Last weekend, the Staples Center in Los Angles was sold out. It is not the first time this has happened. The interesting thing was, why? There was no Chris Paul, no DeAngelo Russel. Katy Perry was not performing and neither was Justin Bieber.
Instead, the star was Lee Sang-hyeok. Thousands flooded the Staples Center to see him and his team continue what is currently perhaps the biggest dynasty in the world.
For those who don’t know the name Lee Sang-hyeok, maybe his other name will ring a bell: he is also known as Faker, the number one League of Legends player in the world.
The thousands of spectators were treated to a competitive, exciting best of five match between Faker’s two-time defending champions SK Telecom and their Korean rivals Samsung Galaxy.
Jacob Block, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering, was in LA for the final.
“It was an extremely high energized crowd. People from all across the world came to watch these two teams battle,” Block said.
The final went the full five games as Samsung battled back from losing the first two games to force a fifth. The average game at the League of Legends World Championship was 38 minutes. Game one was a 55-minute slug fest. Game three was the second longest in the grand finals ever, at 71 minutes. In the end, the final game saw the best player in the world take over.
“Faker is God,” Block said, referring to the name Faker’s fans in America have called him.
As a result, SKT took home their third straight title, but why is this relevant?
As much as some will like to discount the value of eSports in general, that is becoming really hard to do.
Just look at the prize pool for the League of Legends World Championship. Riot, the game developers, announced a prize pool of $2.13 million with additional added through crowdfunding. By Saturday, that number had nearly doubled to $5.07 million.
Yet, that number can’t be inflated from huge sponsorship deals, no real corporate league structure and no massive TV deals.
Despite that, eSports is becoming a multi-million-dollar industry. It is projected that revenue in eSports will be over $430 million as per Newzoo, a global market intelligence firm that focuses on gaming. After all, that is by no means is a small chunk of money.
Lately, major organizations are coming on-board. Starting with FIFA and the FIA, the world auto racing governing body. FIFA president Gianni Infantio said FIFA will look to expand into eSports, and the top division of French soccer announced they will sponsor a FIFA ’17 competition. The FIA is working in conjunction with the makers of Gran Turismo to get a series going.
Those are some big names getting in on the act. Additionally, there are a group of investors ranging from Mark Cuban to Shaq.
So now it is truly time to respect eSports. While they might not be as popular stateside as they are in Asia, they are not a joke anymore.
Maybe the best way to describe the future of eSports is from Faker himself.
Faker wrote in the Players Tribune, “Twenty years from now I’m sure eSports will grow in ways we can’t even imagine, with more players, more viewers and bigger arenas all over the world. Who knows, maybe an American team will have finally won Worlds by then?”