25th May 2017.Today, darts is far more than just a game played between friends over a few pints down at the local pub. From its origins in the 19th century to now, the game has seen constant growth into a highly competitive game with professional leagues. Though the game is easy to learn, it features a "hard to master" quality due to the extremely consistent accuracy required. Pros seldom play just one game, or "leg," against each other, either ? matches often consist of potentially dozens of legs. In other words, winning isn't just a fluke; it's the result of focus, a steady hand, and a refined throwing motion. One of the most popular ways for fans of the game to watch today's best players compete is through Premier League Darts. Separate from the World Championship hosted by the Professional Darts Corporation, or PDC, Premier League Darts nonetheless draws its players from the PDC leagues. If you're curious about watching darts, what should you know about the Premier League? How does it work, and who are some of the biggest players around? Let's look at the answer to those questions right now.

How does Premier League Darts work?

First, let's start by breaking down the format of Premier League Darts. Since it exists separately from the PDC championships, it works a bit differently in that there are only ten players competing throughout the entire league "season." These players come from the Professional Darts Corporation, often including the World Champion as well as other major contenders and past Premier League champions. These players gather to compete in a double round robin-style tournament. The season consists of three phases. Each week, competitors play in different match-ups at arenas around the country in front of large, exuberant crowds of fans. What are these phases? Phase one lasts for nine weeks and always begins in February. The very first match is also always a rematch of the previous year's Final, making for an exciting clash between existing rivals. The bulk of the tournament is where every competitor plays against every other competitor exactly one time. Winners are determined through a best of 12 legs format, though this varies from year to year. Dead legs, or ties, no longer count towards the final score for the evening. At the end of phase one, which this year takes place in Cardiff, they eliminate the bottom two players, and the remaining competitors move on to phase two.

How do we determine which players must leave the competition? Players earn points throughout phases one and two. When a player wins their match, they earn two points. A draw counts as one point. Tiebreakers, like number of legs won, come into play when two competitors share the same number of points. The two players with the lowest amount of points leave the competition. Phase two occurs next and lasts for six weeks. With only eight players remaining, the stakes get higher just four can make it to the play-offs at the O2 Arena in London. These eight players work through another seven weeks of matches, earning points along the way. The best of the best must rise to the top or fall behind. After phase two, the best four players as determined by point totals qualify for London.

The final phase, the playoffs, takes place soon after the end of phase two. The semi-finals whittle the final four down to the two who will compete in the finals. The semis take place as a best of 19 legs match in an atmosphere that demands focus. With tens of thousands of jeering fans in the crowd, a miss is as derided as a 180 is celebrated. The final match of the evening sees the players trading blows across 21 legs. In the end, the new champion of Premier League Darts hoists the trophy adorned with a golden dart. All of this isn't just for show and the right to hoist a trophy, though. There's some serious prize money involved in Premier League Darts, too. For the 2017 league, the total prize pool has reached £825,000. Of that total amount, £250,000 ultimately goes to the winner. For many darts players, that's a truly life-changing amount of money. More than the exciting gameplay and a high degree of skill, fans continue to turn up and tune in to Premier League Darts matches for one reason: the individuals playing the game.

Who are some of the major players in the league?

Now that you have a sense of how the league works, what about the personalities? Since the competitors come from the upper echelons of the darts world, they often have impressive accomplishments outside of Premier League Darts as well. Such is the case for the first player to know, Michael van Gerwin. The defending champion from the 2016 league, van Gerwin is one of the youngest and most proficient players in the game today. He also claimed the 2013 Premier League title and consistently posts one of the highest average scores per leg in the darts world. Known as a fast player, van Gerwin wastes little time in sending his darts sailing to the perfect position. Phil Taylor is another name familiar to those in the darts community. With an incredible six Premier League titles under his belt, he claimed his most recent victory in 2012. It was his 2010 championship win that saw him complete two amazing nine-dart finishes in one match a feat yet to be repeated. As a founding member of the PDC, Taylor has been an influential force in the community for decades. Though he usually runs in the middle of the Premier League pack these days, he still provides an exciting performance every time.

Peter Wright is another star in the Premier League, having finished fifth in two previous years. Wright made it into the final of the 2017 PDC, he's set new records for televised average scores and commands a big presence on stage. Each match he appears with a differently coloured mohawk. With a practised throwing style and a keen eye this years final between Wright and Michael van Gerwin was a tense occasion. In the end Michael van Gerwin held onto his title beating Peter Wright 11-10 in a very close session. Besides these three players, there are many other fun personalities to watch during these televised matches. Once you've followed along for a few weeks, it's easy to tell who your favourite players are and who you'll root for through to the end.

How you can watch Premier League Darts matches

Are you interested yet? It's hard not to get hooked after watching a few legs. If you'd like to follow along, you'll need to know how and where to catch the next match. The Sky Sports TV network carries Premier League Darts, airing the matches in full HD each Thursday as they happen. Lively commentary keeps viewers engaged and informed with what's happening on the stage from warm-ups through to the final leg of each match. Plus, watching on TV delivers another advantage you don't get in the pub: the ability to see slow motion replays of the dart's whole flight. Of course, who says you only should watch it at home? Be sure to check on the Premier League's schedule near the start of each season. Will there be a match near where you live? Purchasing tickets and attending a match in person could be an unforgettable experience. Those who've played darts casually know that consistency is tough even on good days. Seeing the masters throwing precision darts in person and being a part of the cheering crowd is an experience every lover of the game should try at least once.

Enjoy the excitement of watching the best of the best

With huge amounts of cash, prestige, and bragging rights on the line, it's no wonder that the atmosphere at every Premier League Darts match is raucous and energetic. In fact, it's hard to feel excited when watching the spectacle put on throughout the spring. With big personalities and big crowds, this darts competition has something to offer for all fans of this classic game. With the current season at a close, and Michael van Gerwin crowned champions now is the time to consider watching a Thursday night match and immersing yourself in the excitement. It might even encourage you to try out darts for yourself.