Professional League of Legends
Professional League of Legends is the organized playing of League of Legends. Players are employed by various organizations that often have teams for several eSports. Given its global popularity, there are professional teams in most parts of the world. Asia, particularly South Korea and China, have the most competitive environments and the largest consumer base. Teams compete within their respective region and top performers are selected to compete at international competitions. League of Legends and eSports as a whole has been growing quickly in popularity. Although controversial as a long term career option, playing professionally is now a full-time job that offers competitive salaries.
- 1 History
- 2 Popularity
- 3 Broadcasting
- 4 Regional Leagues
- 5 Notable Teams
- 6 International Competitions
- 7 Life after Professional League of Legends
- 8 See also
- 9 References
The possibility of video games as a career was not always present. Although League of Legends has organized a Worlds event since Season 1 of the game, the landscape was completely different. There were not teams employing salaried players, many were making just enough to get by. Many teams were simply groups of friends. In addition, the possibility of video games as a career was very controversial. Many view video games solely as a hobby and not as a career. For many, the primary source of income was prize winnings from various tournaments. As gaming organizations became more fleshed out, gaming as a career became more of a possibility.
Early attempts at organizing professional League of Legends included a promotion and relegation system. Many fans preferred the relegation system as it made even the lower level matches exciting, but it was not feasible to have so much volatility for gaming organizations. The leagues eventually moved to a franchise system. The North American League Championship series allowed 10 spots with a buy-in of $10 million. They instituted a method to share profits amongst the gaming organizations while also adding several rules that the organizations had to abide by. Organizations were required to provide players with financial and career planners. The minimum salary was also increased from $25,000 to $75,000. Although $75,000 is the minimum, several players have contracts for much more. Organizations are paying out millions of dollars to attract both talent and players with good name recognition. All organizations were also required to have an 'Academy' team to focus on development of new talent.
The talent development pipeline has also developed throughout the years. eSports organizations now have 3 major sources for their talent; their Academy team, Amateur teams, and Collegiate teams. The Academy team is associated with the franchised team and often has players moving between the academy roster and main roster. Amateur teams are typically attached to other eSports organizations that do not have a franchised spot in a regional league. Collegiate teams are present at many universities and colleges. The CLOL is the collegiate league for teams. ESPN now broadcasts a variety of CLOL games and hosts an eSports section on their website.  Many colleges and universities are building out their eSports divisions and even offering scholarships to players. 
As different regions evolved, organizations began importing players between regions. This allowed for fresh perspective and an increased talent pool. South Korea had emerged as the dominant region in international competitions during the mid 2010s, so many South Korean players were imported to play for North American and Chinese teams. Back in 2013, Riot Games also was able to convince the US Citizen and Immigration Services to grant athletic visas to professional League of Legends players (known as P-1 or individual athlete visas). This made it even easier for teams to attract foreign talent, but created some long term problems. Many "North American" teams came to be dominated by European and South Korean players, leaving many fans disillusioned. The solution was more rules that capped the number of import slots that each gaming organization had, guaranteeing that a majority of players on each team had residency in the region they played in. Importantly, players on a P-1 visa are considered to have residency after 4-5 years of playing in the United States. This means that teams are able to import more players after previous imports gain residency. Many gaming organizations want to see the import rules lifted, while most viewers support the cap on slots.
League of Legends has seen surges in popularity both in player base and professional match viewer base. In 2011, League of legends had between 10 and 15 million monthly players. By 2014, this number had reached more than 50 million and by 2017 the game had over 100 million active monthly players. The numbers for people playing the game and watching the game are strongly correlated.
The eSports industry has grown considerably each year. China has the largest share of player base and has the largest eSports industry, but they are very strict with their data releases so it is tough to get an idea of the true size of eSports in China. Controversially, China also recently implemented a law limiting the amount of video games to just 3 hours a week for people under 18. This is expected to slow the growth of all video games, League of Legends included. Many say that the Chinese government is overstepping their bounds in controlling personal freedoms, but the Chinese government aims to control video game addiction. The South Korean eSports industry was estimated to be worth only 5 trillion won in the early 2000s, but it has quadrupled to over 20 trillion won in the early 2020s. This is due to an increased number of viewers which means an increased number of sponsors. The Korean league has attracted massive sponsors like Woori Bank, SecretLab, Logitech, HP Omen, KLEVV, McDonalds, Kia, and SK Telecom. Although sponsors are being removed from team names, many teams used to include their sponsorship in their name (Damwon Kia and SKT T1).
