League of Legends (LoL) is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game. For those who are at least somewhat familiar with video games, you can think of it as a StarCraft-esque strategy game where you command a single character (called a “champion”) and compete against opponents. LoL is free to download and play online, but you can – and many do – spend money purchasing new champions and costumes (called “champion skins”).
Nowadays many countries host LoL tournaments, which feature two teams of five people duking it out. Since the game is available in Turkish, professional LoLers are quite common in Turkey. The season begins at the start of each year, with two championships held in the winter and summer. The two best teams of the season go head-to-head in the Turkish Grand Finals in August, with the winning team going on to compete with players from other countries for a spot on (and the chance to represent Turkey in) the annual World Championship held in various cities in the U. S. starting at the end of September.
Don’t think for a second that LoL championships are events organized by a group of players amongst themselves – we’re talking about all-out showdowns sponsored by huge brands and attended by increasingly larger numbers of viewers. The World Championships in particular are immensely popular: during the fifth LoL World Championships held in 2015, over 36 million viewers tuned in for the live broadcast of the finals match. The LoL community in Turkey is also sizeable: audience tickets for last year’s Turkish Grand Finals, also held at Ülker Sports Arena, were sold out within 24 hours – do you recall any other event in Istanbul whose tickets sold out so fast? (By contrast, even Madonna’s 2012 concert sold out in three days). A word of warning to those who aren’t accustomed to the game but who might still be tempted to get tickets for the finals: if you’re unfamiliar with LoL lingo, you might find yourself feeling out of place when you hear terms like “minion,” “oracle curse” and “top lane.”
By now we assume we’re all in agreement that LoL is serious business. But did you know that the Turkish LoL league is also full of cutthroat battles, international transfers and superstar players? You might see the country’s top eSports commentators analyzing LoL tournaments, run into LoL fans debating whether Immortoru or Naru is currently the top champion in the middle lane, or even hear sentences like “Beşiktaş has the dragon advantage” when watching the game. Yes, that’s right: the Beşiktaş sports club has its own eSports team in the LoL Turkish Champions League called Beşiktaş.OyunHizmetleri. Although the Beşiktaş e-Sports Club had a great season in 2015 and even managed to be one of last summer’s finalists, unfortunately the same can’t be said of their performance this season.
Thanks to eSports, those who view video games as a waste of time now have an indisputable fact to reckon with. According to a 2015 report by market research firm Newzoo, the annual profits of the eSports market exceeds $250 million. The team that emerges as the winner of the LoL World Championship goes home with a prize of $1 million – and this isn’t even one of the highest prize amounts among eSports tournaments. This “modest” figure is due entirely to the policies of LoL developer Riot Games: by limiting the prize money to a reasonable amount, they seek to ensure the continuity of sponsorships and regular tournaments. Their policy seems to be paying off, as the prize pool of the Turkish LoL league reached 420,000 TL last year.