Why ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘League of Legends’ dominate online gaming

Over 550,000 concurrent viewers: tuned in to see the “League of Legends” World Championship semi-final (via YouTube, Twitch.tv, and Azubu.tv) between “Team Fanatic“ and their opponent, “Royal Club” on Sept. 28. No matter how you may feel about the game, that’s a whole lot of people.

Then you realize that’s just the people who care enough to follow the professional scene; it’s only a fraction of the actual player base. Riot Games, developer of “League of Legends,” put out an infographic last year claiming that their game has 12 million active players per day.

Did I mention this game came out in 2009? That’s right, this game has done nothing but grow for the last four years. Many games are rapidly shedding players as hype continues to die by this age, but LoL is still burning bright and is in fact growing.

You know what kind of game had that kind of longevity?

“World of Warcraft.”

As a matter of fact, around the same time last year, WoW had an impressive subscriber count of over 10 million, due in most part to their expansion pack, “Mists of Pandaria,” according to PC Gamer. WoW was released in 2004, and almost a decade later, millions of players are paying by the month to keep playing.

A key factor in both of these games’ successes is that sense of achievement which only the most competitive sort of game can provide. We’re not talking about some superficial “You are the winner!” victory screen. In these games, you earn the respect of your fellow players, in the form of a high rank and sick K/D ratios in LoL, or the glory of a high level and flashy gear in WoW.

Games are great at rewarding players for hard work and delivering a sense of accomplishment; that’s part of why we play them. However, these two games are masters at not only delivering that experience consistently, but also in a way that feels tangible and meaningful. And it’s not just to earn the adoration of strangers, but because some of your friends probably play these games as well.

You can tell your friend that you beat “Cave Story’s” infamously difficult “Sacred Grounds” level, but if he hasn’t played the game then he’ll no idea what that even means. And you can talk about how you earned the “Ghost” achivement in “Dishonored,” but that won’t mean anything to your friend who won’t touch any game that “PewDiePie” hasn’t done a “Let’s Play” series on.

Then again, those loud kids in the back of your class who stay and talk about LoL during the ten minute breaks might be interested to know that you just completed a promotion series and got into the “platinum tier” last night. And your next-door neighbors who stay up all night doing raids in WoW might stop letting their dog use your front yard as his toilet if you show them your personal collection of orange drops.

These games thrive on being popular, and they lend themselves well to expansion through word of mouth. People stick with them because they never cap off and let players think “Yeah, I’m good enough.” Players are always pushing to become just a little bit better, and look good not just to beat random strangers on the Internet, but also to impress their friends who play the same game.

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