Fantasy League Of Legends And The $1m Prize Pool

It spreads out over multiple weeks and contests, by the way.

Vulcun [official site] – a fantasy League of Legends venture – has announced it’s beefed up its prize pool from $250,000 to $1 million.

Fantasy eSports sites aren’t new. Riot has its own fantasy leagues for its MOBA, League of Legends, there was one as part of the International 2013 compendium for Dota 2 and for subsequent events like DreamLeague, Smite has one…

But this one is big and is trumpeting loudly about the available prize fund. I decided to write about it because fantasy leagues in traditional sports are a huge business and Vulcun’s growth seems to be a good demonstration (so far – I mean it’s really early days for the site) of how that’s being taken up in eSports.

By huge business I mean that for traditional sports in 2014 the Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated the number of fantasy league players in the US at 41.5 million. On average each will spend a little over $100 on their hobby each year (entry fees, challenge games and related material). The FSTA wording is a little clumsy in terms of average time spent – “8.67 hours consuming fantasy per week” – but that basically means nearly 9 hours of someone caring about the minutiae of a particular professional scene.

With a number of eSports adopting traditional league structures for their top tier professionals it’s easy to see how fantasy leagues fit into that picture.

Vulcun were a professional team competing in the North American LCS. The owners of that team are the ones behind this site. They’re using that same name – Vulcun – and are still focused on Riot’s behemoth. There are free and pay-to-enter contests which have you act as a manager. You spend an imaginary budget on players and try to optimise your picks in order to earn points. The exact way this works is laid out in the rules but essentially, if the players do well in their real-life matches, your fantasy team does well.

Vulcun views their prize pool as being necessary for the success of the venture and for attracting players. That might sound idiotically simple, but a number of other eSports fantasy leagues are more about fun and competing against friends.

An example draft

“Fantasy leagues are boring if there isn’t anything on the line. People like playing when dollars are on the line,” said co-founder Ali Moiz. “It makes the games much more fun and exciting. Our focus on providing the largest fantasy prize pool in eSports seems to be working well.”

The venture initially had a lot of funding from Silicon Valley investors – $1.3 million. But Moiz told me that this prize pool increase from $250,000 to $1 million is “purely from the money people have been paying to play in the leagues”. The leagues are three weeks old.

Obviously a big number is all well and good for a headline but prize pools break down into smaller amounts so I asked about the amount of money paid out so far and how many people have actually won something. “We don’t have too much data available on winnings,” said Moiz, pointing to the infancy of the project. “We’ve paid out around $35,000 so far to approximately 1,250 winners in two weeks of the LCS. Of that $15,000 was week 1, $20,000 week 2.”

I’ve also been reading through the most recent blog as the team at Vulcun try to work out what’s best practice. At the moment the emphasis is on smaller but more numerous prizes. I entered a free-to-play contest and the top 99 players there each earned a dollar. A $25 entry fee contest has an $800 first prize which you’re vying for against a maximum of 125 people (four $150 prizes and twenty-five $50 prizes are also available in that one). There are also now rules against picking the entire lineup of a dominant team and just hoping for the best.

I’ve written about fantasy eSports before and talked about the potential benefits to the games involved – money making its way to those games and to related industries, increased viewership and in-depth engagement with the pro scene – but there are also potential negatives. With money and time being invested traditional sports fans have been known to lose their temper with players who perform badly or get sick or injured.

There are also questions about whether it ruins a more “innocent” experience by gameifying fandom. I’ve written about the distorting effect money can have on pro-scenes in the form of match-fixing. In 2014 a Korean League of Legends player attempted suicide shortly after exposing a match-fixing scandal he had become embroiled in. I’m not laying any of that at Vulcun’s door in any way, but what I am saying is that fantasy eSports feels like a rapid growth area and that will carry real risk as well as reward.

Vulcan is invite only at the moment but you can sign up and request a beta code if you’re curious.


  1. pack.wolf says:

    But where do I go if I want to bet on teams of fantasy league players betting on fantasy teams of league players?

  2. rcguitarist says:

    Hmm, and i thought esports were incredibly nerdy, but esports fantasy leagues…that takes the crown. But i guess the person who wins the million bucks can finally say they did something with thier life and move out of thier parents’ basement.

