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Why 50 million votes were cast for League of Legend’s All-Star teams, and Misaya is more popular than Kobe Bryant


There’s no denying League of Legend’s success at this point. But, what of it’s latest foray into uncharted territory: the League Champion Series, a self-hosted professional league of  LoL teams that plays multiple times every week?

I poked and prodded Riot’s director of esports Whalen Rozelle at E3 last week for details about how well the league has performed against their expectations, and if it’s really as big of a deal as it seems.

Rozelle said that they expected great things, but even their expectations fell short of the league’s current success. In his words: “The biggest surprise has always been the reaction from our community. Obviously, we had hopes with the LCS that this would be something they enjoy… but seeing how often people come back and say ‘Oh, I can’t wait for the LCS to get started again’ and seeing our players embrace what we’re doing—to the level and degree that they’ve embraced it—has been humbling and surprising.”

But how many people are actually getting involved? Rozelle only had to throw out one jaw-dropping fact to convince me: 50 million votes were cast on Riot’s website to pick who would represent the different regions in the All-Star tournament held a month ago. (For reference, American Idol’s record for most votes for an episode is 123 million.)

That’s a lot of people and a lot of votes, especially when you consider that League of Legends had 41 million registered accounts when Riot last released numbers.

Rozelle wasn’t done yet. He continued, “Misaya alone had 4.5 million votes, which is more than Kobe, Lebron, and all these traditional mega-stars [get for similar events]. I had a chance to talk with Misaya a little bit at the All-Star game, and he understands the pressure that’s put on him, because he’s representing so many people in his region. That’s sports, right? The player as an avatar for a region is something that you see in traditional sports that we’ve captured.”

Being considered a legitimate sports alongside traditionals like basketball and football has been a long term aim of eSports, not just one particular company like Riot. So what is Riot doing that’s finally making it seem like a real possibility?

Rozelle told me that it has a lot to do with the players and drama. “The great storylines with TSM: Chaox getting kicked off the team and WildTurtle coming in [as his replacement], and and the shakeup. Everyone’s expecting NA top four and bottom four [teams to perform according to their ranks in the playoffs], and then these Vulcun and GG guys came out in the playoffs and just ran the table.”

But it hasn’t all just been lucky happenstance creating the exciting tournament playoffs. Everything about the LCS’s format is designed to encourage that drama players love. Rozelle told me, “We’ve told stories about one or two players on every team, and we believe very strongly in the storytelling format. That’s the way eSports fans are born and created… We believe the pro players, and their personalities, are what draw people into eSports and into supporting a particular team.”

Drama and excitement are great goals, but they’re certainly hard to measure. And none of us want to see the LCS disappear overnight because it didn’t meet some internal expectations of success. So I asked Rozelle how they’re measuring the league’s value.

Rozelle explained it like this: “Just like any other feature, the more the players embrace the LCS is how we measure its success: How many people are watching? How many people are talking and engaging in the eSports discussion? How many people are repping Team icons on Reddit? All of these things are sort of our metric for success. Whether they love it or hate it, the fans tell us—that’s the best thing about our players: they’re savvy, they’re smart and they’re vocal.”

But the biggest win, in Rozelle’s eyes, isn’t for League of Legends or even Riot Games—it’s for eSports as a whole, and the maturing of the gaming community around events like the LCS. “People [are] talking about eSports when eSports isn’t happening. In anticipation of it happening,” Rozelle told me with a giddy excitement in his voice, “As soon as we saw that we thought, ‘Okay, we’re definitely onto something here.’”

Josh Augustine is a connoisseur of online games in the MMO, MOBA, and RPG style. He currently works as a game designer at Sony Online Entertainment on EverQuest. He’d love to talk with you on Twitter.