'League of Legends' champs win in legendry venue

'League of Legends' champs win in legendry venue
Fans watch the opening ceremony at the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship Final between South Korea's SK Telecom T1 and China's Royal Club, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, in Los Angeles. The SK Telecom T1 team won 3-0. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — When it comes to sports, the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles is usually home to award-winning basketball and hockey. However, the behemoth arena hosted a very different kind of competition this weekend: the sold-out season three championships of "League of Legends," a free-to-play video game that attracts more than 32 million players a month.

It wasn't much of a contest though. South Korea's SK Telecom T1 completely dominated China's Royal Club on Friday night in the first three rounds of a best-of-five series. This earned team members Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong, Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, Lee "PoohManDu" Jeong-hyeon and Bae "bengi" Seong-ung the Summoner's Cup trophy and a $1 million grand prize.

The virtual battle at the famous venue marked another milestone for e-sports.

The genre has yet to totally achieve mainstream success in North America, though it's basically a national pastime in places like South Korea. That's shifted over the past few years, as technology has evolved, Internet speeds have become more reliable and a generation of gamers have grown up watching competitive bouts on streaming video sites like Twitch and YouTube.

Unlike many games, "League of Legends" was created to be a sport. Each match features two teams of five players selecting superhero-like characters from a list of more than 100 champions, then attempting to slaughter each other and destroy their jungle arena bases. Riot Games mostly makes money from the free-to-play game by selling virtual items and characters.

"It's a huge honor and privilege for us to put this on at a storied venue like the Staples Center," said Marc Merrill, president and co-founder of "League of Legends" publisher Riot Games. "My partner and I grew up in LA, and we thought it would be appropriate to end season three at a fantastic arena where Kobe Bryant and the Lakers play and win world championships."

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based studio moved the championships to Staples Center after holding last year's match-up at the University of Southern California's Galen Center. The Staples Center hosted more than 10,000 spectators Friday night — with millions more watching online. Last year's championship online broadcast attracted 1.1 million concurrent viewers at its peak.

Merrill said booking the Staples Center was less about making a statement to outsiders about the ever increasing popularity of "League of Legends" and e-sports and more about making die-hard fans proud of their favorite sport. He said the company hasn't decided if it will keep next year's championships at Staples Center or perhaps move to a new international location.

"We lose money with e-sports, but we think of it as an investment on delivering cool experiences that are memorable for our players," said Merrill. "We're also building an ecosystem and raising awareness about e-sports. As the sport continues to gain even more awareness and appreciation, we hope it will become more sustainable and not cause us to lose money."