By explaining what League of Legends is, I'd be chopping a small piece of its "most popular game in the world" title, but I have no choice.
With its brief nickname and overwhelming fame, LoL gathers way over 8 million peak concurrent gamers daily to battle in teams of five against each other. The most popular mode presented to players is Summoner's Rift, in which two teams aim to destroy the opponent's Nexus (in Layman's terms, the enemy's tower).
League of Legends expands in ways one cannot describe in a few sentences, but those who dedicate their time to it know its value. The latter is quite apparent actually, as prizes worth $6 million take center stage during the game's world championships. Created by Riot Games in 2009, the multiplayer phenomenon turned 10 years old this October and brought the whole nine yards to Saudi Arabia for a feisty celebration.
Between Dec. 5 and 7, Riyadh Boulevard - part of Riyadh Season - hosted the Arab region's first League of Legends festival and it was marra marra successful (and unimaginably needed).
"As the first event in this scale for the region, it was a fantastic effort by the whole team. We have delivered something that the community has been expecting for a long time and it was great to see strong turn-out during the three days," Onur Tamer, Riot Games' METAI General Manager, said in a statement.
And indeed, the gaming community in Saudi Arabia was all too excited and in disbelief by the novelty of this event. Fans of the video game were thrilled, cheering on the players who were keeping them entertained.
A group of around 10 guys in their 20s drove all the way from Jeddah to Riyadh (that's a good nine-hour drive) just to attend the event. The lack of flights' availability did not deter them from making it to the festival.
"My brother is one of the players you see on screen now," Abdallah Abed, a 25-year-old curly-haired Saudi graduate, told me with pride and excitement. "Finally this is happening. It's truly unbelievable to be sitting here for the purpose of attending a League of Legends festival ... in Saudi Arabia."
Abed then called one of his friends to come and share his thrill with me. "This is something we didn't even anticipate could possibly take place anytime in the near or far future," Mohab, a 20-year-old engineering student, said in disbelief.
Abed and his friend Mohab have been playing LoL for 10 and seven years, respectively. In the words of the former, now it's possible to face your conservative parents about taking up gaming as a profession. He wishes his young brother will make it happen, as his own dream of becoming a professional gamer had slimmed down into nonexistence.
Young Saudi men were roaming the arena of the Nexus Festival, some seated to watch the live-streaming of gamers battling for a piece of the $2-million prize, others waiting in line to meet gamers and buy genuine League/Riot Games merchandise.
From time to time - a rarity, really - you'd find a woman or two walking around. As I approach a few the second I have the chance, they disappoint me with an "I'm an organizer" reply. Of the thousands who attended the gaming festival, only a handful were women.
When it was time for the cosplay section to be launched, though, it was a good mix of men and women dressed up as their favorite champion (the character a gamer fights with).
Loulou, a 23-year-old CEO assistant, has been playing LoL since 2016. With dreamy eyes when discussing her love for the game and a LuLu hat on - the headwear of Lulu, a champion she sometimes chooses when gaming - she explains how the mood of League is off the charts.
"The game is very inventive and never the same. They work on it and change it often," Loulou, who's using a pseudonym, commented. "The skins, the champions, the little bug fixes and such... they all make a difference between games."
Next to Loulou stood a young woman in a niqab; she called herself Lolla because Loulou had just been taken by her friend. It seems the champion's name has some influence on female gamers. Also 23 years of age, Lolla has been playing League of Legends since 2014. Both girls, to my surprise, had just met while queueing and instantly hit it off. They told me they made friends with other female gamers as well.
Saudi Arabia is becoming more acceptant of women having their own gaming PCs set up at home for hours of fun.
Tamer, Riot Games' METAI GM, believes this event and it being part of Riyadh Season will make an impact. "We worked with the GEA [General Entertainment Authority] quite in detail and very delicately about everything that we can do in Saudi Arabia," he explained to StepFeed.
Riot Games' strong partnership with the GEA and the fact that most infrastructure was already existent for Riyadh Boulevard made the decision quite obvious for the company. Even though Tamer is aware of the internet's situation in the Arab region, he confirms the company will be releasing an Arabic version of LoL soon.
"We wanted to open the gates for entertainment; we wanted to really engage with the players," the GM commented on the expectations Riot Games has from the Nexus Festival in Riyadh. "We wanted to give people a road, a dream that they can achieve in the long term by building this trust with Riot Games; telling them that Riot Games is here [...] to take care of you," he told us.
For the future, Arab gamers can expect five new games from Riot Games, along with the Arabic version of LoL and plenty of server maintenance and fixes. International eyes have finally been open and are just now focusing on the Arab region; let's hope for the best.