Epic gaming with League of Legends

Gamers don’t exactly have the reputation for being athletic competitors, but when they go pro, they  attract crowds of thousands across the globe – even in Groningen.

Mijke Rigter, 18, is planning to move in with her boyfriend in December, and her mom is worried. But it’s not what you think: ‘Both of our moms are actually worried that we’ll just play League of Legends all the time’, Mijke explains, matter-of-factly.

Mijke is an American Studies student at the RUG, but when she’s not studying, she’s playing League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) computer game. She describes herself as an addict – she plays 3 to 4 hours a day on weekdays, and as much as possible in the weekend. An estimated 67 million people play League of Legends each month, according to the Wall Street Journal, and Mijke’s certainly not the only fan in Groningen.

On October 19, at the very un-gamer hour of 9 a.m., in the massive 550-seat Hall 1 at the Pathe theatre, the 2014 world championship for League of Legends will be beamed onto the big screen. The event itself will be taking place in Seoul, South Korea at a former World Cup stadium, where two teams of five players will battle it out on a stage – behind their computers – while a crowd of thousands cheers them on.

Epic event

Matthijs de Vries, a Hanzehogeschool student and a gamer, is organising the hopefully epic event along with Nick van der Wolde, an entrepreneur in Groningen – unsurprisingly, also a League of Legends player. In September, Nick posted on Reddit to promote an IndieGoGo campaign to host the live viewing, and Matthijs responded, saying he was attempting to do the same. They decided to combine their campaigns, and they expect that it will be one of the biggest esports events in the Netherlands so far.

Matthijs’s best friend, Rutger van Gans, is also an American Studies student at the RUG. Rutger considers watching the game being played as basically the same as being a football fan. ‘You have specific teams or players that you like, so it’s just like being a fan of Manchester. You don’t always want to play football yourself, you also want to watch it – that’s really comparable to League of Legends live.’

No girlfriends

The players in the final are professionals, too: the top ten earners list is dominated by Korean and Swedish gamers. ‘I heard that the Korean team needs to play 14 hours a day, and I’ve also heard that they’re not allowed to have girlfriends if they don’t win’, Rutger says. They dedicate their lives to the game, but they’re handsomely rewarded – the prize money for the winning team is one million dollars.

Nick admits that his inspiration for throwing the event was ‘pretty selfish’: ‘I just wanted to watch the finals on a big screen, surrounded by people who share my enthusiasm instead of watching it behind my computer with my headset on.’ While they’re far from South Korea, Matthijs anticipates that the crowd in Groningen will be mostly students, from the Netherlands and likely beyond. Game analysis and commentary will be done in English at the Groningen viewing.

They are optimistic that they will fill the seats. ‘I can imagine that there are plenty of gamers who are willing to spend roughly 12 euros to spend an entire day with equally mad people who enjoy their same hobby’, Nick says.