gameplay is basically 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) after
much cajoling from my husband. It is his favorite pastime that fills up a lot of the free time that he has (free time I am insanely jealous of). We all have to make sacrifices for the ones we love, so I finally agreed to try it, insisting that I was going to hate it and probably never play it seriously. Much to my annoyance, I liked the game. It becomes especially fun when 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 recently found in LoL, I didn’t feel like I belonged in the crowd. I was more like one of the girlfriends and mothers that were reluctantly dragged to the event than the other women were clearly fans of the game. I saw at least three girls with amazing cosplay. One very attractive girl was not left alone the entire night as guy after guy asked to take pictures with her.
Despite feeling out of place, I settled in to enjoy myself as we watched the game. League fans are different from sports fans. They have a team to cheer for, but they are mostly just there to enjoy the competition. 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 our country is an underdog). 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 how the game worked. 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 be more dedicated to playing League.
This kind of increased interest is exactly why these tournaments exist. Riot, the company that makes League and pays for the tournaments, also takes an interesting view of these competitions. 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 cover. 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. To Riot, creating that community ensures that players keep playing and keep buying other products from the company. The Chicago theater does not hold 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.