I fell in love with esports nearly three years ago now. As often happens when one falls in love, I wasn’t looking for it, it happened without me realizing it and it was a friend that first introduced us.
I have enjoyed games of all kinds since I was young. Board games, sports and competitions of all kinds drew me to them, but being an only child, video games were especially intriguing. As a child, I would spend hours on Operation Neptune, Age of Empires, Need for Speed, Empire Earth and so many others. Though in varying amounts, each required skill, strategy and knowledge that was unique to the game, and that combination grabbed me. I would read the booklets that discussed the background stories, discuss the games with my friends or my dad and try out different methods to find new paths to victory.
As we grew, most of my peers drifted away from these pursuits, towards traditional sports and other interests. I loved soccer and played it nonstop. I also attempted basketball, at the request of my best friend, somewhat unsuccessfully. I loved sports for the same reason I loved games when I was younger. The challenge, the competition and watching the pros in order to learn new things and improve my own game – that combination was gold for me, and I couldn’t get enough.
I will always love soccer, but getting older and moving to the city made it nearly impossible to play without spending money I didn’t really have. This brought me back to games in a big way, and I began playing games again in my free time. Mario Kart with the roommates and Total War on my own were fun, but then my cousin introduced me to the game that would literally change my life: League of Legends. For a game that was free to download and play, I was immediately taken with the depth of strategy and knowledge needed to be successful, and practiced every chance I got. I continued to play, mostly on my own, leveling up and learning as much as I could just from playing.
Though I have never been ashamed of my love of gaming, there is still a societal stigma that makes it much less talked about in everyday life than most things. Luckily, through a random social media like one day, an old friend reached out, saying that he played League as well. After reconnecting and talking about the game a bit, he invited me to a Facebook group of about ten people, most of whom I knew from college, who all played. I had recently moved to a new city, and knew almost no one there, but suddenly, I had a community of people that I could talk to every day, who all shared a common interest. We would play together, discuss new strategies, and talk about the professional games. It was through this group that League of Legends grew from an interest to a real passion for me. I began reading about the game, listening to podcasts, playing whenever I could. I started watching the professional teams, and soon had my favorites.
I eventually found my way into the Support role, and it felt like home. Success in this role requires teamwork, game knowledge, communication and awareness – all of which are main things that drew me to the game in the first place.
Then came a moment I will remember forever. It wasn’t a particularly big moment at the time, but looking back, it stands out to me. The 2015 World Championships had started shortly after I began watching professional League of Legends, and I discovered a viewing party nearby. My partner is amazing, and came with me because she knew that this was something I cared about, and had no one else to attend with. The event was to watch the semifinals, but leading up to those games, they also showed some from the group stages.
The match was between LGD and my favorite team, Origen. As I watched the game on the large projector screen surrounded by others who loved the game as well, the excitement grew. I had never watched esports with other people before, and it was a great feeling to see for myself that others were as into it as I was.
Over 30 minutes into a very close match, both teams met in the middle of the map. Five players from each team squared up, each looking for a fight, but hesitant to make the first move and give up an advantage. When it finally did start, it seemed like chaos to the untrained eye. Players from each side used their most powerful abilities while attempting to dodge those that were used against them. One man remained especially patient, adjusting his position within the fight raging around him, and waiting for his moment. When it finally came, Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez stepped up, and perfectly executed his ultimate ability – a shockwave that caught four members of the enemy team, disabling them and causing heavy damage. He and the rest of his team followed up, and within seconds, Xpeke had killed four enemies – 80% of their team.
Just as surprising as the play was my reaction. Without thinking, I was on my feet, fists in the air, yelling along with other fans. I felt a feeling that I had only ever felt before watching a close soccer game – a mix of excitement, pride and bliss that puts a smile on your face and tears in your eyes.
An incredible play by our star player had put my favorite team ahead, and set them up for a victory on the international stage. Regardless of the sport, that’s something that any fan can understand.
I know that many may laugh at that, either because my words cannot capture the feeling well enough for them to understand, or because they simply don’t want to try, but the fact is that it was real. Millions of other fans around the world have found a love for esports, in different but similar ways to this, and the industry is exploding. It is happening, and I count myself lucky to have found a passion like this.