League of Legends: Should It Be Considered A Sport?

By Jay Landow | Sports Columnist

It is no secret that the world we live in is becoming more and more immersed in technology. It seems like every day there is something that is being replaced by a technological innovation. Computers and Microsoft Word have replaced typewriters. E-mail and text messaging have replaced snail mail. Amazon and E-bay have replaced malls. Apps like Lyft and Uber are replacing old school taxi and public transportation services.  It seems as if technology is encroaching on every aspect of life. Recently, it has begun to encroach upon the sports world.

On October 27, 2009, Riot Games released a new video game called League of Legends. It is a 3-D, third person multiplayer online battle arena game for Mac and PC computers. The game is simple enough: gain gold and experience by killing monsters and enemies and taking over their forts (called a Nexus in the game). It was nothing too innovative or edgy, but once League of Legends took hold it spread across the world like wildfire. By July 2012, it was the most played PC game in North America and Europe. By January 2014, League of Legends had 67 million active monthly players; 27 million of them were active daily players. 

Due to the popularity of the video game, a tournament was set up by Riot Games. It started as an 8-team tournament, and the winners would receive the 70-pound Summoner’s Cup as well as a monetary prize. The first League of Legends World Championship game was in 2011 at Dreamhack in Sweden, a large digital festival, and included a $50,000 prize for whoever won the tournament. It was a huge success. 1.6 million viewers watched via live stream. Since then the annual tournament has traveled around the globe, gaining legions of faithful followers and increasing the prize winnings to over $1 million. 

Obviously, the world loves League of Legends. Many League of Legends fans, including students here at our beloved College of Coastal Georgia, claim that League of Legends is the fastest growing sport in the world, and is poised to become the largest, most popular sport in the world. While League of Legends may be the fastest growing global pastime; that fact alone does does not make it a sport.

According to Google’s dictionary app, a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” It is true that League of Legends comes very close to meeting this definition; it is obviously an activity involving skill in which teams compete against each other for entertainment. But to say that League of Legends involves physical exertion is a stretch, especially when compared to the amount of physical exertion required in other sports. 

Sure, staring at a screen for prolonged periods of time can be tiring. It can drain your energy and wear you down. But to nowhere near the extent professional football or basketball can drain your energy and wear you down. 

This brings up another point: sports are played by athletes. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines an athlete as “a person who is trained or skilled in exercise, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” To say that the League of Legend players are athletes is even more of a stretch than to say that League of Legends is a sport. To compare someone who spent hours and hours sitting in a computer chair mastering a video game to someone who probably spent a large chunk of their childhood risking their health to master a physical sport is practically an insult. 

In the end, League of Legends is just a video game, not a sport. Just because you can buy stuff on Amazon does not make Amazon a mall. Just because you can type a paper on a computer does not make it a typewriter. Just because Siri will reply when you talk to it does not make it a person. And just because League of Legends is played in an arena in front of 32 million viewers and broadcast worldwide in 19 different languages does not make it a sport.