In recent years, gaming has become more and more intertwined with pop culture. As such, the sector has started featuring in traditional media mediums such as TV and film. This integration is none more apparent than in 2021’s Free Guy, a blockbuster film about gaming that features an array of popular content creators and character references alongside Hollywood actors.
Shows and films that highlight esports are few and far between compared to gaming, however, there are still a few hidden gems out there. Esports Insider has already compiled a list of must-see esports documentaries, but what about TV shows? Here’s a list of four popular esports TV shows to sink your teeth into as well as one show coming out this year.
In 2021, the creators of TV series American Vandal opted to create Players, a Paramount+ mockumentary show that follows the developments of fictional League of Legends LCS team Fugitive Gaming. Focusing on two of the franchises’ players, the veteran ‘Creemcheese’ and young prodigy ‘Organizm’, the series managed to depict esports as a serious industry, with mock gravitas and comedic tropes that appealed to fans of esports as well as casual watchers.
Interestingly, the series also was a pseudo-marketing campaign for LCS’s franchised teams, with real-life teams featured in the show, alongside the organisation’s sponsors at the time. In an interview with Esports Insider in 2021, Players’ Directors Tony Yacenda and Dan Perault noted that over 150 brands and logos made an appearance on the show.
The King’s Avatar
The King’s Avatar is arguably the most popular Chinese esports-centric TV show — so much so that fans can either watch a 2017 animated version or its live-action series that came out in 2019. The 2017 anime, in particular, is seen as one of the best depictions of the esports ecosystem in the genre, though the show is more of an ode to esports as opposed to being centred around the industry itself.
There are slight differences in the adaption depending on which version you watch, however, the show follows ex-professional esports player Ye Xiu who returns to the game (Glory) after a hiatus under a new username. Perhaps what makes this show the most interesting is its willingness to delve deeper into the esports world, going further than just a player playing games. The series touches on creating a team and dealing with the demands of the profession, even including the need to have sponsors.
The Simpsons – E My Sports
Whilst this was only for an episode, The Simpsons had to make it onto this list. Arguably one of the most popular Western animated series, Simpsons decided to dedicate an entire episode to esports in 2019.
The episode titled ‘E My Sports’ (Season 30 Episode 17) sees Homer coach Bart and his esports team, with the series shining a big spotlight on competitive gaming in the West. It’s particularly interesting seeing how The Simpsons highlighted esports as opposed to some of the Eastern entrants on this list. Homer, the parent, tries to get Bart, his son, to stop playing the game so much… until he releases how much money his son could make from the game. Interestingly, the episode enlisted the help of League of Legends developer Riot Games to help stay away from esports tropes that would off-put fans.
Falling Into Your Smile
Spanning 31 episodes, Falling into Your Smile is one of many Chinese TV shows that utilise esports to tell stories, further highlighting how the sector has crossed over into mainstream culture in the country. This romantic comedy follows Tong Yao, a talented female gamer who joins all-male team ZGDX, becoming the first female player in the fictional game’s competitive league.
Similarly to other Chinese esports web dramas such as Gank Your Heart, Go Go Squid! and You Are My Glory, there is a heavy emphasis on romance, with the games and esports industry utilised as devices to push the plot forward. By contrast, another notable Chinese show that did go in a different direction was Cross Fire, an action sci-fi esports series that secured 980m views less than four weeks after its release in 2020.
League of Legends (New Chinese TV show in 2024)
A Chinese web drama centred around League of Legends’ LPL is also set to be released later this year. Whilst only some details about the project have been revealed, the show’s plot and director have sparked interest from the esports community.
Reportedly scheduled for 40 episodes, the show follows fictional veteran LPL player Ma Da and high school student Bai Yang. The two characters’ souls swap with the individuals forced to live each other’s lives. This action-drama series will be directed by popular Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yi Mou, whose notable works include Full River Red and House of Flying Daggers.
Before ending this list, here are a couple of worthwhile honourable mentions. League of Legends’ Arcane and Dota 2’s Dragon’s Blood, whilst not inherently esports-focused, were animated shows that expertly showcased the IPs of two heritage esports titles. It was also recently announced that Arcane Season 2 will come out on Netflix in November 2024.
Another notable shoutout is 2023’s Gran Turismo, a sports film that focuses on the true events of a sim racer who worked his way into the motorsport scene. Whilst not a TV show, this dramatisation of Jann Mardenborough’s journey is a must-watch. Despite not being esports-related, if long-form entertainment is your medium of choice then check out FPS: First Person Shooter, a four-and-a-half-hour documentary about the genre.