Inside LA's Biggest Night in Esports

The 'League of Legends' World Finals are over, but fan support is at an all-time high.

Over the Halloween weekend, Riot Games hosted the World Championships for League of Legends. Thousands of fans poured in from all around the world to watch the reigning esports game crown a new champion at the Staples Center in Los Angeles — which was packed to the brim with folks watching two banks of computers manned by professional gamers duke it out.

League of Legends is Riot Games’s hugely popular, multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game. The company currently estimates that over 100 million players log in each month, making it one of the most successful games in history depending on the metrics you use. And there’s an immensely popular league of teams that play the game professionally.

The objective of League of Legends is to strategically destroy your enemy’s defenses in five-on-five combat. Utilizing a variety of specific objectives, players must choose among a list of playable champions, each with their own unique set of skills and intended roles, to strategize in real-time and coordinate an attack on their enemy’s territory. The game is won when a team’s nexus, the central structure in a team’s territory, is destroyed.

While some fans were disappointed to once again see two South Korean teams, SK Telecom T1 (SKT) and Samsung Galaxy (SSG), in the finals as opposed to a team from a different hemisphere, the match was anything but expected. Coming in, fans (and most analysts) expected a 3-0 stomp in a best-of-five match, with everyone resigned to SKT winning their third World Championship title and second consecutive championship. Samsung Galaxy, however, proved to be the underdog story everyone hoped the team would be.

Sure, Samsung Galaxy ended up losing 3-2, but the team has the honor of being the opponents that drove the dominant SKT team to a fifth game, the first in World history, and for delivering one of the longest matches ever at 72 minutes. For fans, Worlds 2016 was the stuff of legends and they were more than thrilled to share their excitement with Inverse.

“Craziest. Game. Ever,” said League of Legends fan Peter. “First finals where it went past three matches! I think the esports community is only going to be even stronger after tonight,” he told Inverse shortly after match three ended. This was Peter’s first Worlds, which seemed to be the case for many of the fans walking around the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles that night.

SKT was the overwhelming favorites to win the Finals, and the general mood was that it would be a short night ending at three games. That feeling only intensified after the lackluster second match in which Samsung Galaxy fell almost embarrassingly early, and many fans began packing up to leave during the middle of the third round as it seemed victory was almost assured for the reigning champs.

But the night did not stop there. Samsung Galaxy managed to pull an upset in game three, putting the series into an unexpected fourth game. Fans were, understandably, extremely excited.

“It was stunning. I was terrified and thrilled!” said Raisa, a fan from Brazil who came to her first World Championship with her boyfriend, a Riot employee who refrained from giving a statement. “After tonight, I am very excited for next year, which I think will be even better.”

Worlds could even be in Raisa’s home country of Brazil in a few years, another global League of Legends epicenter where the game is immensely popular. In fact, a day earlier during a Q&A session with the two competing teams and Riot’s founders, Brazil’s press corps pressed Riot on whether Brazil would one day host the World Championships. “It’s a matter of when, not if,” explained Riot’s esports head Whalen Rozelle.

The energy in the stadium changed after Samsung Galaxy won the third and then, even more surprisingly, the fourth game. People were more energized, and food stalls were more crowded as people began situating themselves for the long haul.

“I’ve been to non-League sporting events at Staples Center before, and I have to say, this crowd is as big or bigger than any of the other crowds I’ve seen here before,” explained Miguel while in the line at one of the many League of Legends gift shops set up around the stadium. “What a great game. Just great,” Miguel laughed. “You gotta give it to Samsung.”

“Crazy game!” echoed Allen in line at the food stands. “Great scene, meeting new people I feel like [the esports community] will get even bigger.” Allen’s in a relatively good position to know as this was his second World Championships, having attended three years ago when it was last held in Los Angeles.

While records were broken, SKT ultimately took home the Summoner’s Cup — the name of the Championship trophy — after a grueling back and forth during the final two games. Thought they ultimately lost, Samsung Galaxy managed to send the series to a fifth game for the first time ever in League of Legends World Championships history.

“I went to Series 3 World Championship [in Los Angeles], and I saw how big esports grew. Definitely cool how big and mainstream it is now,” explained Alex outside of Staples Center after the night’s awards ceremony. Alex was there with Dylan, though it was the latter’s first World Championships. “As a community, esports can be toxic sometimes, but on nights like tonight, people really come together,” added Dylan.

As the crowd started leaving at around 10 p.m. PST, long past anyone expected to stay, the feeling in the air was electric. Sure, SKT won their third championship in four years, reaffirming South Korea’s dominance in a game with a much larger, global fanbase. But as far as game nights go, League of Legends World Championships Finals 2016 was one for the record books, and folks can finally see their sport and community establishing a dynasty, a mythos all its own, and a future where outcomes will deviate from the expected norms. All said and done, it was a good night for esports fans.

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