How the World of Sponsored eSports is Bigger than You Think

Money. It’s the first thing anyone thinks of, or asks about when I bring up that there are people playing video games for a living, and for good reason. Video games are typically seen as a leisure activity, how much money could be in such an “easy” and trivial activity?There’s no way that some seventeen-year-old kid in Korea, with neither a degree nor real work experience, could be making more than me with my computer science degree. But much to my shock, and chagrin, they oftentimes do.

This is, of course, not exclusive to Korea, there are plenty of players making ridiculous amounts of money in the West, playing video games. Of course, this money isn’t just materializing out of nowhere, it’s coming from the interest of people, which brings the interest of corporations, really big corporations.

League of Legends Takes Over the World Cup Stadium

In 2014, Riot Games held the League of Legends World Championships in South Korea, the E-Sports (Electronic Sports) mecca of the world. The World Championship finals were held in a soccer (or futbol) stadium, in which the 2002 world cup was held. More importantly, the stadium also sold out.

The viewership for the event was astronomical for most events, coming to an overall unique viewer count of 27 million viewers. This, was just the finals, and are not numbers that encompass the entirety of the tournament, or the regular season that leads up to it. The teams that played that day?

China’s Star Horn Royal Club, and Korea’s Samsung Galaxy White. Chances are you know at least one of these names. Samsung, dipping their toes into competitive video gaming? How absurd. Not really, though. These companies are where the money comes from, and these players are how they make their money back.

 

Birth of Twitch.TV

In October of 2006 a man named Justin Kan brought his dream to life, creating a website specifically for people to broadcast video online. He, along with his partners Emmet Shear, Micheal Siebel and Kyle Vogt, all put in on it, seeking to create something that might rival the already growing, yet still young, Youtube.com, but started with specifically live videos for the sake of having it’s own niche.

Justin.Tv lived for seven years, before it was renamed to Twitch.TV and later purchased by Amazon. It was a sad day for many people who used Justin.TV, but a new day for many people. This new Twitch.TV was marketed as a platform for gamers to  show their prowess at their chosen game.

Or…Their ability to be funny while playing a game…Or their other assets they can display while playing games. Regardless, Twitch.TV was popular for more reasons than just allowing people to stream. It also had the added perk of allowing those people that pull many views regularly to partner with Twitch, pulling money for ads, on top of the donations and subscriptions you can get individually from one’s viewers.

 

Organizations and Endorsements

So that’s a little bit of money, but what does that have to do with the big organizations and their endorsement of these people? What does that have to do with the big money we were discussing earlier? Well, Twitch was effectively the start of it all. Twitch brought the attention of people, and people brought the attention of corporations, high level players began to get picked up for…Something, under team names. This all happened as an E-Sports juggernaut rose to power. League of Legends. League of Legends or LoL is the most played game in the World as of right now, and it came out, boasting a professional gaming scene to rival Starcraft.

It took almost no time at all for these high-level players to get involved, competing in the scattered LAN tournaments, before the creation of the League of Legends Championship Series changed how competitive League of Legends was played. The League of Legends Champion Series (LCS) brought 95% of League of Legends pro play in-house for Riot. This enabled Riot to enforce their own rules and regulations that the teams had to follow to compete. Such as a minimum salary.

 

How these High Ranked Players Make Yearly Salaries

The minimum salary to begin with was 24,000 dollars a year, not much, but when one considers the fact that the corporations were paying for the living quarters for their teams (Game Houses), as well as food, jersey’s and for many teams, medical benefits, this starts to come into perspective. 24,000 minimum, with no expenses.

Things changed over time, and it became common knowledge that no player was being paid the minimum wage and that higher end players were getting paid well above that, and being offered even more. There’s even one such case when the best player in the world, Lee “Faker” Sang-Hyeok, was offered an unknown, yet most likely very large amount of money from Chinese team EdWard Gaming. The Chinese League of Legends scene is known for throwing large amounts of money at their Korean counterparts thanks to their reputation for getting results on the biggest stages in E-Sports history (See Starcraft).

 

 These guys were…Not good, to say the least. They weren’t even in the primetime, they played in what’s known as the League of Legends Challenger Series (CS) circuit. The CS circuit consist of the teams that are fighting for LCS qualification by playing each other for the best record and the best possible seeding, to dethrone the worst teams in the League. Typically, the best team from the Challenger Series plays the worst in the LCS, with the second best playing the second worst. The winner gets promoted, or stays in the LCS. Now these guys, they didn’t even make it to the point where they would play against an LCS team. They totally failed, and the team disbanded, but not before they released the salary of their players to public eyes.

Bear in mind that these guys are the lowest of the low as far as actual professional success goes, and their lowest paid player is making 70,000 flat. Where does this money come from? This loops back around to my first point. These sponsorships make this money go around. When Samsung stamps their name on a player’s jacket, or Geico looks for an endorsement from a player, you can be there was money exchanged. Why? Because people follow their idols. If I see Faker using the Razer Naga, I may just look to pick one up, as an impressionable youth, or an aspiring pro gamer myself. For more information on how to get closer to playing like the pros visit LoL Impact for champion counter guides!

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