Local man finds success in e-sports

Josh Leesman of Cranbrook is a lead commentator in the world’s most played video game

Josh Leesman of Cranbrook (right) and Steve Jaworski commentate a League of Legends online tournament at PAX Prime in Seattle

A Cranbrook man is travelling the globe commentating the world’s most played video game, and this past weekend he held the stage before 8,000 people in person and one million people online.

Josh Leesman, 25, grew up in Cranbrook but moved to Santa Monica, California, in February to work as a game analyst for Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends.

Since then, he has provided play-by-play analysis at competitive gaming tournaments – known as “e-sports” – in Seattle, Anaheim, San Francisco, Raleigh, Boston, Los Angeles and Poland.

League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena game played by 12 million people every day, with 70 million registered players from 145 countries.

Each match of League of Legends features two teams of five players picking superhero-like characters with special powers called Champions from a list of more than 100, then attempting to slaughter each other and destroy their jungle arena bases. Riot Games mostly makes money with the free-to-play game by selling virtual items and characters.

Riot Games recently declared League of Legends the most played game in the world by hours played per month, beating out Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, World of Warcraft, and every Facebook game.

For example, FarmVille 2, the most popular game on Facebook, has 8.5 million daily users.

Since 2004, popular video game Halo has recorded 2 billion hours of playing time, while League of Legends records around 1 billion hours of playing time each month alone.

“It’s pretty crazy to imagine how big League of Legends has gotten,” Leesman told The Townsman. “I probably don’t realize the actual significance of being involved yet.”

Under his game moniker Jatt, Leesman began playing League of Legends in the fall of 2009, quickly becoming very good at it. So much so that in September 2011, Leesman was signed to professional e-sports team Dignitas.

As a member of the five-person League of Legends team, Leesman received sponsorship to play in tournaments all over the world.

During his three-month professional career, Leesman played for Dignitas at four tournaments in Atlantic City, New York, Providence and South Korea. His team placed first in the IPL tournament in Atlantic City on October 9, 2011.

Leesman retired as a professional player just before Christmas last year, when he applied for a job at Riot Games. He was hired in February and made the move from Cranbrook to developer headquarters in Santa Monica, California, where he now develops characters in the game.

In addition to that role, Leesman began commentating games at League of Legends tournaments in January. He is now one of Riot’s lead commentators, known as casters.

Leesman said his passion lies in casting, rather than in playing professionally.

“I enjoy casting more. I get to teach people about the game and hopefully increase the enjoyment of the viewers, which goes further for the popularity of the sport than playing would. Also playing is hyper stressful, and wasn’t really for me in the long run,” he said.

On October 13, Leesman casted the League of Legends world championships at the University of Southern California’s Galen Center, which is typically reserved for basketball games.

Last weekend, it was transformed into a mecca for League of Legends fans, who flocked from all over the world to see Taipei Assassins beat Azubu Frost to take the title and win $1 million. One million people tuned in to watch online, showing the burgeoning popularity of e-sports worldwide. While e-sports have been broadcast on U.S. television in the past, it never caught on. Organizers have forgone the old-school medium in favour of streaming matches online, where they can sell their own advertising and charge subscription fees.

“It was a thrill to cast in front of that many people; how could it not be? I was only slightly nervous before the show, but once the games started I was just talking about it, which comes naturally.”

While e-sports have been around for more than 15 years, the genre has yet to achieve mainstream success in North America, though it’s practically a national pastime in South Korea. That’s shifted over the past few years, as technology has evolved, Internet speeds have become faster and more reliable and a generation of spectating gamers have grown up.

“E-sports becoming a thing in North America is something I’ve wanted to happen for years, and it looks to be turning a corner now,” said Leesman.

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