Roccat and Millenium are playing the penultimate match on the first day of League of Legends’ European LCS roadshow. This is not an important match, in the grand scheme of things. The winners don’t become World Champions. It doesn’t decide who gets promoted or who gets relegated. It’s the fifth week of the League of Legends European LCS’ Summer Split. There are seven more weeks of games ahead till we know who will qualify for the World Championship. Yet somehow, it’s become /a thing/.
The sheer enthusiasm of the crowd is making it more than it is.
A chant of “We want wards!” starts at the back of the packed 5,000-seat London Wembley Arena. It fills the room. In response, Millenium lay down some vision wards around their base. They're showboating. The crowd love it.
For many in the crowd it’s their first opportunity to see the game they love played in this way.
“Riot have never done a large scale event in the UK,” Jason Yeh, Riot's European head of eSports, tells me. “We have a studio in Cologne where we broadcast on a weekly basis but we felt it was a great opportunity to branch out from our studio every once in a while.”
The 10,000 tickets made available across this two day event sold out in less than an hour. And it’s just not that important. It may be the first LCS event held in the UK but it’s only a midseason game. The results of this weekend’s games earn points towards promotion in the World Championship. But they certainly won’t decide it.
After what I saw in London, Riot should be looking at doing this much more frequently. Not just bringing LoL to other cities around the UK but taking the game outside of its Cologne studios to cities all around Europe.
Riot are already committed to broadcasting eSports events throughout the year, Yeh tells me. “We took inspiration from traditional sports in terms of building a consistent league. People know when the matches are, people know that every season there's a storyline of regular season playoffs and international competition.
“Looking at the history of esports, it's centred around large, one off events that take place throughout the year. They're kind of disjointed events. It's better for the pro players because if there's one big pro tournament and one team wins a lot of money but then the other hundreds of teams who play can't support themselves, that can't encourage more people to pursue it. For fans as well it makes it easier to follow and more compelling because you watch on a week-to-week basis. You don't watch once in February for an event in Sweden and then once in March for an event in France.”
With eight leagues running around the world, from North America to South East Asia, Riot have ensured there’s always pro games to watch. However for most, you’re only going to be able to watch those games online, unless you’re lucky enough to live in one of the countries where the LAN events are held, or you’re willing to fly to them - which is what a lot of LoL fans will be doing later this year when the World Final is held in Korea’s Sangam Stadium.
But London proves that League of Legends should be a regular roadshow: like something the WWE would put on. We love suggesting changes to Riot but this is one I particularly want to see happen because seeing these games played live is little like watching it at home. The audience makes it work: you’ll see people cosplaying their favourite champions, waving about signs supporting their team, and making up chants that are repeated around the arena. The match is only half of the experience.
And it’s different to attending a traditional sports games. The crowds are more connected, more reactive. Saturday’s games kicked off with the European Challenger Series finals between Ninjas in Pyjamas and H2K Gaming. As spectators filled the stadium a thread was started on Reddit criticising the London audience for being too reserved. As the message spread about the arena the crowd started to get louder. And louder. And louder.
Not only did the crowd cheer for kills and turret takedowns, they started to cheer for wards. Wards are, in the scheme of things, insignificant. Teams use them to break up the fog of war and get vision on areas of the map where their players aren’t, allowing them to keep track of the opposition and spot advances into their territory. They’re cheap, throwaway items and ever the course of a match hundreds can be placed.
As the teams went about the game the crowd would start building a cheer whenever a player damaged a ward, getting louder the closer the player got to destroying it, screaming and shouting when they finished it off. The players picked up on this. They started to go out of their way to destroy wards, sometimes breaking off chasing a player to attack a ward instead. The crowd loved them for it.
The Reddit thread reflected that. People were writing chants in the thread that started being shouted at the stadium.
This connection between the players, the live audience, and the internet is intoxicating to be a part of. It’s something you don’t get in other sports. It needs to be experienced all over the world.
It’s certainly on the cards, Yeh told me. “We have a lot of players in the UK who are obviously excited not only by League of Legends but also by eSports so we definitely want to have a more local presence. Whether it's through eSports events, whether it's through participating in other gaming conventions and conferences, or whether it's just doing weekly viewing parties for LCS we definitely want to do more in the UK.”
Riot: make it happen.