Although many in-person sporting events have been cancelled due to COVID-19, the video game League of Legends (LoL) announced that “Worlds,” the annual world championship, would be celebrating its 10th anniversary in Shanghai. For Senior Henry Zhai, this year was the first time he got especially invested in the popular esports competition, gaining a special interest after watching the 2019 Championship finals between G2 Esports and the FunPlus Phoenixes.
“It was very early in the game, [and] everyone on the map went to one side of the map to make a play,” Zhai said. “I thought that was really cool because that doesn’t really happen in your everyday game, and only [in] the World Championship with the best players in the world would something like that happen … [Players boost] the performance of the game and just really [drive] the game [forward].”
Learning more about the team and pro player experience through taking a League of Legends bootcamp offered by the University of California, Irvine further piqued Zhai’s interest into competitive League. This course, according to Zhai, allowed him to play in a team and learn more about the professional player’s day to day work. After experiencing the 5 v 5 player experience, Zhai has become more involved in the competitive scene.
“I’ve been keeping up with the [tournament] brackets and what’s going on,” Zhai said. “I’ve been following the American competition as well as the European competition and a little bit of the other Chinese brackets, but Worlds is where all the teams come together, and I’m able to watch them all together, so I’ve been actually pretty excited about it. “
Junior Vivian Lau says the heart of the event is its players, and they do not just serve as the overall presentation and fanfare. For her, watching the event live without any idea about the outcome of each match makes for an intense viewing. In addition to the unpredictability, Lau says the best part of watching the teams play is witnessing their exceptional coordination and planning.
“I like teams that focus on good team fighting,” Lau said. “I definitely think that the team fighting is one of the juiciest parts of watching League, and outplaying the other team is satisfying to watch. I feel really hyped when I’m watching the event live. It’s so much more exciting because you don’t know what’s gonna happen, and it’s the live factor [that] makes it so much more interesting.”
Although the prize pool has not been announced yet, the prize money for previous competitions has been upwards of 2 million dollars, with a percentage given to every team that participates. Although two teams from the Vietnam Championship Series (VCS) could not compete this year due to the pandemic, their prize money (about 2.1 % of the total) was split between the two teams, while the rest of the teams in the competition are still awaiting payment.
As an avid player, Zhai is enamored with the progression and popularity that the game has received since the first “Worlds” 10 years ago, to 100,000 live viewers — for comparison, last year’s “Worlds” opened it’s grand finals to 44 million live viewers, becoming the most watched League of Legends match in history. Zhai believes that the increase in popularity is telling of the impact that this game has had around the world.
“Now, [League matches] have millions of viewers across the globe, and even during a pandemic, everyone is logging on to watch online,” Zhai said. “The advertising and the amount of resources and people [put] into producing the entire event is on the level of the Olympics or even the NBA finals. Esports are really growing and becoming a household name.”
Due to these matches taking place in Shanghai, Zhai tends to watch replays and highlights on YouTube after the event rather than watching them live on the broadcasting site Twitch. Supporting the European team G2 Esports, Zhai finds YouTube to be the most comfortable option available in letting him watch his favorite teams play, as rebroadcasts are played in the mornings as well as the afternoon on the LoL Esports YouTube Channel.
While Lau finds watching Worlds to be personally lacking in providing beneficial gameplay tips, junior Bradley Tu says they’re great sources of information and views each game as a learning experience to help himself improve at the game. Having played League since the seventh grade, Tu finds close examination and replication of high-level play to be essential in the development of his technical and tactical skills.
“When [teams are] team fighting, I pay really close attention,” Tu said. “Because there’s 10 players in the game, it’s kind of hard to see exactly what’s going on, so I like to focus really hard on that moment to see what’s happening and what everyone is doing at that moment … That’s how you improve, by just watching better players play.”
While Zhai has been playing League for almost three years, he and Lau have only recently gotten invested in the competitive scene. According to Lau, there is a certain disconnect between professional play and playing solo, as professional players coordinate and communicate between each other, while SoloQ (the generally accepted term for casual, solo League play) is messier and uncoordinated. Lau finds that she has trouble learning from much of the professional games because of this, along with the fact that it takes a lot of technical skill to pull off professional strategies.
No team in the North American region has ever played in the finals of Worlds, but Lau still chooses to support the winner of the North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS, or LCS), Team SoloMid (TSM).
Tu also finds that playing matches has been much more impactful rather than watching them in terms of how the game has affected him. However, according to Zhai, the appeal in League matches goes beyond the technical and learning experience. He appreciates the spontaneity of events in each match, and finds that to be the main allure of League of Legends.
“Each game is a different match,” Zhai said. “There’s hundreds of Champions in League of Legends and each player is different and there’s an infinite amount of possibilities of what can happen — every single game is refreshing and every game is different. I’m very interested in the game and I think the pacing is very high tempo.
You can view the official Worlds 2020 theme “Take Over” here, as well as see the official broadcast schedule below: