If you’re confused by esports — maybe wondering why games like League of Legends or Counter-Strike are on television now — consider going to a game in person. It’s probably the best way to learn why esports is one of the biggest, hottest trends of the year.
If you’re a fan of more traditional sports like baseball or football, I probably don’t have to tell you what it feels like to go to a stadium to cheer for your favorite team. A cursory look around the internet will show that most sports fans across a variety of forums prefer it. The buzzing atmosphere of being with like-minded fans as you all gather in a massive stadium while eating overpriced food and drinking overpriced beer — nothing compares to it.
Esports is no different. The championship games are hosted in some of the biggest sports stadiums around the country, and sponsored by the same overpriced beers you’ll drink while watching basketball or hockey (sorry Bud Light). It has all the trappings and associated excitement any other sport has, only with a different set of rules to learn. If you’re really interested in learning what the big deal is, there’s no better people to teach you than hundreds of esports’ biggest fans.
For example, I was not an avid League of Legends spectator coming into Worlds 2016. I knew the game, I’d played it, but I hadn’t experienced personally what could be considered the highest level of playing the game has to offer. At the kind of professional level that was in Los Angeles during the finals, the game screen could have well have been just flashing lights and random numbers.
Yet, it wasn’t.
Sitting there, surrounded by passionate fans, all looking up towards the large stadium screen hosting the match between SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy, something clicks. You sync up with the rest of the crowd and, when the big plays happen, the crowd’s roar erupts the stadium, and you’re right there with them.
There are reasons for this. You learn, via crowd reaction, which plays are important. When the crowd murmurs during the team picking phase before a match, you learn to read the chatter and wonder what it was about choosing a certain character that caused such a reaction among the crowd. Basically, you’re learning about the game via committee, being taught how to read and understand the game from the people who are already in the best position to teach you the sport, while also watching some of the best players the game has to offer.
As much as you can read about a game online, or by watching a few commentators during a live stream, what’s immediately apparent when watching live is what gets lost in the context. Reading about strategies common in high-level League of Legends play is one thing. Watching it unfold live, in-person, is completely different. Same thing with the shoutcasters. Their commentaries, while fine on their own, is only maximized when their excitement over a spectacular match rides on the tidal wave of fans cheering.
Even if you don’t fully grasp all the intricacies and nuance of a game after a single match, that’s fine too. There’s plenty of time to fill in the blanks after the night is done. What’s important is learning firsthand what gets the crowd going, and sharing that moment with them. Pretty soon, you’ll learn to see the things they see, and you can begin experiencing the game as the most hardcore fans experience it.
Most importantly, it’s just fun to go to a live game. Just because the sport is different doesn’t mean the crowd or the energy is. If you’re interested in League of Legends or maybe even Street Fighter or Blizzard’s Hearthstone, bring a couple of friends, grab a few beers and hot dogs, and buckle up for the classic sports game experience. You might not leave an expert, but as long as you’re willing to have fun, you’re at least guaranteed a good time.
Photos via Riot Games