League of Legends is perhaps the world’s most popular game, thanks to its free-to-play nature and global reach, surpassing the once mighty World of Warcraft by an order of magnitude. Last year’s World Championship was featured on both the BBC and ESPN, marking progress in its rapid rise in popularity. Current figures from creators Riot Games estimate that around 67 million people play League of Legends each month, with 27 million of those players logging in on a daily basis.
As an eSport too it’s currently unmatched in terms of popularity, thanks to its success in China and Korea. The latter is perhaps the country that takes it eSports more seriously than any other nation, with superstars like Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeo enjoying genuine celebrity status in his native country. In North America, Universities even offer scholarships to rising stars, while professional players are able to apply for athlete visas in a similar manner to professional athletes in more traditional sports.
It’s little surprise then that a fertile betting community has sprung up around the game where betting audiences can wager their stakes, predominantly on match betting. As we approach the end of the western Spring season for the League Championship Series (LCS), it’s certainly worth looking at the League of Legends betting markets available at Paddy Power. The LCS playoff series determines the seasonal winners, fashioned after the structure of American sports, with the top teams from the 9 week league qualifying. Financial rewards for winning the Spring season are unpublished (see below), but winning the season rewards teams with a place at the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) to be hosted in Shanghai in May.
MSI will see the top teams from around the world compete to determine which teams and regions are the current cream of the crop. The end goal for all professional teams though is 2016’s World Championship, to be hosted in North America later this year, with matches held in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles – where Riot Games themselves are based.
Interestingly, while most eSport athletes across a variety of games only earn money through prize pools and tournaments, all LCS players are directly paid salaries by Riot Games. Many players earn further income through sponsorship deals or streaming on platforms like Twitch.tv. While that level of financial stability is highly sought after, LoL’s main rival in its genre is Dota 2 from Valve – the company who operate the highly successful gaming platform Steam. Dota 2’s own world championship, ‘The International’, boasts a prize pool usually in excess of $10,000,000. The risks are greater for Dota 2 players with no guaranteed income, but the rewards are phenomenal, with the prize boosted by in-game cosmetic sales that allow the community to directly support professional players.
Both Dota 2, LoL and Valve’s Counter Strike: Global Offensive are demonstrating that eSports is no longer a niche concern, with an increased profile bringing in lucrative sponsorship, fans and betting markets from around the globe.