If you’ve ever watched esports, chances are you’ve seen League of Legends.

The free-to-play game is known for its competitive objective-based, strategy-focused gameplay.

Think of it as a hybrid of chess and capture the flag. The map and champions affect how players approach the game, and you have to plan moves strategically as a team.

At first glance, LoL is simple enough. Two teams of five start from opposing sides on a map. They then follow paths (or lanes) to the enemy base. Standing in their way? A series of computer-controlled enemies and obstacles… and the entire enemy team.

It might sound simple. But to play the game at the highest level, well, that’s where it gets crazy.

Players can pick from a pool of “champions” (currently at 140+ and growing). Each champion has different abilities that help fulfill a specific role in the team. Then throughout a match, players will get gold to buy items which help the champions get stronger. There are over 250 items in the game, each again with different effects like making champions hit harder or heal faster.

There are three different maps in LoL. The first is Summoner’s Rift, the map used for esport tournaments and the most common MOBA layout. There’s also the Howling Abyss, which is one long lane instead of three. And then you have the Twisted Treeline, which looks like the infinity symbol, and only features teams of three (instead of the standard teams of five).

Welcome to the Howling Abyss, where you play in teams of five but your champion is randomly selected for you. (Source: Riot Games)

Each map also has different environmental objectives -- for example, slaying a large dragon. These objectives are technically optional, but they’re also a must because they can increase a team’s power.

As a result, every game played can look completely different, and teams have to adjust strategies on the fly.

History of League of Legends

League of Legends, just like its MOBA rival Dota 2, both evolved from a custom add-on mod for Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, known as Defense of the Ancients: Allstars.

College roommates Brandon "Ryze" Beck and Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill co-founded Riot Games, and worked together with Steve "Guinsoo" Feak, one of the designers of Dota: Allstars to create LoL. The game was officially announced in October 7, 2008, and exploded in the gaming community soon after, hitting 32 million registered players by 2011.

LoL has gotten a SIGNIFICANT makeover since its early days. (Source: Riot Games)

Riot Games was also one of the first companies employ a microtransaction model for their game. It’s free to play the game, and no amount of money you spend will affect gameplay -- you can’t buy better characters or weapons or skills with real money. The only thing players can buy? Cosmetic items: Things that change the look of characters, not their function.

Few publishers were pleased with that plan back in 2007, but Tencent was on board and cut a deal with Riot. That gave Riot the funding it needed to start LoL. Tencent’s partnership also opened the game up to China’s gamers, and now the country is one of the strongest regions in competitive LoL.

The rise of League of Legends World Championship

Speaking of competitive LoL, the game played a huge part in the rise of esports as a form of mainstream entertainment.

Riot Games launched the first ever official competitive season in 2011, where it added the Season One World Championship to the already existing esports tournament Dreamhack. Back then, Worlds was a three day event, with only eight teams competing. According to an interview in Polygon, Brandon Beck said they had about 20 folding chairs there, but ended up with 100,000 concurrent viewers through the livestream.

Ten years later, Worlds is now a highly anticipated esports event with dozens of sponsors and millions of viewers tuning in for a month-long tournament. The Worlds 2017 Finals clocked 57.6 million unique viewers.

They needed a lot more than 20 folding chairs to fit this 2017 crowd. (Source: LoL Esports)

Governments are also recognizing LoL esports as a legitimate event, with countries hosting LoL tournaments in official esports festivals. Other sports teams like the Golden State Warriors and FC Schalke are also investing in LoL teams.