I finally understand sports fandom thanks to League of Legends

Sports junkies are weird, man. In the rural Midwest, I grew up surrounded by them. Every male above the age of 30 had a story to tell about their high school football glory days. "Remember the time we played against [insert rival city here]? What a game…" And everyone above the age of eight had encyclopedic knowledge of rosters, divisions, and standings. My uncles can tell you who won the Super Bowl in '78 (and what the game's score was) without a moment's thought. My friends can recount, from memory, all the stats of every player on every team in this thing they call the "NFC." I couldn't tell you what that even is.

For me, watching men chase a ball and accidentally break one another's ribs yields no thrill or excitement--only perpetual boredom. For a long time, I just accepted that sports junkies were a special kind of nerd. All of their knowledge, the incessant fanaticism, the pre-game rituals, the diehard sense of pride, none of it made much sense to me. That is, until I got hopelessly absorbed by the competitive scene of League of Legends.

I started playing about six months ago as a casual participant. I'd randomly select a character from the pool of more than 100, perform pretty terribly, and, if I was lucky enough to have someone on my team that knew what they were doing, win a few games here and there. The thing is, I have a pretty addictive personality. When I find something new that I really enjoy, I get obsessed. So the more I played League, the more I wanted to play League.

There was a sort of rush that came with finally understanding the game's objectives, of learning a champion's strengths and weaknesses, or how to properly play a lane--hell, I still recall that "Aha!" moment when I first discovered there were actual, defined positions, each with their own purpose. And there's perhaps nothing quite as rewarding as the opportunity to make that one game-changing play, of experiencing a holy-cow-did-you-see-that moment where your entire team praises you like a god.

The more I fell in love with League of Legends, the more closely I started following its professional scene. I learned the names of the teams and their players, and talked with friends about their talent with the same fervor my family back in the Midwest talk about the Detroit Lions. I watched all the pro tournament matchups I could, enough to make my girlfriend sigh every time I turned them on; it's eerie how much that reminds me of the way my mom used to harass my dad every Sunday for watching hours of football. And, I don't have to draft a fantasy league because I can play the same game as the pros in a competitive ranked setting from the comfort of my apartment. In case you hadn't heard, I'm Weak for a Man.

And in terms of watching the real deal live? Absolutely incredible. While attending this year's PAX Prime, I had the privilege of sitting in on live showdowns of some of my favorite North American teams during the tail end of the League of Legends Championship Series. The auditorium was packed with hundreds of fans, all of them beyond excited to be right there, right then. Some were holding signs to encourage their favorite players, or to poke fun at teams they disliked--not unlike the shenanigans born of rivalry that I'd seen when watching sports games live at a stadium. I'll never forget the deafening cheers that erupted when one of the teams would take an objective or make an insane play. The whole room shook with their celebratory cries. It was a truly moving experience, to be so present in a sport that finally made sense to me.

Then, last Friday, I watched the League of Legends World Championship tournament with several of my GR colleagues. As we witnessed Korea's SK Telecom T1 dominate China's Royal Club over a livestream--one that more than a million people were watching simultaneously--I couldn't help but marvel at how quickly the eSports scene has grown. It's come a long ways since the days of comparatively dwarfed Counter-Strike and StarCraft tournaments that maybe a few thousand people followed. Now it means so much to so many people----there were 13,000 fans that filled LA's sold-out Staples Center alone! And despite their various nationalities and allegiances to one team or another, they all had one thing in common: the love of the game.

That's a powerful experience, one that I'm happy to be a part of. Finally, I know what it means to be a sports junkie.

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Ryan Taljonick

Ryan was once the Executive Editor of GamesRadar, before moving into the world of games development. He worked as a Brand Manager at EA, and then at Bethesda Softworks, before moving to 2K. He briefly went back to EA and is now the Director of Global Marketing Strategy at 2K.