League of Legends, the game that made esports take off
It revolutionized esports when it appeared in 2009: League of Legends. "Lol" is a multiplayer strategy and action game, where players compete in teams of five to destroy the opponent's base. It was created by design to be competitive, i.e. accessible to as many people as possible and "watchable".
Twelve years after its launch, it is the game with the most participants and the most spectators. An example? The official "League of Legends" Championship finals in January 2020 drew 15,000 people to the AccorHotels Arena in Paris (France), and a peak of 44 million concurrent viewers on platforms like Twitch.
Taking advantage of the development of the Internet and of streaming platforms, Riot Games has actually developed a new business model called "free-to-play". Downloading the game is free, which means the financing is supported by partnerships – like branded credit cards with banks offering related advantages for esports fans – or by microtransactions that allow characters to be customized with "skins", without affecting their performance and regardless of the player's level.
At the same time, the publisher has developed a real event-based approach to competitions: the gamers and commentators (or "casters") are becoming professionals and stars; the tournaments are becoming real musical and visual shows on the model of the American Superbowl; and the cashprize is increasing year by year. Last but not least, Riot Games has developed a structured scene in leagues and national, European or world championships. Today, League of Legends claims 100 million players worldwide.
To understand what your neighbor or nephew is playing, you must start with the basics: understanding the games. Here are some of the most popular among viewers (after LoL).
- DOTA 2. Same universe inspired by heroic fantasy, same mechanics and character styles as LoL, but with different options. Created by Valve Corporation.
- Counter-Strike (Global Offensive). An objective-based, multiplayer first-person shooter (FPS) game in which teams of terrorists and counter-terrorists compete over several rounds. Created by Valve Corporation.
- Fortnite. In Battle Royale mode, 100 players compete on an island to be the sole survivor. Created by Epic Games.
Sources: Key report "Esport: game on" by Societe Generale Private Banking