Last year, 14 qualifying teams from Europe, North America, China, Korea, and two other international wildcards competed in the LoL World Championship for a $5,000,000 prize pool split among 5 players. While this is serious money, what I find more impressive is the event’s ability to sell-out the Seoul World Cup Stadium. The article I’ve found analyses how LoL and other Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games use dramatic dynamics to attract fanbases in the millions, leading to the rise of e-sports and competitive gaming as an entertainment industry.
The author, Chris Winn, begins by discussing the three types of performance time involved with any spectated competition: “Event time, where the performance will continue for as long as it takes for a specific event to be achieved; set time, where a time limit is provided for the performance; and symbolic time, where the amount of time taken for the performance to complete is intended to be representative of a separate amount of time (page 2).” League of Legends involves all three, but is based around event time which, in my opinion, increases the game’s appeal as a spectator. There are long, intense, drawn-out games that leave both spectator and player feeling satisfied after a win, and there are short, hyper-involved games in which one person can tip the scales of the match early-on with a decisive play. Both of these results provide great entertainment, and the beauty of LoL is that each individual game provides the audience with the possibility of either result. This is opposed to a game like Fortnite, which is guaranteed to last around the same time every match.
Another topic Winn covers is performance, which applies and is important to even the most casual video game players. Performance is at the heart of what drives any competitive person, although it is usually used in reference to what people consider “actual sports”, i.e. Basketball, Soccer, Football, etc. E-sport events bring together the best players in the world and provide viewers the chance to watch them. This is often overlooked when analysing the growing population of spectators for e-sport events. Winn also provides his view on this topic, “Even the act of spectating is made productive… watched specifically for improving personal play (page 4).” In the context of League of Legends, there are many areas of the game that the casual and even competitive player can improve upon. Whether it is last-hitting creeps to increase your gold, knowing when to push and drop-back, or signaling your teammates, watching the best players, as with any activity, can help improve your personal game.
Finally, Winn alludes to the structure of dramatic tension, and how this specifically is the main reason people watch any competitive event. Whether it is the last shot in a basketball game, 2-minute drive in the 4th quarter of a football game, or the game-winning play in a video game, the climax is what attracts viewers. For someone who understands the mechanics of League of Legends, the final team fight to decide the game can be as exciting as any sporting event, which is why e-sports has the ability to fill a stadium meant for a World Cup game.
Source: The Well-Played MOBA: How DotA 2 and League of Legends use Dramatic Dynamics by: Chris Winn, https://library.med.utah.edu/e-channel/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/digra2015_WINN.pdf