League of Legends as a Spectator Sport
After this weekend, there can be no question that League of Legends is not only an e-sport but also one that can attract huge audiences. They hit the 200k viewers mark on their live stream from Dreamhack – and that’s with other popular streams on as well, such as Day commenting Starcraft 2. The Riot Games employees commenting the games were obviously thrilled and considered their game to best anything aside from Korean Starcraft. While 200k is impressive, I’m not convinced that League of Legends is the next big spectator sport just yet.
For one, they had spectacular marketing for that stream. In an ingenious move they not only added the live stream directly to their homepage, they also put it on the home stream in the game. Each and every player that hopped into the (free) League of Legends would be instantly aware of the availability of the stream and I suppose most will at least have tried it out. I absolutely applaud this move, but it does make comparisons to other games difficult that did not enjoy the same publicity.
Then there’s the fact that big time LoL tournaments with professional streams are quite rare. I didn’t watch a lot of Starcraft 2 Dreamhack coverage simply because I have access to much high quality SC2 content that “just another tournament” wasn’t really a big draw for me. I instead watched League of Legends because it is not something I usually get to watch. If LoL as a spectator sport should pick up, it will suffer from the same diminishing returns.
Finally, I don’t believe that LoL can stay as consistently interesting as Starcraft 2. For one, the games often turn out quite similarly with similar teams fighting each other on identical maps with more or less identical strategies. These can be a blast to watch if you know as little about the game as I do (though a certain game knowledge seems to be needed to enjoy the whole metagame strategic aspect), but I recon they will become repetitive relatively fast. Personally I already recognized rather boring patterns during this one event.
Additionally, it seems as if the (observable) skill ceiling is not very high. There were very few moves that really awed me in the games I watched, yet the space of options seemed quite explored already. You won’t ever see the amazing multitasking and precise unit control that we’ve come to know from Starcraft simply due to the limitations of the one-character-with-four-abilities game design.
I could be wrong and, frankly, I hope I am. I really hope e-sports manage to take off and become big and I’d much rather see a game like LoL becoming popular than another generic FPS. I just think that one shouldn’t interpret too much in last weekend’s very successful event. There’s still a rough ride ahead.