esports

With the League of Legends (LoL) World Finals now underway, one question has captured the attention of esports fans everywhere: Who is going to win Worlds? The answer: SK Telecom T1 (SKT).

With the right amount of skill and luck, any team from any league has a chance to win Worlds, but the reality is that some teams face better odds than others. Leagues that have been around longer tend to have better teams simply because their institutions have built a firm foundation on which players can thrive. Therefore, after eliminating most of the newer leagues, we end up with the NA LCS (for teams in North America), EU LCS (Europe), LPL (China), LMS (Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) and the world’s most respected league, the LCK (Korea). From here, the teams with the best win/loss records move on to qualify for Worlds, and only by looking back on each league’s performance in Worlds can we predict who will take it all.

Both the EU and NA LCS have had quite an interesting history at Worlds; they have had a steady record of sending qualified competitors to Worlds. But once Worlds comes around, the NA and EU teams always seem to fall just a little bit short. Both leagues, while sporting highly competitive teams, will likely struggle to beat Asia’s elite leagues. Since the second season of Worlds, there has been an LPL, LMS or LCK team in the quarterfinals. Asia has solidified its dominance on the Worlds stage, and the LPL and LMS are two of the three most well-established leagues throughout Asia. The NA or EU LCS teams simply aren’t of the same caliber, especially when faced with the most formidable league throughout the world, the LCK.

The LCK has sent at least one team to the finals for every season since 2013, which is a testament to their reliability and prowess. Of all the championship trophies that LCK teams have claimed, Samsung White (SSW) has won one while the defending champion, SKT, has won three, the most of any team in LoL history. It isn’t just SKT’s history that makes it so reliable, but the players that make up the team that earn fans’ respect. SKT’s roster consists of Huni, the top laner whose skill and experience with some of the top NA and EU teams make him a formidable international opponent; Peanut, the newest member on the team, but already a star jungle player; Faker, often lauded as the best LoL player in history; Bang, the token Attack Damage Carry (ADC) that has been with SKT since the very first season; and Wolf, the support who’s been playing with Bang in the bottom lane since 2013. Overall, their synergy and experience in the game itself exceeds that of most teams competing in this year’s Worlds.

Standing in the way of SKT’s fourth Worlds title is Longzhu Gaming, another team from the LCK. Longzhu made their presence known when they stole the No.1 seed from SKT during the LCK Finals. Not only did Longzhu defeat SKT, but they embarrassed them. Longzhu was able to snowball and dethrone the reigning champions in four games, the final game lasting a mere 25 minutes.

Will Longzhu Gaming come out and steal yet another title from and take away SKT, or will SKT find redemption? Will a team from outside the LCK sneak in and claim the throne? We can speculate for now, but only when the 2017 World Championship reaches its conclusion Nov. 4 will the true victor be revealed.

At The International, the best “Dota 2” teams from around the world come together to compete. In 2017, the tournament’s prize pool amounted to nearly 25 million dollars. Photo Courtesy Jakob Wells.

With 32 million viewers, it takes a special sporting event to draw a larger crowd than that of either the 2013 NBA Finals or the 2013 World Series. The League of Legends 2013 World Championship drew more viewers than that of two major sports’ finales — but despite its apparent popularity, many people in the West are unaware of esports and what they are.

The main bulk of esports’ popularity stems from Asia, as it gradually branches out into the Western sporting world. The sport remains on the fringes in the West, but this will not be the case for long, as new leagues and games continue to grow in cities nationwide, including here in Atlanta. From budding projects like Turner Entertainment Company, Inc.’s new eLeague to Emory’s own esports Club, esports’ coming of age is closer than you may realize.

The origin of esports traces itself back to Stanford University in 1972, when a group of students competed in the first known video game tournament with a game called “Spacewar.” From its humble beginnings, esports later grew into a global phenomenon. However, little happened at the beginning of the esports scene. The birth of the World Wide Web in 1989 spurred the creation of computer games, but the internet itself was not developed enough to handle the high-speed connectivity that most online games require today.

During the early 2000s, with the advent of a newer, more advanced internet, the esports scene grew. Games such as “Quake” and “Defense of the Ancients,” made their way into the light. But the esports explosion had still yet to come. The vanguard of the charge was a small company known today as Riot Games, which created the now famous “League of Legends.”

With the rise of “League of Legends,” team esports gradually grew more popular, mostly due to the accessibility of the game itself. “League of Legends” was a free game to play that could be downloaded and run on almost any computer, thus creating a huge fanbase around the world. By 2014, there were an average 27 million players daily and 67 million players monthly. After seizing such a large audience, Riot Games took the next step and decided to add a competitive component to “League of Legends”; from there, the competitive nature of the game snowballed. Players who originally played for fun began to take their skills to another level; Riot Games saw the number of amazing players increase by the day.

Riot Games decided the best way to promote “League of Legends” was to stage a competition among the best players, much like other sports leagues such as the NBA or the NFL. As soon as players, such as Faker, Bjergsen and Aphromoo, realized they could make a living off of video games, the popularity of esports skyrocketed as more players saw career potential. Almost immediately, other esports companies, like Valve, began to take note and did the same with their own games, creating a competitive environment and providing monetary incentive for those who wished to go professional. Just as someone who loves soccer watches soccer, those who loved video games watched more video games.

And that brings us to where we are today. One of the newest esports leagues is the “Overwatch League,” created in 2016 by Activision Blizzard. Activision Blizzard wanted to replicate the success of “League of Legends” for its own game, “Overwatch.” Major media companies like ESPN have now realized the potential of esports and air tournaments along with their traditional sports content. In a few weeks, “League of Legends” will be holding its 7th World Championships.

Atlanta’s Turner  now funds eLeague, a major tournament for another rising esport, “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” following Riot Games’ success. Even on campus, Emory University esports Club is a registered member of University League of Legends, an organization started by Riot Games to help promote competitive esports on college campuses. Even in your dorm or apartment, there is probably someone nearby watching or playing an esport — a mark to how far the industry has come. It’s a good time to be an esports fan, and you should be too.