Hansen: 'Legends' has captured millions

Last fall, UC Irvine held its annual Anteater Involvement Fair, when campus groups put up a booth in the quad to recruit new members.

The most popular booth? Not the Greeks or the football boosters or the chess team.

It was the League of Legends club.

The fantasy-driven battle game is now the largest, most played online game in the world. Its reach is simply massive.

"It all happened so fast," said club organizer Diana Chang. "We were not even done setting up our base when people started coming in and asking about membership."

They ran out of 250 membership forms in just over an hour and eventually signed up more than 700 people, far surpassing any other group.

Using battle terms, Chang blogged about the activity on the group's website.

"We were able to defend and hold up while we waited for the rest of our equipment to spawn, but I don't think we were mentally prepared for the super minions," she said.

The onslaught at UCI is not surprising, given the game's global popularity.

The Wall Street Journal just reported that the Santa Monica game maker Riot Games now counts about 27 million gamers playing League of Legends every day, more than double the 12 million from October 2012.

Forbes magazine called these types of numbers "absolutely astonishing."

One reason for the jump in participation is the regional events held throughout the year. You may have heard that the League of Legends world championship took place late last year in a sold-out Staples Center with the winning team taking away $1 million.

Now, there are ongoing weekend championship series tournaments that sell out to boys and girls (mostly boys) in the 15-to-21 age range.

What did I do on Super Bowl Sunday? Watch my adopted Seattle Seahawks stomp on the Denver Broncos?

Not quite.

I drove my teenage boys and their friends to Manhattan Beach so they could go to a League of Legends event.

During the entire one-hour ride I listened to another language. Literally, I had no idea what they were saying.

With teams like TSM and Fnatic, and champions called Malphite and Kayle, it's like hearing and watching a blend of "Harry Potter," "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" — on adolescent turbo.

In fact, there is a "hobbitian" look to these boys in general. I mean, let's face it, we're not talking water polo captains here. Which is all good. There are many types of athletes.

The professional League of Legends gamers are now considered actual athletes by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which makes their visa paperwork easier. The designation also allows the pro players to stay in the U.S. for up to five years.

What's funny, however, is that these pro gamers now command the type of adulation and fan boy behavior you might see with an NBA athlete.

When my boys came out of the weekend's event, the first thing they raved about was not the gaming strategy or the behind-the-scenes tips they gleaned.

It was the autographed swag.

"It was awesome," said my beaming 17-year-old, carrying an armload. "We got, like, pictures of the players and stuff, and they signed posters."

The most urgent task was not to drive home but to post pictures to Instagram and the League of Legends subreddit.

If it was just a weekend event here and there, it would be one thing. But make no mistake: Online gaming is a serious time suck.

It has taken every ounce of fatherly patience for me to accept the hours my boys spend online — only because they are keeping their grades up. I try to understand and put it in terms that equate to my generation. But it's tough.

I can't, for example, compare an hour of playing outside with my friends in the dirt with them playing five hours straight with buddies around the world.

Still, I don't want to be that dweeby dad, so I bear it.

The boys are still abuzz when we start to drive home. My son shows me a selfie of him and some famous pro hobbit from the tournament.

The kid looks like he's 14, all glasses and acne.

I shake my head and smile, wondering if I looked like that when I played Asteroids.

Unfortunately, I wasn't pulling in six figures.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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