Dec 26 2013 - 1:00 pm

How Dustin Beck turned 'League of Legends' into a global phenomenon

This was the biggest year ever for eSports

This was the biggest year ever for eSports. Competitive gaming has more players, a bigger audience, and a brighter future than ever before. Over a period of 10 days, the Daily Dot will profile people who've fueled this unprecedented growth, from top players to industry visionaries. 

In earlier pieces, we looked at Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn, the 20-year-old StarCraft 2 phenom from Canada, and Rod Breslau, the eSports journalistToday, we're looking at Dustin Beck, the man driving one of the most extraordinary eSports phenomenons in the world.

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As Riot Game’s vice president of eSports, Dustin Beck is the man in charge of the biggest competitive game on the planet: League of Legends. Beck controls the most professionally run and successful eSports competition of all time, the game's League Championship Series (LCS), which sees weekly matchups between top players.

Under Beck, the LCS has been the most-watched eSports event in the world for two years running, ensuring League of Legends's status as the most played eSport around. Roughly 32 million people watched the event over an October weekend.

The massive success of the LCS can, in part, be credited to League of Legends' own success. However, the fact is that Beck and his team have put together the most impressive imitation of traditional sports that eSports has ever seen.

“We wanted to create a consistent league structure similar to FIFA, similar to MLB or NBA,” Beck said

“What that allows for is more fandom and more storylines around players, around teams, around rivalries. What we learned from last year doing this one big tournament last year was that it was really hard for fans to have a big following or an allegiance to a specific team. Now that we’ve done this regular season and we’ve created this large platform for viewers to watch, it’s actually a more compelling, more rewarding experience for the championship.”

Before League of Legends, the biggest eSport was StarCraft 2. One of StarCraft’s biggest issues was that there were too many events for a fan to possibly understand. Few people could grasp which event meant something and which didn’t. A match would be hyped to the sky one Sunday afternoon and forgotten by Wednesday because it had no future implications. There was no world championship or unified league structure to put all the drama together, just a series of matches that fell apart to all but the most hardcore fans.

The LCS changed that by contracting top teams to play in easy-to-understand leagues around the world that lead up to a world championship event that everyone wants to watch. The event sold out Los Angeles’s Staples Center in minutes. It also doesn’t hurt that their website, lolesports.com, offers coverage that easily beats anything a competitor has ever attempted.

That’s the macro side, but Beck and Riot impress even on the micromanagement side, where they’re helping eSports teams and organizations in places like Turkey, Russia, and Brazil build themselves into institutions. The LCS itself doesn’t reach into those areas, but as development continues, it’s easy to see the groundwork is being laid.

In August, Beck made waves when he told the press that Riot didn’t profit from the LCS.

“It’s a significant investment that we’re not making money from,” he said. “It’s an investment into the game, for our fans, just like we’d invest in any other feature within the game. It’s a worthwhile thing for us to do because it’s such a high quality, engaging experience for our fans.”

Big headlines followed. Most of them missed the point. Sure, Riot isn’t making an outright profit on ticket sales or even big streaming. After all, Riot runs a lot of these events through third parties like Major League Gaming and even a giant Twitch stream can’t recoup all the costs paid out here.

But all signs point to the LCS ultimately being a winner for Riot. It keeps players interested and attracts new eyes. The LCS puts its game in the spotlight year round and makes it perfect fodder for big time media to cover breathlessly as the cutting edge.

When HBO’s Real Sports covered the event in October, there was none of the usual snark or dismissiveness that generally accompanies mainstream coverage of eSports. Instead, there was a respect for the obvious success of something so new to most people.

For that, there are a lot of people to credit. The people who developed the original Dota, the founders of Riot Games, and the designers who keep it chugging along all deserve mentions. But as far as eSports goes, it’s Beck at the top of the food chain.

Screengrab via GamerHubTV/YouTube