By Lydia Hardy, Guest Writer
Move over football, there’s a new player on the sports scene—actually, there are a lot of them. Little boys who grew up playing video games instead of sports are beginning to see their hobbies grow into a competitive sport as legitimate as any other.
League of Legends (LoL) was released by a Riot Games in 2009 and is currently the most popular online video game followed by World of Warcraft. LoL is what gamers call a multi-player online battle arena (MOBA). Players join teams of three or five, and each player chooses a champion. The game space is divided into two lanes with a jungle separating them. Each team starts in the opposite lane, and the object of the game is to take the opposing team’s starting camp, called a nexus. LoL is free to play, which may be why it became so popular so quickly.
In 2013 Riot Games created the League of Legends Championship Series, which grows in popularity each year. It is split into two seasons, spring and summer, and includes tournaments in North America, Europe, and Korea. Riot also created a college league around the same time, the popularity of which has grown by leaps and bounds in the last year. The Collegiate Starleague was founded in 2009 and has nearly doubled in size every year since its inception. Collegiate Starleague has no connection to Riot Games. It is a way for colleges to form competitive video game teams without relying on the administration entirely. However, of all the games that can be played on Starleague, LoL remains the most popular. This kind of league gives the e-sports scene a voice on college campuses and the opportunity to prove its worth.
Many colleges have already extended sports scholarships to LoL players. Last year Missouri Baptist University joined these colleges when it created its own LoL team. The team was founded by an alumnus and sports scholarship beneficiary who introduced the game to his volleyball team as a way to bond. After graduating with a degree in information technology, Andrew Douglas returned to the school as a graduate assistant to coach the team he had proposed as a student.
One thing Andrew says may contribute to LoL’s success and popularity is how challenging it is. The game undergoes changes weekly, monthly, and is changed entirely every year. “You can’t be the best at one champion and rest on that. It keeps you sharp” he says.
Other than regulating how much the players practice and scheduling scrimmage and tournament games, the coach’s biggest responsibility is to teach the boys how to communicate with each other. “Communication is the name of the game,” says Douglas. He says it has cost them games in the past, but he feels that they are making progress in the area. Douglas says his biggest struggle is getting support from the university. “There are schools building arenas for their teams, it’s really taking off,” he says. Meanwhile, Andrew and his team are relegated to practically a closet with their basic personal computers.
One thing Douglas is concerned about is the new role that the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics is playing in the budding industry. The organization, which has been a staple in college sports since 1940, has recently introduced its own LoL tournament. “They charge membership dues,” he explains, which is really the opposite of Riot’s free-to-play model.
In fact, Riot has recently changed the way it awards prize money in the LCS. The winning teams had previously been awarded $8,000 per player. But last year Riot announced that it would now be distributing $50,000 per team to all participating teams with the winning teams receiving only the glory of being the best. The idea is to help teams that are just starting out to get a real chance and to keep the playing field relatively level. Amid controversy, Riot reintroduced the prize pool.
Many were hopeful that the introduction of this new sport might lead to some changes in the toxic world of college sports. Change is still a possibility. The inevitable pushback only proves that it will not happen overnight.