Are you prepared to LOL?
Here's what I know about you people: You really don't give a fuck about eSports. Or at least, you're not interested in reading about it or hearing about it or having folks like me write about it. And I think I know why. eSports are meant to be experienced, not rehashed. They're about the immediacy of the moment, the violent and torrid enthusiasm of a narrow escape, an indomitable streak, a I-just-made-you-look-like-a-god-damn-asshole maneuver. You don't care about who wins or losses or how they played the game (unless, of course, there's something you can learn to better your own).
That puts me in a bit of a pickle. See, Riot Games is holding its first-annual League of Legends All-Stars tournament in Shanghai this weekend, and the company's flying me out to cover it. The tournament is being billed as something akin to the MLB All-Star break, where players from various pro teams have been fan-voted onto regional teams. Representing the great US of North America will be Doublelift, Scarra, Saintvicious, Xspecial, and Dyrus. Birth names, one and all. Go watch the tournament on Twitch, you'll have a good time.
That said, if you'd also like to know what's happening outside the gameplay in Shanghai, hang out in this article right here, as I'll be your eyes and ears on the ground, pumping back as many photos and anecdotes as my jet-lagged self can wrangle. Oh and hey, if you've got questions, let me know in the comments, and I'll track down answers. But until this tournie goes into full production, let me tell you about the time I applied for a journalist visa to go to China...
I'm businessfolk, for real
It wasn't until I applied for a Chinese visa that I truly grasped the absurdity in the term "video game journalist." Now, when you fill out a visa application, the Chinese consulate asks you whether you're a tourist, a businessman, or a journalist. For tourists and businessfolk, you get a rubber stamp and a "try not to pick up any prostitute diseases!" And for the record, Riot absolutely advised its media friends to tick the businessfolk box.
But me, I overthink it. I mean, I'm heading to this event, ostensibly in a journalistic capacity, as an employee of a media company, and the last thing I want is to misrepresent myself to the PRC and risk being detained in a cement compound five miles underground (possible!). So I check the journalist box, and go up to the visa officer when my number's called, and I'm suffocating the voice of reason as I hand over my paper work, and then:
"You are journalist?" "Sort of, I write about video games?" "OK, it says here you are journalist. I need signed affidavits of your activities while in China. I need this from you, from your company, from your sponsor in China. These documents must detail exactly your intentions and areas of coverage, and..." "Whoa no. No, no. Entertainer! Ha, ha! I write about video games. Nothing serious. For a magazine!" (A magazine? Really, Tom?) Never before had I so quickly repudiated my claim to the journalistic way, but whatever. I'm now businessfolk headed to China.
Meal one. A fairly uninspired Chicken Supremo Burrito purchased at Andele, an airport establishment. Chicken, rice, beans, jack & cheddar, guac, and sour cream, all organic (!). Sprinkled with salt to cut the sodium flavor, unsuccessful. The salad with goat cheese, tomato, and mixed greens, while appreciated, went uneaten.
One thing I know about China is it's got, like, 4 billion people. Perhaps intuiting my destination, the server took my order and then immediately disavowed my existence or legitimacy as a human being. I waited for about 15 minutes before asking the cook about it. He gave the server a mean look and handed me the above. It had been waiting for me under a heat lamp.
"Chicken." Consumed everything; tragicomic. DO NOT RECOMMEND.
(OK, that's the last food entry, I swear. Actual League-related pics incoming, and expect this article to be updated daily!)
Mr. Money Bags
The view from my 26th-floor room at the Westin Shanghai Bund. Pretty good, huh? As I previously mentioned, Riot flew out a contingent of gaming press to cover its All-Stars event, and put us up at that Westin. (Ive heard a good many members of the Riot team are here as well; Ive certainly seen a bunch of them.) What kind of money are we looking at here? Riot Games parent company Tencent (as of early 2011) pulled in $6.9 billion in sales for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2013, a 54% year-over-year increase. Profit stood at just over $2 billion, up 25% year-over-year. Digging further, $5 billion of Tencents total sales came from online games, including League of Legends. The company didnt break out just how big of a contribution Riot is making, but it did explicitly laud League of Legends in its annual earnings report: "We also achieved significant growth in international markets riding on the success of LoL."
Legends of League
These guys right here? They're better than about 32 million people at something in this world, every month. That something, in this case, is League of Legends. For those wondering, some 12 million players log into League each and every day. As of February, the game peaks at 5 million players on at the same time.
Where's the ladies?
You'll notice that there are a lot of dudes in these pictures. I asked Dustin Beck, VP of eSports at Riot Games, about that. "Where, actually, are the ladies?" His response: "We have a predominantly male player population. There's some competitive females, especially in Asia, but none of them have cracked any of the pro teams. It's just a matter of time. We're waiting."
Riot has previously said that 90% of its player base for League of Legends is male. Perhaps that "waiting" isn't working out so well for winning over the other sex.
What you're looking at right here is one of the first bouts of the League of Legends All-Star skills competition. China's bottom, Weixiao and XiaoXiao went on to take this match from EU's Yellowpete and EDward.
And in the next 19 slides, you'll find a lot of nearly naked women. You're welcome.
(Oh, context? Fine. Tencent apparently commissioned a League of Legends-themed dance troupe. It's basically kabuki for gamers. You probably wouldn't like it.)