News / Toronto

League of Legends: Fans taking over sold-out ACC to watch world's most popular video game

This Sunday 15,000 screaming fans will pack the ACC -- for a video a game called League of Legends.

Thirteen-thousand fans breathe in the arena atmosphere in Berlin as the 2015 League of Legends world championship finals get underway. E-sports have been growing in popularity, and events are starting to attract as many viewers — or more — as other professional sports.

Riot Games

Thirteen-thousand fans breathe in the arena atmosphere in Berlin as the 2015 League of Legends world championship finals get underway. E-sports have been growing in popularity, and events are starting to attract as many viewers — or more — as other professional sports.

This Sunday, 15,000 screaming fans will pack the Air Canada Centre to cheer on their champions, bang inflatable thundersticks and gorge themselves on stadium food.

But it’s not hockey season, and the Raptors are two months away from taking the court. It’s the North American championship series for League of Legends – the most popular video game on the planet.

The tournament final is the biggest e-sport event to ever hit the Great White North, and for Isaac “Azael” Cummings Bentley, it’s been a long time coming.

“For a lot of Canadian fans – and there is a massive Canadian fan base ... there's always been a feeling of being neglected a little bit, or being shunned,says the retired pro gamer from Kingston turned commentator. Despite his nearly decade-long career, this weekend's final is the first event close enough for his family to attend. “That means a lot to me,” he says.

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Once the ultimate proof-of-concept concludes on Sunday, he has no doubt there's more to come for Toronto. “The fact that there's been long-term, incredible support for the Leafs and the Blue Jays and the Raptors ... really shows how passionate that city is about competition.”

Whalen Rozelle, director of e-sports for Riot Games, the company behind League of Legends, agrees. “With e-sports becoming such a part of mainstream culture for this generation that’s growing up … I think there will be a world where you see crowds of 60, 70, 80 thousand enjoying e-sports events.”

This weekend, thousands of fans will be coming from outside the city. To handle the influx, Toronto’s nascent e-sport entertainment scene is overclocking its efforts.

Raiders Esports Centre at Yonge and St. Clair is holding viewing and after parties, with League on 35 screens, including a 200-foot projector.

A few subway stops north at Yonge and Eglinton, Good Game Bar is preparing for a bigger, less Canadian crowd than normal – fielding interest from as far away as Australia.

More than just a busy two days for the bar, owner Pavel Kabargine says huge e-sports events like these are a great way to showcase Toronto to the world. “The 6ix doesn’t just have Drake,” he says.

For anyone who’s curious about the phenomenon but can’t tell League from Tetris, “seeing is believing,” says Rozelle. “Everyone is a sports fan; you just have to find the right sport. And this is the sport for an entire new generation.”

Fans react to a play during a European League of Legends competition in 2016.

Riot Games

Fans react to a play during a European League of Legends competition in 2016.

Hometown heroes

Jason "WildTurtle" Tran

Team: Immortals

Hails from: Toronto

“WildTurtle is definitely a guy who is known as a very aggressive player. He's kind of like a happy-go-lucky guy, always seen with a smile on his face,” says Cummings Bentley.

“His role that he plays within the game, AD carry, is essentially a role where people generally speaking are playing very conservatively and very safe, and he's known for just diving forward into fights. Sometimes it goes really well, sometimes not so much.”

Andy "Smoothie" Ta

Team: Cloud9

Hails from: Edmonton

“Definitely much more of a quiet guy, very mature,” says Cummings Bentley.

“Very well respected among the pro teams as someone who's one of the top players in his role, but because he's newer to the team, he's a newer player, he hasn't necessary gained as much attention.... But I think that's something that's going to come over time and people are starting to really realize just how good this guy is.”

Fans make some noise during a League of Legends Worlds semi-final in 2015.

Riot Games

Fans make some noise during a League of Legends Worlds semi-final in 2015.

By the numbers

The weekend will crown the best team in North America and punch its ticket to a more than $2-million prize pot at worlds.

The finals will pack the Air Canada Centre with 15,000 fans.

Setup of the two-day event takes two whole days, with more than 300 people working overnight.

Last year, League’s world championships drew more viewers than the NBA finals. That same event brought 40,000 live bodies to Seoul’s World Cup Stadium.

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