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eSports will soon win you over, and soda is the reason why

“Twitch...it’s like the cable of the Internet,” explains Dustin Beck, addressing a massive audience of business people scratching away on their notepads. He’s at the Digital-Life-Design conference in Germany, and his panel is all about business strategies in the gaming ecosystem. Joining him on stage is Matt Wolf, The Coca-Cola Company's head of gaming. Why? Because instead of sponsoring the NBA, NFL, or any other major traditional sporting event in 2014, Coke has decided to throw its weight behind the eSports community. Specifically, League of Legends.

Coke’s sponsorship of League technically started last October, but with the recent ignition of LoL's Season 4 ladder and the LCS playoffs, it’s finally beginning to register with everyone what that actually means. The skinny: Coke finds it worthy to invest resources into the growing phenomenon that is eSports. They’re not the first to do this though, having been beaten to the punch by people like...the US Government. Last year, the US Visa Bureau embraced professional gamers, grouping them in with the stipulation that non-US citizen professional athletes can live and play in the US. And while we can all be excited that these giant powers are finally lifting up the video game community, we have to remember that it’s in the interest of profits, not altruism. But that’s actually great, because it means more for the future of eSports than what initially is obvious on the surface level.

Matt Wolf helps us put things in perspective. “The Super Bowl is a massively viewed event with 111+ million viewers every time it happens,” Wolf said at his Serious Play panel. “But when you start to layer on a gender and certain age split that we're very interested in, [the numbers] come pretty far down.” See, Coke isn’t about reaching the most people; it's about reaching their demographic. And after Coke boiled down all the viewers of the average sporting event and reduced them down to a count of Someone Who Would Buy A Coke Product, it arrived at a total far lower than what it had hoped for.

In comes League of Legends, which is like the safe haven for the slippery demographic that Coke craves so much. But check out what Coke's sponsoring: not LCS, or Worlds, or Season 4 in general. It's sponsoring the Challenger Series. "Most of us, when we were young, had aspirations of being pro at something,” Wolf tells the audience. “We wanted to work with Riot and give that opportunity to the playerbase. The idea is that we're going to give an opportunity for amateur players to become pro." Riot Games should be jumping for joy. It's always had trouble getting the average LoL fan to get invested in amateur teams, and now in comes one of the most powerful brands of the century is giving them a helping hand. Baseball has the minor leagues, the NFL has college football, and now the eSport League of Legends has a legitimate pool of talent to pull from for their professional circuit. As a fan, I'm incredibly excited--it’s like I'm getting to spectate twice the professional matches and tournaments.

Know who should be really excited? The rest of the world, because due to Coke they’re finally going to get a glimpse of this new era of eSports. Think about it like this: in 2013, the NBA finals had an audience of 18 million people, while viewership for League of Legends' Season 3 Worlds event totaled 32 million. But go right now to the grocery store and ask the first 50 people you run into if they’re heard of either the NBA or LoL. Chances are, everyone will know the former, while the latter will leave older folk scratching their heads. League of Legends is <b>huge</b>, absolutely <b>giant</b>, yet nobody outside its playerbase seem to be aware that it exists. But with Coke making a huge financial investment in League, everyday people will start to take notice. Newspapers will pick up the story, and sooner or later your dad will be asking you if Bitcoin will be a viable currency in 20 years (no joke, just happened).

So get excited, because now more than ever, eSports are here to stay. Maybe for the next couple of days, you can sit your family down and have them watch the LCS with you. It’s finally our turn to make them sit for hours, watching something that they barely understand while we shout random things at the TV.

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12 comments

  • dangomushi - January 23, 2014 9:59 p.m.

    Even console gamers don't know LoL. I only know of it's existence because they talk about it every Radioradar. I'm not curious enough to further investigate, but I'm assuming it's kinda like Starcraft? And there's lanes, I know that. But I don't know what that actually means... That said, I'm pleased to see a monarch of fizzy beverages taking commercial interest in the joys of youth.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - January 23, 2014 11:55 a.m.

    It might be a bit weird, but I actually enjoy watching LoL more than playing it.
  • TanookiMan - January 23, 2014 8:22 a.m.

    I came down to post that I wasn't that into eSports and was surprised to see so many commenters agree with me. That said, I wish that I liked it more. I feel like I don't understand LoL or DotA well enough to appreciate all the little idiosyncrasies of the matches. I feel like Conan O'Brian trying to follow matches! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DanNsdRn6o
  • mafyooz - January 23, 2014 12:09 a.m.

    Man, I couldn't even play League of Legends for more than 10 minutes without getting bored of it, so the idea of watching other people do it really leaves me cold. I could probably handle watching something like a Soul Calibur tournament, but generally I've always found watching other people play games pretty dull unless they're in the same room so you can offer "encouragement". I especially like dropping subtle hints that something really big and nasty is around the corner when my wife's playing Dark Souls, even though I know damn well it's just an empty corridor ;)
  • shawksta - January 22, 2014 10:55 p.m.

    Meh, i dont think im good enough or frankly interested and into it enough to bother with it. That being said i do love watching them, just not LOL, im more of a FGC watcher in terms of competitiveness.
  • n00b - January 22, 2014 9:24 p.m.

    Can we get rid of the neam eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeespoooooooooooorrrrrrtsssss? Please i cringe every time some one says it straight faced. Don't get me wrong i love competitive gaming and I'm on twitch all the time but the word esports will never sound dumb to me.
  • MrPkhead - January 23, 2014 11:06 a.m.

    I'm with n00b and Mister Torgue: "WHAT THE F*** IS AN E-SPORTS?!"
  • GOD - January 22, 2014 8:51 p.m.

    I like seeing eSports in general take off, but I have no interest in LoL. Now if they were to sponsor Smash Bros. tournaments.... then you can expect me to be pumped up.
  • MajorDragoon1991 - January 23, 2014 8:56 a.m.

    I don't have too much interest in LoL myself. I have played it enough to understand the competitiveness of it. But all the same, it's just not my bag of salad. Seriously!
  • birdro - January 22, 2014 6:08 p.m.

    I feel like an ass saying it, as it's cool to think of the gaming scene growing in any way that may "normalize" its image in the public, but I really can't get into eSports. I suppose I'm just soured because LoL is the big push and I find it boring, but everytime I look into it I just can't take the personalities and the theatrics seriously. I can stomach some of the crazy behaviours and customs in the FGC due to liking the games on display and having more respect for the meta, (or maybe just better knowledge :P,) but the current face isn't something I get along with. Also, missed some bold tagging in the fifth paragraph, nothing illegible, but could use smoothing.
  • universaltofu - January 22, 2014 5:44 p.m.

    I like seeing this take off and grow, for video gaming to get a larger degree of respect as much as music, film, and literature already receive. Though I hate how it means the increase in prevalence of sponsorship, something already pervasive enough to be in almost every aspect of our lives and having nearly no boundaries in what these corporations sully by stamping their logo anywhere they can afford to put it, or rather anywhere we cannot afford to stop them from putting it.
  • J-Fid - January 22, 2014 5:16 p.m.

    What I like about eSports is how just like regular sports, there are many different games to choose from. I'll never be interested in League of Legends, but I just watched Apex 2014 (for the Smash Bros. games only) live all weekend, and loved it. I don't know about every game, but what I think needs to be done to expand the sport are more major events, and more COVERAGE (that means you people at GR (or others in your field)) of the sports. I feel that if you guys want it to succeed so much, then you have to report about it more often. After all, you ARE the media, so it's in your control. Also, Twitch needs to fix its loading times. It's never a good thing when you make Youtube buffering seem faster than lightning.

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