Free ‘League of Legends’ Game May Make $1 Billion This Year

The world championship for the biggest e-sport in the world, “League of Legends,” starts in South Korea this weekend. About 40,000 fans are expected to fill the stadium to watch the tournament live while at least another 30 million will watch the games online. Riot Games runs the League of Legends World Championship along with the online broadcasting, and by producing a premium sporting experience for players, Riot Games may make upwards of $1 billion in 2014.

The big money maker is not the event itself. Tickets cost $15 to $50 for spectators, but between providing salaries for a couple hundred players, a grand prize of $1 million for the winner of the tournament, and a sophisticated online broadcasting system with color commentators and highlight reels, Riot Games actually loses money producing the event.

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However, the tournament is intended to inspire “League of Legends” enthusiasts to get more involved. According to SuperData, there are 67 million active monthly players around the world. Last year, a whopping 32 million people watched the final round of the world championship.

“League of Legends” fans can play the multiplayer online battle arena game for free. Riot Games makes money when players buy the characters, which are called champions, that cost less than $10 each. In August, players spent $122 million on champions and the “skins,” or character modifications, to go with them.

“Whenever I talk to executives at Riot, it’s like a mantra: ‘Revenue is second, the player experience is first,’” Joost van Dreunen, chief executive of SuperData, told The New York Times. “The paradox is that by putting revenue second, ‘League’ will be one of the very few games to bring in $1 billion in 2014.”