How the League of Legends World Championship Shaped an Entire Esport
Esports Essentials is a series intended as an introduction to esports for anyone looking to understand the industry.
Every year, League of Legends teams across the world aim for the same goal: attending—and potentially winning—the game’s World Championship tournament.
The League of Legends World Championship may have started small, but it grew quickly in its early years, now standing as one of the biggest esports events of the year. But how did it get to where it is today? The Esports Observer is here to break it down.
What is the World Championship?
Every year, Riot Games holds a World Championship tournament, in which professional League of Legends leagues around the globe send their representatives to compete for the biggest prize the game has to offer: The Summoner’s Cup. The tournament typically runs for well over a month, with each stage taking place in a different locale.
Riot Games puts up an initial prize pool every year—for this year’s event, it is $2.25M—and then adds on a portion of sales from in-game items only available during the run of the tournament. In 2017, the prize pool reached $4.9M.
How Did the World Championship Grow?
In 2011, League of Legends wasn’t the juggernaut that it is today. After its release to the public in 2009, its popularity had been slowly simmering under the surface in the relatively new world of free-to-play PC games. Riot Games had recognized its esports potential, however, and worked with gaming event production company DreamHack to host the Season 1 World Championship at DreamHack Summer 2011.
With more than 1.6M total viewers and 210K maximum concurrent viewers (max CCV) tuning into the event, it was clear that Riot had something big on its hands.
2013 saw Worlds grow again to new heights.
In 2012, Riot would choose to host the World Championship event, eschewing third-party tournament organizers in favor of taking full control over the event. Held in Los Angeles over the course of a week, with the grand finals played at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California, the 2012 World Championship was one of the biggest esports events the West had ever seen. In fact, its $2M prize pool was the largest ever for an esports tournament at the time.
2013 saw Worlds grow again to new heights. Following the formation of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS)—Riot-run leagues in North America (NA LCS) and Europe (EU LCS)—and the growth of region-based leagues around the world, the young esport now had both a structured way of qualifying teams for the event.
The result was Worlds 2013, held in Los Angeles’ Staples Center, home of NBA teams the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Once again, the event saw massive viewership, with Riot reporting a max CCV of 8.5M, shattering previous esports viewership records.
From there, the World Championship went international.
From there, the World Championship went international. In 2014, it was held in the Seoul World Cup Stadium. In 2015, the cup traveled Europe, making appearances in Paris, London, and Brussels, before a grand finals at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin. In 2016, the event came back to the U.S., stopping in San Francisco, Chicago, Madison Square Garden in New York City, and eventually making its way back to Staples Center. 2017 saw Worlds finally head to China, the country in which the largest population of League of Legends players reside.
Finally, in 2018, the event is taking place once again in South Korea, the country that has produced the last five World Championship victors. The grand finals will take place at the Incheon Munhak Stadium, which features a capacity seating of over 49K.
How Do Teams Qualify?
In professional League of Legends, there are six so-called “major regions”: North America, Europe, South Korea, China, and the LMS (comprised of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao). Each of these regions are guaranteed 1-3 slots in the group stage of the event, depending on their placements in other international tournaments throughout the year. Top teams from each region fill out those slots, for a total of 12 teams automatically qualifying for the group stage.
The final four spots are filled out by teams competing in the play-in stage. Each of the 12 “minor region” leagues send a single representative to this stage, with 4 more slots being filled by teams from major regions that did not qualify directly for the groups. After a round robin and a group stage, four more teams are added to the group stage roster, making the full 16 teams that will then compete for the title of World Champion.
Additional information on the format and seeding for the World Championship can be found here.
How is the World Championship Structured?
The League of Legends World Championship is split into two stages: the group stage and the knockout stage. During the first two weeks of the five-week tournament, the sixteen teams are arranged into four groups, each of which plays a double round-robin. The two top teams from each of those groups advances to the knockout stage.
From there, it’s a fairly standard bracket event. The eight teams remaining after the group stages play in a series of knockout matches, eventually culminating in a grand final to determine the new World Champion.
What are the Advantages of a Singular, Official World Championship?
While other high-profile esports like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive utilize an open tournament format with multiple different major championships per year for their respective competitive scenes, League of Legends sticks with a singular, developer-run championship.
Riot Games designed its game’s competitive format with the intention of stabilizing a rapidly growing esport.
Riot Games designed its game’s competitive format with the intention of stabilizing a rapidly growing esport. And for now, that has succeeded. Where other major esports have crowded competitive schedules, League has a straightforward format, designed to place as much importance on a single event as possible.
The result is that the World Championship is the event of the year to watch for League of Legends fans, and the entire competitive season is designed to build to this one tournament. It’s a conclusive, definitive finish that no other esport in the world has been able to match. Other esports may have their yearly championships, but Riot’s commitment to revolving its entire competitive scene around this single event creates a clear narrative arc to the season unlike anything else in the space.
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