Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How the League of Legends World Championship Helped Me Understand Sports. by Mike Fatum

Let's start this out with a simple admission: I'm not one of those geeks who hates sports. I hate the culture around them sometimes, but I've definitely gotten into a good game of football before. I don't watch it regularly, but I tune in every year for the Superbowl, or if one of my two teams (The Pats and the Niners, thankyouverymuch) are doing well. This technically makes me the Lowest of the Sports Fans, the Bandwagon Jumper, but that's another article for another time. The point is, while I don't find it as interesting as a lot of my friends do, I definitely don't think sports are worthless.

Still, whenever I'm confronted with the image of just sitting on a couch for an entire weekend and watching a sporting event, I've never seen the appeal. There's not enough going on to support my interest. And worst of all, the events always drag out with endless commentators, and worst of all - analyst desks. I hate analyst desks during the Superbowl, because they just seem to me to be a waste of time. Who cares what play was performed when or what this particular guy's score is? Just show me the dudes throwing the ball so I can get excited.

This weekend, that all changed. And it changed because of a video game.

This is, like, a tenth of the characters in this game.
In case the rock you're living under doesn't have internet access, League of Legends is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, or MOBA. It was (I believe) the second one in existence, after the original Defense of the Ancients, a mod for Warcraft III. MOBAs are a child of RTS games - instead of having control over an entire army, you have control over a single character who can destroy an entire army. There are two teams of equal size, and both are trying to invade the enemy base and destroy their Thing (I'm unspecific, because the Thing is named something different in every game. Don't call it a Nexus if you're playing DOTA2.) Along the way, the teams have to contend with random monsters, enemy defenses, and of course, the other players. If you're very good, you never get into a fight with an enemy unless you know you can win. If you're me, you get ambushed by enemies every time you turn around and die more times than Rory Williams.

LoL really started the MOBA game's popularity, and even though they're a free to play game, they rake in enough money on in-app purchases to have their own television studio. Once a year, for the last three years, they've put on a World Championship with teams from all over the world that takes place in that very studio.

This past weekend, a series of random occurrences and references inspired me to check out LoL for the first time in about a year. And this time I was sucked in. I can't explain it, but I started devouring everything LoL - guides, forums, and playing the hell out of the game. Since I was sick as a dog this weekend, and didn't have much to do, I devoured a lot of LoL.

But sometimes, I just wanted to lay down and watch TV. And it just so happened there was a League of Legends World Championship starting that weekend. So I turned it on.

I never thought I could be engrossed in watching other people play a video game. But it was riveting. When the underdog Minesky drove the seemingly unstoppable enemy team out of their base, twice, I was cheering. When I watched a player run from their opponents, teleport to escape, and land right in the waiting arms of the perfect trap that was laid for him, I groaned out loud in sympathy. It was fascinating. And because I really wanted to learn the ins and outs of this game so I could play it better, I was fully engrossed.

And every few matches, there was the analyst desk.

"It appears the cyborg from the future is being stomped on by the minotaur!"
The desk consisted of, as I understood it, two professional commentators and three professional players. Their analysis of each match was deep and insightful, and half of it was lost on me as a new player. But I wanted to learn about the game, and so I paid attention. I was engrossed. I laughed at the jokes, I nodded sagely at their insights, even when I didn't understand them.

And suddenly, I got it. I understood why people spend so much time sitting through all of what I previously termed useless crap at sporting events. Part of it is that we want to look smart, and pretend that we know what's going on. But when you really love a game, or even when just really interested, you want to know how that game works. You want to understand what you're seeing on a deeper level than "Boy, can that guy throw far!" That's where these kind of events come in. And that's what makes them so interesting to watch.


  1. One thing I'll say about spectating games is you'll find that the higher level play of tournaments like these tend to do one of three things.

    1) Inspire you to play/practice/try the game

    2) Show you something you may not have considered, be that a strategy or item build or what have you.

    3) Make you realize you are awful and will never be good enough to do the things they do.

    If #3 occurs, and you still want to play, then you have become a true fan.

  2. This is so true. Conventional sports bore me senseless. The only analysis I can stand is for ice hockey and LoL. Plus this is the best analyst desk ever assembled. Montrcristo is a hero, I started watching the Korean scene solely because of him. And he has improved my picks relative to my teams composition immensely.
    Vive le analyst desk

  3. Also you realize that the game you are playing is drastically different than the game they are playing. Seriously something has to be done about wards and I think it is to restrict them a bit more, like in Dawngate, where each player gets one for free every three minutes and you an't buy more.

    1. That would be great, because then I don't have to learn how to use them. :)