Last weekend the League of Legends World Championship game unfolded at the Staples Center in LA. This four-hour event entertained over 11,000 fans with a full orchestra opening, Crystal Method appearance, light show, a pro analyst desk, and of course the final two teams, SK Telecom T1 and Royal Club, battling it out for the World Championship title and the one million dollar purse.
Before the championship began, our team interviewed fans to find out who was cheering for whom and why they were cheering for that particular team. We were interested to know if eSports fans followed the same patterns as athletic sports fans when choosing their favorite teams. For example, when we asked Chicago Cubs fans why they are Cubs fans, the most popular reason was because they are from Chicago or have family in that area. The second most popular reason was because a fan found something in common, some personal connection with a particular player, and that connection made him or her a fan to the entire team.
Before eSports found a foothold in media coverage, it was common to cheer for a video game team based on their achievements or rankings. When playing competitively in FFXI and World of Warcraft, players recognized our linkshell or guild name because of our progress and server-first achievements. These players followed our rankings, emulated our strategies, and asked advice. It was also common for fans to follow players based on how they played a certain class and the rankings made on that class.
At the LoL World Championship game, we noticed a shift in the reasons to follow eSports teams. And that shift emulated mainstream sports like in the case of the Cubs fans. We expected to hear a lot of attendees tell us that they were basing their eSport team vote on the team’s rankings, track records, achievements, play style, etc. Instead, we found something much more personal. The fans were cheering for the team they could connect to in a very real life way. For example, many fans said they were cheering for the team of their home country. Attendees who were from Korea or from China or had family in one of those countries were cheering for that team regardless of play style or rankings.
We found something else really interesting. A lot of fans were also cheering for the team that they’d personally connected to. China’s Royal Club for example, had many fans cheering for the team because of one of their team members, Tabe. Tabe is regarded as humble, genuine, kind, and respectful. In fact, at the game we heard this same description time and time again about this genuinely nice player who’d won the hearts of so many fans. China’s Royal Club team gained a huge following because of Tabe and his personality.
Of course location and personality were not the only reasons people were cheering for their teams. There were fans who were cheering for the team based on the rankings and skill in previous matches, but it was much lower in popularity at the LoL event than we’ve seen in other in-game competitions. With eSports continuing to showcase the more personal side to gaming, it may not be long before even the more casual gamers and non-gamers can become fans and follow competitive gaming with a personal investment in the action.
SK Telecom T1 swept the World Championship with three straight wins. Congratulations SKT!
Over to you! What factors help you determine your favorite eSports teams? Do you watch the interviews? Base your likings on where the team is from or players’ personalities? Or stick to rankings and play style?
Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.
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