LOS ANGELES – Gamers, it’s time to start training for the majors.

Competitors around the world will have a shot at the pros in 2014 through a first-of-its-kind partnership between Coke Zero and Riot Games, creators of the wildly popular League of Legends game.

A new Challenger Series will give aspiring players a clear path to the League Championship Series (LCS), the top tier of competitive play, Riot announced today in advance of the League of Legends Season 3 World Finals at the sold-out Staples Center, where fans in the arena and online will watch teams compete for the title in an electric atmosphere rivaling any major sporting event.

“Now’s the perfect time to get involved with the passionate League of Legends community, and to help support and grow eSports,” said Matt Wolf, head of global gaming at Coca-Cola.

League of Legends – which challenges teams of five players to take control of their enemy’s end of the battlefield in an intense and highly strategic battle – is part of the fast-growing eSports genre followed by a passionate, fiercely loyal legion of enthusiasts who compete and watch online.

Riot Games stage

The 2012 League of Legends World Finals.

An estimated 32 million people worldwide play League of Legends each month, many of whom hope to compete professionally. According to Wolf, the Challenger Series will build a path for talented amateur teams who aspire to join the LCS.

“Only the best of the best players have a shot at the LCS,” he explains. “We want to open up the league and give amateurs a way to break in to the professional ranks and earn valuable experience competing on a bigger stage for higher stakes."

League of Legends is a big-time draw for spectators, too. Fans pack stadiums to watch tournaments presented with elaborate staging, floor-to-ceiling LCD screens and live color commentary. More than 8 million viewers streamed last year’s World Finals online, and Riot expects even bigger numbers this weekend.

"Some games are like movies, and some are like amusement parks. League of Legends is like a sport,” explains Brandon Beck, who co-founded Riot Games in 2006.

The U.S. government agrees. Earlier this year, the State Department recognized League of Legends as a professional sport. Players around the world can now train and compete in the U.S. under specific work visas provided for pro athletes.


Matt Wolf, head of global gaming, The Coca-Cola Company.

Through the partnership with Riot Games, Coke Zero will promote an active approach to game training and educate and encourage players on ways to improve their physical and mental fitness to compete at the highest level.

“League of Legends rewards fast thinking and decision-making,” Wolf said. “It’s basketball meets chess... it’s a five-on-five team sport, with each player handling a different role, and it’s also very strategic because players must think a few moves ahead and read their opponents.”

He adds, “We want to stress that taking a holistic, mind-body-spirit approach to eSports gaming will make you better. Teams in Korea – where eSports has a storied history – have adopted this approach because they know it works. And as amateur teams embrace this approach and float up to the professional ranks through the Challenger Series, thousands of players will follow suit.”

Full details of the Challenger Series will be announced by early 2014. For Wolf, a veteran gamer and award-winning game developer, the partnership is a labor of love.

“I have responsibility to this community to deliver something authentic that adds value,” he concluded.

Follow the action on Twitter at @CokeEsports.