For fans of competitive gaming, the wait to see your favorite teams play could be months, or even years.
ESL One events, for example, are bi-monthly and with few stops, so some countries won’t even get a visit until the following year—not to mention arenas can only hold so many spectators.
This makes for a harsh contrast to traditional sports, where tickets to a game of the home favorite are reasonably easy to access, and if you miss a match, you can catch any of the next ones in an ongoing half-year season.
LCS studio fills a gap
Enter the LCS Studio, home of Riot Game’s League of Legends Championships series, and North America’s first attempt at a consistent, live esports experience.
This year will be Riot’s third season to operate the studio, and things have only gotten bigger and better.
With tickets that cost no more than $15 for a full day of engaging matches, it’s no wonder virtually every seat in the main arena (and even the newer, second battle theater) were filled.
Out of curiosity, I wondered if this would be the case even when the matches weren’t that compelling. The weekend I attended was rather bland. No TSM versus CLG grudge matches or anything of the sort. It turns out, most spectators—a lot of them regulars—go for the experience and almost always bring new friends along.
Depth and variety of live viewing experience appeals to fans
Ever hear the expression “you had to be there”?
This was the case with the LCS Studio. I watch hundreds of esports matches every month, and while the live streaming experience is cool, relaxing, and honestly better than nothing (100,000 other viewers will certainly agree), the people that watch live have it so much better.
Contrary to popular belief, gaming enthusiasts love to go out, especially if it involves other gamers. I asked around about why people show up and the common response was “to support their favorite teams” (often citing more than one) or “purchase merchandise” (also citing how they can buy products because of the low ticket price).
And well, they’re right. Fifteen dollars is a fair rate for something like a movie and snacks, but at the LCS, you not only get a full day of fun (matches will realistically eat up the full noon-to-night runtime), you get to attend meet-and-greets, meet like-minded people, and purchase gamer swag at the on-site Riot Store—it’s a big deal, everybody usually has to order goods online.
And you have the option to do this every single weekend.
For some, it’s an escape. For others, it’s a weekly hangout with their friends. Some, I might add, travelled from all parts of California. And a handful, from what the event staff told me, flew in from other countries to see their favorite imports play (Froggen, a world-class European mid laner who is now on Rick Fox’s Echo Fox, is a huge example). League of Legends is a global phenomenon, and the people in attendance evidenced that.
Now my question is: when do the likes of Valve and Blizzard adopt this business model, and when do large, major events like ESL One become the side event?
The demand is apparent
I don’t have any hard figures available, but every week, tickets mostly sell out and those very same gamers purchase merchandise. I also attend many events across the globe, and I can confidently say that providing regular esports outings is the best fan service a company can provide to its competitive enthusiasts.
In no other industry are the pro players able to directly influence fans like they do at the LCS. Having a conversation with Kobe Bryant can be a daunting task if you’re not a high-profile media member. But taking a selfie and engaging in regular conversation about pizza (I kid you not) is very easy to do with Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, Redbull Athlete and Team SoloMid’s most popular superstar.
If one really wanted to try, it’s certainly possible to have a conversation with every pro that played that day, whether outside or in the event lobby as they pass by. It’s incredible. Fans look up to them, and they’re just there like normal people waiting for you to engage them.
At the larger events, it’s the same way, but more people means more foot traffic congestion.
But I digress. These compact events are reminiscent of the older esports gatherings where everyone knew everybody, but they still maintain that flair and appeal of the high production values we come to know today.
It was a refreshing experience
Of course, Riot does more than just small events. This is just their weekly fan party, as I like to say.
When the season ends in August and the top six teams have been decided, it’s time to pack up and fly to the NA Finals, which happen to be hosted at the Air Canada Centre in Ontario.
It’ll be the first time Riot has hosted an NA event on Canadian soil, and it’s already sold out—all 15,000 tickets in a matter of minutes.
Then there’s the World Championships, which is touring all across America in October. It will garner millions of concurrent viewers and live attendees from all over the world. But we’ll talk more about that another time.