Esports continues making waves globally

10 years ago, making a living from playing video games was nearly impossible even for hardcore gamers. Video games were meant for having fun and having something to do after work or school.

However, in the last decade the growth of video games and esports has opened up opportunities for people who love playing video games and also want to make money from it. The game that got the engine revving is League of Legends (LoL).

LoL came out in 2009 for PC and is free to download and play at any time. The goal of the game is to destroy the opposing team’s “nexus,” a structure that is placed at the opponent’s base and is protected by defensive structures.

It took the game a little while to develop a huge fan base, but it now has over 100 million players. In 2013 Riot, the producer of LoL, started providing baseline salaries for professional players. Prior to this no other esport had the capabilities of providing money to their pro players unless there was a tournament being held by the organization.

The person that has spearheaded the growth of LoL and esports is Chris Hopper, Head of North American Esports at Riot Games.

“I joined Riot about six years ago and when I joined we didn’t really have an expensive esport presence,” Hopper said. “We were looking to launch leagues in North America and Europe. So, I helped put together league operational things, including rule sets, team agreements and reviewing contracts.”

Hopper has also worked to help grow LoL and the esport scene grow internationally. After helping grow the game overseas, Hopper turned his attention to the North America region.

“Across the North American region, we try to promote collegiate gaming as much as we can. We work with schools and athletic conferences to recognize the benefit of esports and LoL.””

— Chris Hopper, Head of Esports North America

“We decided to start building and franchising in North America, so we began taking applications and solidifying partnerships with teams,” Hopper said. “So, I helped to lead those efforts and then following those efforts came in the esports effort in North America. The team I’m working with now we do everything from the broadcast of the show to the operation of the competition.”

When LoL esports began taking off in 2013 the vision was to provide its best players with a way of making money while putting in an enormous amount of time on the game. Since then more people and organizations have gotten involved which has poured more money into the game. Nowadays players in the North American region who are starters for their team make an average $320,000 annually, not including revenue they might earn from tournaments and streaming.

“We have 10 teams in North America,” Hopper said. “Each team has five starters, so that’s 50 players in North America that are averaging 320,000 dollars. Now that’s before any streaming, sponsorship or any prize money they receive. Actually, the top players in North America are making way above that number. In other leagues that average salary might be higher like in China.”

But where does the money come from?

“The money is coming from the teams, the teams are making money by selling sponsorships and generally marketing their players,” Hopper said. “They are selling merchandise, selling CLG, TSM and Liquid jerseys. They are also working with companies like Nissan, American Express, Coca-Cola etc. And they are also working with streaming programs like Twitch and Youtube to highlight their players practice on those platforms.”

Since esports has fully taken off as a viable financial opportunity colleges like DePaul have created esports teams that allow players to showcase their talents at a collegiate level. More and more families are viewing esports as a way for their kids to make money, and this influences their college decision as well.

“Across the North American region we try to promote collegiate gaming as much as we can,” Hopper said. “We work with schools and athletic conferences to recognize the benefit of esports and LoL. We have over 800 students who are on scholarship with their institution for their LoL play.”

At DePaul the LoL esports team is currently participating in the Collegiate Starleague. Teams that perform well in this league will receive scholarship money that will be given to the starters.

Additionally, the team will be participating in a Big East tournament that offers scholarship money to the best teams.

“There is a Big East tournament that we will be competing in soon,” Division Two starter and sophomore Miguel Blancas said. “The top two teams will advance to the Riot league where all the top teams play in. If you place well in that league then players receive $25,000 in scholarship money.”

Even though esports offer more opportunities for college students to make money and showcase their talents to the world, recently graduated LoL captain Ethan Cohen wants to see more improvement in the college scene.

“The esports scene is definitely growing,” Cohen said. “However, I want to see more structured leagues that colleges take upon themselves to make. Also, I want to see more schools offering more scholarships and opportunities for their students.

While at DePaul Cohen helped lead the team to a second place finish in the Big East tournament.

The esport scene is only growing and offering more prizes for their best players. Thanks to LoL, games like Fortnite have become extremely popular and now offer large sums of prize money in tournaments. Hopper is excited to see what games like Fortnite can do in the esports industry. He doesn’t view them as competitors, but rather he sees other games important to the industry because if they fail then that can also affect LoL.

Ultimately, people around esports like Hopper believe there is enough viewership to go around for everyone. With that being said the biggest event in LoL is being played this month: the League of Legends World Championships. The tournament is being played in South Korea where the best teams from the entire year are there to compete for millions of dollars.