The North American industry has seen the greatest recent growth, both in overall industry size, and sponsorships. The viewer base has increased by over 10 million viewers in the past 5 years to over 30 million viewers. The North American League now has sponsorships from Honda, MasterCard, RedBull, Bud Light, FTX, Samsung, State Farm, Verizon, Secret Lab, GrubHub, Buffalo Wild Wings, Green Park, Roccat and more. The increase in viewer base and sponsorship has gotten the attention of venture capitalists. Millions of dollars are being invested in teams and organizations as eSports is becoming increasingly important to culture. The overall eSports industry in North America surpassed a valuation of $1 billion for the first time in 2021 and is expected to approach $2 billion in 2022. The Coronavirus pandemic further spurred growth both in 2020 and 2021 and many competitions were held remotely.
Riot Games, the creator of League of Legends, employs a broadcast team to host professional matches and create other related content. Many hosts are early employees of Riot or former League of Legends professionals. The content has long been broadcasted through online mediums such as Twitch, Youtube and YouTube gaming, and Trovo. Some television networks like ESPN are experimenting with League of Legends. Riot Games has struggled recently in balancing the broadcasting rights of their games. Popular content creators outside of the official broadcast team have become increasingly popular in recent years. Members of the League of Legends community like Sneaky, Meteos, Doublelift, LS, and IWillDominate have popularized 'CoStreaming' of professional League of Legends games. In 'CoStreaming', these creators stream themselves watching, which effectively reduces viewership of the main stream. Controversially, Riot Games has been changing their rules to defend their advertisement revenue. Although most other sports do not allow for 3rd party streaming, many say that Riot Games has picked advertisement revenue over the good of the community. For larger tournaments, they have completely banned CoStreaming and for the 2022 seasons, only select games will be available for content creators to CoStream. Many creators have made their own systems and websites to instead conduct "Live Viewings" of games. Viewers and creators both watch the main stream, but viewers sync their viewing time with creators.
Riot Games also hosts live events throughout different regions. The players are typically placed in the center or front of a venue/stadium with the game broadcasted onto various screens and Jumbotrons. The North American studio is in Los Angeles, right across from Riot Games Headquarters. Tournaments are held all over the world and have been successful in filling venues on multiple continents. The 2019 North American championship was held in the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. 2019 Worlds was hosted in Paris in the AccorHotels Arena. 
The LCS (North America), LEC (Europe), LPL (China), and the LCK (South Korea) are the current major regions. Other regions include LAN (Latin America North), LAS (Latin America South), CBLOL (Brazil), TCL (Turkey), LCL (Russia), LMS (Taiwan), LJL (Japan), GPL (Southeast Asia), and formerly the OPL (Oceania).  The OPL is currently merging with the LCS allowing OPL players to play on North American teams without using up an import slot. The major regions are given multiple spots at the World Championship, while only the top team from minor regions is given a spot. Historically, the LCK has been dominant at international competitions, but the LPL has been competitive in recent years. Many attribute this to the massive player base and increased investment into the Chinese eSports industry.
Several organizations have emerged in popularity and notoriety in each region. They are often revered for their history or their performance. In professional teams, there are 5 players and 5 positions (Top, Jungle, Mid, ADC, and Support)
Edward Gaming (EDG) is the most recent LPL team to have won the World Championship. They also won the Mid-season Invitational in 2015, making them the only team in the Chinese league to have won both major international tournaments. Their World Championship roster was Flandre (Top), Jie Jie (Jungle), Scout (Mid), Viper (ADC), and Meiko (Support). Scout and Viper were both imports from the LCK.
Invictus Gaming has several teams, but they are most known for Starcraft II, Dota II, and League of Legends. They won the 2018 League of Legends World Championship with roster TheShy (Top), Ning (Jungle), Rookie (Mid), JackeyLove (ADC) and Meiko (Support). TheShy and Rookie were both imports from the LCK.
FunPlus Phoenix is a relatively young team in the LPL who won the World Championship only 2 years after joining the league. Their 2019 World Championship featured the roster GimGoon (Top), Tian (Jungle), Doinb (Mid), LWX (ADC), and Crisp (Support). GimGoon and Doinb were both imports from the LCK. Doinb especially faced heavy criticism for his unconventional play style prior to 2019 Worlds. Many analysts predicted their opponent (G2) would have an easy victory and forecasted a 3-0 in G2's favor. The reverse was true and FunPlus Phoenix defeated G2 in a 3-0 5 game series.
Damwon Kia (formerly Damwon Gaming) is a young team in the LCK who won the 2020 World Championship only 3 years after joining the league. Their 2020 World Championship roster was Nuguri (Top), Canyon (Jungle), ShowMaker (Mid), Ghost (ADC), and BeryL (Support). Kia Motors decided to sponsor the team immediately after their World Championship victory.
T1, formerly known as SKT T1 is widely known as the most successful League of Legends team of all time. They are the only team to have won the World Championship 3 times, in 2013, 2015, and 2016. They are the only team to have both won MSI and Worlds in the same season. Their rosters have featured some of the top players in each position including Bengi (Jungle), Bang (ADC), Piglet (ADC), and Wolf (Support). T1 also has extremely popular Tyler1 rostered as a related content creator and streamer.
