A Dota Man, Lost In The World(s)

A trip to the League of Legends Finals

I went to Worlds on Saturday. As an esports professional this is not particularly noteworthy, but I’ve never attended. When the chance came up to swing by I figured I should going at least once on the basis of always trying any new experience, like skydiving or fresh Dole pineapple flavored ice cream (both of which I am glad to have tried once but won’t be chasing after again any time soon).

When I go to events any kind, I’ve started taking notes (mostly so I can steal good ideas for the future). My production records ended up being useless, but as I saw SSG almost clutch victory from the jaws of defeat my notes, suddenly became a running log of one of my more interesting events.

You see, I’m not really much of a League guy. I enjoy it, played it in college with my roommate around the time of the first release. But it never really hit me like StarCraft or Dota did. I mean, it’s not that I don’t enjoy it. I just don’t like like it, you know? I have a lot of respect for the game and the LCS system. I’m sure it has a great personality and all but it’s not really the one I want to take to the Snowball Dance. It’s an embarrassing black hole in my esports resume, though Snoopeh once soothed my concerns by telling me League is cordoned off from the rest of the esport-land. On its own little island where no-one travels to, or from.

What follows are (only slighted edited) notes, showing my running thoughts as a first-time attendee. I also thought it would be interesting to note shifts in the stadium energy as the cheers switched from SKT to SSG.

