HBO Series Ballers returns for a fifth season this year, and League of Legend esports will play a big role. Developer Riot Games confirmed as much during the LCS finals action with a minute-long trailer for the show
The show follows retired football player Spencer Strasmore, portrayed by Hollywood megastar and ex-pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who wants to stay around the business by running a sports management agency. Strasmore spends the earlier part of his new career trying to help athletes get the money they deserve and teach them how to keep it, something he struggled with in his own athletic endeavors.
Loyal client Vernon Littlefield expresses interest in branching out into professional gaming. Strasmore encourages him to follow his dreams despite his closest confidant, cousin Reggie, suggesting he needs to focus on his “real” career on the field.
While some believed there would only be a single episode dedicated to the story, Riot chimed in to confirm that it would be a season-long arc to go along with the more traditional sporting emphasis.
This is a major win for Riot and for esports at large. It’s a sign that professional gaming is breaking into the same planes as traditional competitive sports.
One might bill it a classic case of art imitating reality. It wasn’t long ago that Kevin Garnett, an NBA champion who rose to prominence with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics, bought into the esports scene for his company’s sporting events. Famous athletes, both active and retired, are among the most common investors into new esports teams and franchises.
While details of the esports arc in Ballers Season 5 aren’t yet clear, some fans are hoping HBO spends time shining a spotlight on the dirtier issues surrounding this growing industry. Player exploitation, unfair contracts, strenuous time demands, and discriminatory language and behaviors are just some of the growing pains plaguing one too many organizations at present.
It’d be easy for HBO to glorify the good parts of esports — fame, glory, and money — but exposing the shady underpinnings of an industry in its infancy could send a much-needed statement to everyone that organizational improvement is not just desirable, but vital to its long-term success.
The first of 10 episodes for Ballers Season 5 aired August 25.