September marked the beginning of the 2015 League of Legends World championships, an event tuned into online, if not live in Taiwan. The players are the new-wave of sportsmen, where the only skill required is in their fingers and minds. But what is League of Legends, or its rival, DoTA2, and who are the crowd that play and follow the game professionally? What makes these games spectator-friendly and so widely followed?

     Firstly, what are these games? What are they about? {slider=Click here for an explanation of how the game is played.}

      DoTA2 and League of Legends are arguable the same game, only their gameplay alters with their separate range of champions. The player chooses a character at the start of the game, along with 4 teammates, aware of their character's abilities and skills, and how they might help their teammates and destroy their opposing team.

Crystal Maiden, frost mage of DoTA2.

     Take Crystal Maiden, a type of frost mage. She is a crowd-controller, her skills based on holding enemies still or slowed while another teammate kills them. Her skills are:

Crystal nova: slows enemies and their attacks
 Frostbite: puts an enemy in ice, freezing them, causing some damage. 
 Arcane aura: gives mana (resource) to teammates, enabling them to attack enemies more
 Freezing field: surrounds Crystal Maiden with ice that slows enemies and causes large amounts of damage to enemies

     These skills will be shown at the bottom of the screen, where player can see when skills are available, how strong they'll be, and what keys will fire them off.

     At the start of the game, the character has gold to buy some starter items, based on the type of role they are playing in the game. The player then takes his character into the lane to farm creeps, sometimes called minions to earn more gold, to buy more items, to make their character stronger. While doing this, they will have a character from the opposing team nearby doing the exact same thing. The trick is to out-farm or pressure the other team member to your advantage. If the player is able to kill or injure the opposing team member while farming, that will give them further advantage, and additional gold.

     The overall objective is to destroy the opposing team's towers of defense, working back to their base of power, often called the nexus. When this final tower goes down, the game is won. Opposing teammates will defend the tower, while trying to destroy yours, in a back-and-forth war.


     In some ways DoTA2 and League of Legends are glorified games of Paper/Rock/Scissors, where players use a specific skill to counteract the skill another person used, or to compliment a skill their teammate used. The strongest and smartest will win; sometimes the weaker, but smarter being victorious. Below you will see two teams mid-fight, green vs. red, and the map they are trying to dominate.


     Teamfights appear complicated to the casual observer, but to those who follow the sport and play the game, different spell effects are recognised, despite these games having over 100 characters and skill sets to memorise. 


     The heavy action of the game makes it a watchable sport. Cyber-sportsmen have a huge following, and enter into tournaments with large prize pools. DoTA2 is the lesser popular of this game type, however, the International championships of 2014 held a 10.5 million dollar prize pool, with the first place team earning 4.8 million. The event was funded by fans, who raised money, where they pre-paid their tickets to get the event hosted. It was hosted in Seattle's Key Arena, which seats 17,000 people. ESPN, the US sports network, also televised the event, 20 million people tuning in. 

     DoTA2 championship viewers spoke about ESPN picking up the event, and how it would be assimilated into non-playing audiences.

     "This is happening. Could DOTA2 be the new World Series of Poker? Whoever is commentating will have to spell some of this stuff out to the non-initiated, seeing how most of the world doesn’t speak this dialect of nerd." -- Kingraven24

     "There are the “main” streams, and then a “newbie friendly” stream where the casters attempt to do more hand-holding. Seems to be a hit so far." -- Joel.Gautraud

     "Who honestly cares about drawing that line? The fact that it’s going to be on ESPN gives it legitimacy and shows progress for eSports (or whatever you want to call it) and that’s a good thing. Debating whether or not it can technically be defined as sport just puts focus on the wrong discussion." - BRANDiD

     League of Legends, the most popular game of this style, holds even more viewers, bigger events in South-east Asian landmarks, and hosts numerous teams and sponsorships. 

     Famous team members also have coaches and managers, as well as sponsorship deals, much like a national football or rugby team. There are also disciplinary actions for teammates not being respectful. During the League of Legends World Championships 2014, one team were forced to find a substitute player when one of their regulars was punished for making offensive comments. Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen was found by the Worlds ruling commission to be acting inappropriately when he used the name TaipeiChingChong while interacting with some players on a Taiwan server. Rule enforcers of the World championships found his conduct racist, and committed with knowledge, as all World competitors are given a cultural sensitivity briefing upon arriving at the championship's location. Johnsen was banned from 3 championship games, and fined $2500 USD.

     The documentary, Free to Play, follows the life of the top teams in DoTA2 competition. It's admist the world play-offs, and we see behind-the-scenes of the competition and the families of the cyber sportmen speak about their early beginnings. The documentary follows 3 of the top players, who we see battle against each other in the championships, as each team gets closer to the final, or dropped from the winners' ladder. We also see what happens when a winner doesn't perform.




     Free To Play denotes the aspect of League of Legends and DOTA2 being free to download and play. Their developers earn money from gamers buying the new-release characters, the alternate outfits/skins, and other boosts and bonuses that make the gameplay more effective. 

     The E-Sports players are mostly young and often play in conjunction with their studies or future career aspirations. Many of the teams live together, in outfitted houses, where games and practice are daily requirements in preparation for the next competition. With sponsorship and high-priced rewards, their sole purpose is to win, to secure their future as E-sports athletes. A number of the highly successful players who have won tournaments earn steady incomes and have ongoing opportunities. 

     The documentary, Free to Play, is available at online streaming sites, and show the highs and lows of the E-sport world.