Faker, who has only played for T1 is widely accepted by analysts and fellow players as the best League of Legends player of all time. He was rostered for all of T1's World Championship wins and has now become a part owner of T1. He is the longest tenured player of any professional eSports organization.
Fnatic is a current team in the LEC based out of the United Kingdom who won the first League of Legends World Championship in 2011. They had the roster xPeke (Top), Cyanide (Jungle), Shushei (Mid), LaMiaZeaLot (ADC), and Mellisan (Support). The prize money for winning Season 1 Worlds was $50,000 compared to the current prize of almost $1,000,000. Fnatic currently has a rivalry with G2 as they both have been historically strong teams in the LEC.
G2 is a current team in the LEC founded in Spain and now based out of Germany. G2 has finished in the top 3 spots at the World Championship several times, but has never won the Championship. They often lose to LPL teams in playoffs. The games between G2 and Fnatic have historically had the highest viewership of any LEC games.
The Taipei Assassins was a League of Legends team based out of Taiwan. They won the 2021 League of Legends World Championship with roster Stanley (Top), Lilballz (Jungle), Toyz (Mid), bebe (ADC), and Mistake (Support). They are the only team from a non-major reason to have won the World Championship as they are from the LMS (now known as the GPL).
Samsung Galaxy is the most successful team in the Samsung pair of eSports teams (Samsung White and Samsung Galaxy). They finished 2nd in 2016 worlds and successfully won the World Championship the next year in 2017 with roster Cuvée (Top), Ambition (Jungle), Crown (Mid), Ruler (ADC), and CoreJJ (Support). CoreJJ has recently transferred to play in the North American LCS.
Team SoloMid is the most successful North American LCS team. They have won 7 splits in the LCS, the highest in their region. They have been extremely successful as a business, recently signing a $210 million deal with FTX to change their official name to TSM FTX. Two of North Americas most famous players, Bjergsen (Mid) and Doublelift (ADC) have recently stopped playing for the organization. Bjergsen transferred to Team Liquid after briefly coaching with TSM and Doublelift left the team after retirement. Doublelift considered leaving retirement to play for TSM, but ended up staying a streamer after conflicts with the TSM owner, Andy Dinh. TSM has struggled with several minor scandals including leaks on live Twitch streams.
Counter Logic Gaming
Counter Logic Gaming is a North American LCS team that was historically dominant in the early stages of the league. They briefly had Doublelift (ADC) rostered and had a longstanding rivalry with TSM. TSM/CLG games historically had the highest viewership of the LCS.
Cloud 9 is a North American LCS team that has recently emerged as one of the top performers in the region. They have employed several prominent members of the League community including Jack (CEO), Sneaky (ADC), and Meteos (Jungle). Cloud 9 has represented North America at worlds several times, but only finished in the top 3 one time in 2018 (3rd).
Cloud 9 recently hired LS as a head coach who is highly controversial coach, analyst, and streamer. The 2022 roster of Cloud 9 is being closely watched by fans and analysts as LS brings an unconventional style of play and a lot of young talent. Supporters of LS are commonly said to be part of the "Church of LS".
PSG Talon has been relatively successful on the international stage, but they have mainly received attention due to their owner Paris Saint-Germain, a famous French Football Club. Many believe that PSG has started a trend where traditional sports clubs will have either an eSports division or ownership in an eSports organization.
Riot Games hosts 2 major international competitions, the World Championship (Worlds) and the Mid Season Invitational. The host locations rotate between the major regions.
The League of Legends World Championship (Worlds) is an annual tournament played at the end of each season. The competition is separated into a group stage and a knockout stage. Teams must play against other regions. The format has differed year to year, but the knockout stage always consists of 5 or 7 game series. The 2021 World Championship had a peak concurrent viewer count of almost 75 million, a 60% increase from 2020. For comparison, the 2020 NBA finals averaged 7.5 million viewers over its 6 games.
Mid Season Invitational
The Mid Season Invitational is an international League of Legends tournament played in the middle of the regular season. It is similar to worlds in that teams in each region compete for a spot at the Mid Season Invitational. It is uncommon for the Mid Season Invitational Champion to go on and win the World Championship.
Life after Professional League of Legends
The career of a League of Legends professional is finite. Players are often very young as the game requires excellent hand eye coordination, reflexes, and critical thinking. Many teams are focusing on developing talent when people are very young leading to new rules requiring players to be at least 18 years old. People are arguing on ethical grounds that there should be more rules protecting those under the age of 18. There is another major issue with eSports that the industry is still grappling with today. The vast majority of players have short-lived careers and must pivot after being released from teams. The industry is developing, but for most video games are not a long term career. Many players either go into coaching, broadcasting, or streaming while some return to school. Some are able to take their name recognition from playing professionally and successfully convert it into a streaming career in which they end up earning more money. It is clear that former players are key to expanding the size of the professional League of Legends industry.