  3. Koozer says:

    …what’s a fantasy league? I’ve only ever seen it pop in my Facebook feed back in school with some football thing.

    • SlimShanks says:

      I too would like to know wtf this is.

    • Ksempac says:

      Philippa already explained it in the article : before a serie of matches for a league of a real life sport, you pretend to be a manager of a team of that sport, and “hire” real-life players in your team (ie you make up a list of players you would like in your fantasy team according to whatever rules the fantasy league use).

      Then the real life matches of the actual sport takes place, and each real life player is attributed points based on his/her performance. So for example, in football, a striker would get X fantasy points for each goal, while a goalkeeper would get Y points for each save.

      Once you have the individual score of each real life player, you can add them all together to attribute a score to each fantasy team. Whoever is the “owner” of that fantasy team is the winner of the fantasy round. And you can keep track of points other successives rounds of actual sports to make it a parallel league to the actual real-life league.

      As an example, if you base your fantasy league on the Premier League in football, you would hire a fantasy team of 11 players playing in that particular league. That league plays others 38 rounds (20 teams meet each other twice). So every time a round of that league would happen, “your” players would get points that are added to your total. And to keep things fresh, there are usually some rules that allows you to change some of your roster between rounds (which mean that, if you want to be competitive, you’re probably gonna have to follow that league a lot to judge potential “recruits”). And at the end of the 38 rounds you hope to have the most points out of all the fantasy teams.

      • SlimShanks says:

        Thank you for the reply, but having just re-read through the article I still have no idea where that was explained. Clearly this concept is too advanced for me. And too weird. I cannot fathom the appeal of such a thing, but then again I don’t understand the appeal of LoL in the first place.

        • bonuswavepilot says:

          Perhaps it would make more sense in the context of something ‘realer’ than an e-sport? Places do fantasy leagues for all sorts of real sports as well… In the case of one of those, you would log into a fantasy league website, and make up a name for your team. The game season runs at the same time as a real season for the sport. Based on how desirable players from various teams are in real life, you would purchase players for your game-team, then as the season progresses, the website simulates the outcome of matches between your team and other fantasy teams based on the real-life stats of how players are doing…

          Kinda like playing multi-player Football Manager, but with game outcomes being determined by statistics about the real-life players.

        • jrodman says:

          The statement in the article: ” There are free and pay-to-enter contests which have you act as a manager. You spend an imaginary budget on players and try to optimise your picks in order to earn points. The exact way this works is laid out in the rules but essentially, if the players do well in their real-life matches, your fantasy team does well.”

          It’s brief, but the detailed mechanics aren’t the key, just the general idea.

  4. cyrenic says:

    I’ve been playing Riot’s official version of this (no money involved) and it’s a lot of fun.

    Last year, when Riot’s version first came out; it was also pretty surreal seeing popular players draft on streams or talk about their fantasy team’s points as they played.

  5. Ksempac says:

    I like eSports, i watch several hours of it every week (even though i don’t actually play theses particular games), but I’m getting more and more worried by all the gambling around it. Sport gambling is usually heavily regulated, both to protect gamblers from themselves as well as avoid things like match fixing.

    But in eSports, there are no regulation, and people bet virtual items that have a very real value (some CS:GO items can go far above the 400$ limit of Steam trading), and the money around that is completely crazy.

    CSGoLounge, a single website, reported that on Day 1 of MLG CS:GO At Aspen, they registered more than 4 millions $ in items bet, accross the 8 pool matches of that day. That’s some serious money right there, and it could lead to serious issues…well it already has, considering we’ve had two match fixing incidents in 3 weeks in the CS:GO scene.

    I really think all that unregulated gambling can kill the nascent eSport scene. I mean even basic rules such as “do not allow betting on matches with no stake for either team” (ie the easiest ones to fix) are not implemented. I fear the moment when the real sharks or mafia will come down on eSports if they can’t regulate their gambling fast enough…

    • SlimShanks says:

      And it will happen. We are talking serious money here. The filthy crims are surely on their way as I type this. That sounds kinda sarcastic but it isn’t. I think that people who like watching esports are going to really suffer when issues of legality start arising.
      On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that most game publishers are owned by criminals, so why not have them run our Esports too?