League of Legends celebrates 10 years

Illustration by Angelo Sanchez

If someone has been online in recent years, there is a chance they have heard about one of the most popular video games, League of Legends, and how large its community is.

According to PCGamesN, an online gaming magazine, the current player base reached 8 million players in September.

On Oct. 15, 2009, League of Legends caught the world’s attention and proceeded to become something more than just a game to its players and developers. Last month, the gaming community celebrated the anniversary, but League of Legends is played yearlong across the globe.

According to its website, League of Legends developer and publisher Riot Games was co-founded by Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill in Los Angeles in 2006. Three years later, they released League of Legends as a free-to-play game, and it gradually became a global phenomenon that has garnered the attention of mainstream media and was even mentioned in an October “Saturday Night Live” skit.

As part of its 10-year celebration, Riot also announced new efforts, like a card game, a fighting game and an animated series influenced by the game.

With a large global presence, there are also students at NAU who have been invested in the game since its early days. Junior Conner O’Brien has played League of Legends since season two, which dates back to 2011.

“The first time I saw League was in fifth or sixth grade, and I saw my friend playing it, and I said, ‘This looks like a really stupid game,’” O’Brien said. “I didn’t play until seventh or eighth grade when I changed middle schools, and I started making friends, and all of them played it. I started in the middle of season two, and it was pretty rough. Back then, getting your account level from one to 30 was a real chore — probably 100 hours [of gameplay].”

At the initial launch of League of Legends, there were only 40 champions, which are player-controlled characters that have unique abilities and attributes. That number has since come close to quadrupling at 145, with champion 146 being released soon. One of O’Brien’s favorite champions is Kha’Zix, a massive, vicious creature that seeks greater prey to evolve.

“Before [my account] was level 30, I only played the 3 versus 3 game mode,” O’Brien said. “The second week I started playing, in the free list of champions was Kha’Zix. He’s an assassin whose main gimmick is that he can transform his abilities. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. So, I saved up all of my in-game currency and played Kha’Zix all the way up until I was level 30.”

O’Brien is one of many players at NAU whose lives have been affected by League of Legends. Another player who coaches NAU’s League of Legends esports team is senior Devlin Nipper.

Unlike O’Brien, who has played since the game’s early days, Nipper started playing late in season five, which took place in 2015.

“Before I came to NAU, I was originally set to go to Brown University on a Division I wrestling scholarship,” Nipper said. “I ended up breaking my leg in four places in a crazy training accident and lost the scholarship. I was stuck lying down for about three and a half months. In that time, my friends introduced me to League.”

League of Legends is more than just a game to Nipper. As a coach, he is part of the North American Scholastic Esports Federation, which means he gets paid for his time.

“[League of Legends] has done a lot. If I’m being 100% honest, it’s saved my life on a couple of occasions,” Nipper said. “There have been times where I’ve been in bad spots in my life, and that game has pulled through. It puts a roof over my head and feeds my pets, me and my soon to be wife. I owe a lot to League of Legends at this point.”

Another member of NAU’s esports team has been involved with League of Legends since 2010. Freshman Stefan Mihailovic has played the game since before the first competitive season was released. He also uses it as a method to stay in touch with distant friends.

Mihailovic said when his mother got a new job and his family moved, he used the game as a form of communication with old friends.

“That’s when I initially started, but it wasn’t until three years later when I actually started playing the game seriously,” Mihailovic said. “The elementary school I went to at the time — there was a group of seven of us. After school, there was an internet cafe that was literally right next to the school, so we would go and play for hours.”

With a community as large and passionate as League of Legends’, the game has developed a veritable history. Not only has it accumulated one of the largest followings of any modern video game, but it helped grow esports as an industry and changed the lives of thousands.