  • Coming in, the Rift Walk is what I wish The International would do — what I keep expecting all the stuff surrounding KeyArena to do but is always disappointing. It’s a nice centralized place to celebrate the game and people who love it.
  • The opening ceremony feels so overly serious. Personally I would prefer if Andy Samberg was in the mystery box instead of Zed. Let us pretend to be more WWE than NFL — in a world where the these two embody the extremes to where a show can go, esports often pulls from opposite poles and ends up in the worst middle ground. Esports is the WWE desperately trying to be seen as the Super Bowl. It creates an awkward disconnect — parts of the experience embrace the absurdity inherent in professional video games, parts try to amplify the serious side.
  • TSM/C9/CLG jerseys outnumber Korean jerseys by probably 50:1. Not sure if that’s a function of availability or regional ties or what. My homeboy Victor ‘Duck Duck’ Goossens will be disappointed I’ve only seen two Liquid shirts.
  • Event is starting and I just realized I accidentally wore my favorite Team XBOCT Dota shirt. Normally I do this on purpose but this time I’ve been ironic without even realizing. I feel like I’m in enemy territory and will get mobbed any second.
  • Game 1: Crowd goes nuts for SKT’s early kills and for Faker. We want him to get his third title and capture our hearts in eternity.
  • My experience here after going to The International every year is very weird. It has a similar floor map, the same pseudo booths-facing-each-other setup, and similar kinds of lighting effects in the stadium. The problem is, they’re just similar enough to invite comparisons, with the Worlds manifestation underwhelming the viewer in each case. It’s like being in a dream state where everything is recognizable as normal at first glance, but just off enough to be disconcerting.
    Fortunately I think the overlap of people who go to both events is only idiots like me (who do it purely to say I’ve done it), and the similarities rarely appear on stream, so this is effectively a non-issue.
  • I got a swag cup. It had a lanyard and thunder sticks and some Coke thing and the cup itself is like one you would get from Burger King to commemorate a Disney film. I ran into Carmac and he made fun of me for getting swag but the joke’s on him. I now have my own Summoner’s Cup Powered By Coke Esports I can use at home. It even says “I WAS THERE” to let people know.
  • Digging all the fire. Good pyrotechnics. I’m big on pyrotechnics. I’m also big on explaining to people around me that James Hetfield almost lost his hand when he once walked on top of a flame cannon as it exploded during a concert.
  • Tons of merchandise booths. Tons of lines. I didn’t realize that esports lines were so bad until I started going to more regular NHL and NFL games, getting merchandise (or to the bathroom) is way easier there. Although it might be because I live in Minnesota and the demand for, say, a Timberwolves shirt is not high.
  • The crowd cheers a lot during ward kills. Like, a ton. I don’t know what that says about the game but seems like it could be a way for me to be smug.
  • 35 minute into Game 3: SKT is 10k gold ahead or some shit. If this was an NHL game everyone would have left to beat the traffic already. The cheers have more or less stopped. I think the crowd is bored.
  • In-game calls Mister Elemental “Dragon” but everywhere else, from casters to the on-stage notifications, say “Drake.” I find this unsettling.
  • Crowd is quiet except when SSG does something, no matter how small. Like kill a ward or attempt a pick-off. Even not dying is good enough for a cheer. Huge SSG chants as they begin to claw back.
  • After Game 1, I went outside and noticed it’s cloudy. A gloomy change of pace, particularly weird for LA. Signaling some sort of….coming rain? Will this be a portent for SKT’s worlds championship? The calm before the storm of their destruction?
    (No. It will not.)
  • 30 minutes into Game 3: even SKT seemed to be bored. Losing a huge lead bit by bit now.
  • Game 3: With Samsung coming back, the crowd is re-energized. Faces have perked up and the storied beach ball is floating aimlessly between spectators in a section across from me. An enterprising group of fans successfully sparked The Wave.
  • Faker shouldn’t be called the Badass Unkillable Demon King. He should be called the kid who made League boring with his dominance. This is a good example of the crowd actually hoping “just to see good games.” With no regional allegiance, cheers erupt for whatever will keep it close. We don’t want you to demolish them with no difficulty, Mister Faker.
  • Guy next to me remarks he would have gone home with blue balls if SSG didn’t make any fun plays, so at least Game 3 is living up to some hype. Godspeed, Blue Ball Worry Guy.
  • Game 3: Gold lead down to 3.5k. Crowd has united against SKT. Tomorrow we will cheer for Faker but for now we all want SSG to make him cry. This beautiful moment in time is SSG’s. The next few minutes will be theirs, they demand it.
  • I recently read a study where they gave people chocolate and asked them to rate the flavor. Some people ate alone and some ate in groups. People eating in groups rated the sweet chocolate as more sweet and the bitter chocolate as more bitter. Sharing an event can make it more intense. Esports reminds me of this, especially now, seeing a game I don’t personally know much about in a crowd. Every in-game action seems intense and meaningful. The feeling is real though it isn’t definitively a piece I can put my finger on.
  • Crowd gave a standing ovation as SSG walked off following Game 3. Blue Ball Worry Guy went to get beer, but apparently they closed the bars when SKT won lanes in Game 3, apparently anticipating an end. No drinks to be had.
  • This Zac champion is an ugly motherfucker. Also, it’s fucked up he keeps dropping pieces of himself.
  • Game 5 start: Crowd back to cheering for SKT kills. We’ve come full circle.
  • I’m no longer an ironic League fan — I have been suckered in like an idiot. I’m the guy who goes to a strip club “just to watch the absurdity,” like an anthropologist, and falls in love with a stripper.
  • 30 minutes in: crowd seems happy for SKT but the cheers have lost their luster. More like polite golf claps as SKT slowly chokes out SSG, grinding them to death. Everyone is resigned to their SKT overlord fate.
  • 47 minutes: SKT victory inevitable. Crowd no longer cares, lots look tired and sleepy. More golf claps as SKT continues to be patient.
  • This ending ceremony is equally weird as the time in 2014 when Imagine Dragons played while Samsung White stood next to them looking confused. Carting jackets to a stage is not a great look for a conclusion.

Normally what you put here is some bold statement about how it all means more, like you’re writing a movie where Hugh Grant has cancer but it doesn’t tarnish his spirit. How even putting up such a brilliant fight will mean Samsung will retain their place in history, how they deserve note alongside the now three-time winning SKT crew.

But the reality is that it doesn’t, and they won’t. They will be resigned to the place where any other second place team is, the one where their history is remembered only by those who want to use the knowledge to look superior. But for today, they brought us a bit of joy and had the briefest of shining moments, where hope was not yet lost and their future seemed as if it could change history.

Maybe even a brief moment in the sun is better than a lifetime only knowing darkness.