At first glance, one could confuse the fans flooding the street as normal sports fans, but then you notice the cosplayers, the Intel-sponsored jerseys and an enormous Tryndamere statue. The Staples Center was packed to the gills with fans all eager to watch one thing: the final matches to determine who would walk away with the Summoner's Cup and the title of League of Legends World Champions.
Before the games went underway, we were invited to listen to Brandon "Ryze" Beck (CEO of Riot Games) and Dustin "Redbeard" Beck (VP of E-sports) talk about Riot's history as a company.
According to Brandon, when he and Riot Games president Marc "Tryndamere" Merill were first starting out, they were focused first on building an e-sports company rather than making a game. Like most indie start-ups, they were just two guys with an idea in the lecture halls of the University of Southern California. Like many serious gamers of their generation, they were fans of StarCraft and Quake, and had witnessed the dawn of competitive e-sports as far back as 1997.
When they first began working on League of Legends, their focus was on building a game that they could someday foster a large, worldwide competitive scene for. Luckily, they built the right thing at the right time, and with their community-focused marketing, they were able to capitalize on what Brandon called "the perfect storm for e-sports."
They were ready to acknowledge too that League of Legends' timing had been a bit lucky, but that Riot had done everything in its power to take advantage of their perfect storm. With a development team focused on giving the community and fans what they wanted, Riot has emerged as the largest game in the world.
Riot's presence and impact on the world -- not just the online gaming community -- has been so large that even mainstream non-gaming media was present at the conference. Many people there had never played a game of League of Legends and were asking the more knowledgeable people (such as yours truly) about how the game works and how it is played.
Before the event
As people began piling into the Staples Center, it became a veritable hive of activity. Riot employees, pro gamers from non-competing teams, and all types of fans congregated throughout the stadium, waiting for the matches to begin. I spoke with a few people trying to hunt down pro gamers to autograph shirts, mouse pads, and other memorabilia. I also spoke briefly with a few pros including Crumbzz and Scarra from Team Dignitas.
The effort and energy of fans was completely amazing. I met Keith "Aieron" Knight, a wheelchair-bound gamer who, thanks to the effort of a fantastic Reddit community, was able to come to Worlds in an incredibly detailed Corki cosplay. We met him at the hotel prior to the con, and he arrived at Staples early to some very loud fanfare.
The battle for the Cup
Finally, the event began and Montecristo, who has been driving the Korean hype train throughout the tournament, showed up with a train conductor hat (with the SKT1 logo), SKT tickets, and even a train whistle. I'm betting that whole part was scripted, but it was still very amusing. The reaction from the other casters, if not genuine, was at least very well-rehearsed. Although the analyst desk has been universally praised by everyone already, they really chose a great way to deliver the final matchup of the tournament.
Game 1 was extremely one-sided. Lucky, the Royal Club jungler, would deliver a pair of kills to his ADC Uzi in bottom lane, but his opposition, SKT's jungler bengi retaliated by ganking Wh1t3zZ in mid lane, giving his teammate Faker an early two-kill lead in response. With both teams' star players up in kills, Faker took his advantage to bottom lane and crushed them with a well-coordinated fight. With Faker possessing an enormous gold lead and Uzi's opponent Piglet now at an advantage, SK Telecom T1 took early turrets, control of the map, and a decisive win in Game 1.
In what was one of the most controversial pick/ban choices of the entire tournament, Royal Club would allow Faker to play his most powerful champion Zed, and chose Kassadin in response. Nobody watching the game understood this choice, as Kassadin is generally considered to be a very poor choice compared to Zed. Royal Club's strange team comp did extremely poorly in the laning phase, with SK Telecom winning everywhere. It looked bleak for Royal Club, but somehow they got rolling and turned a fight around. Players and commentators were calling the game over at 11 minutes, but Royals won fight after fight and looked to be coming back. Unfortunately, bengi caught Royal's top lane Godlike out of position, forcing Royals to commit to a bad fight. After winning three teamfights in a row, Royal Club finally lost their momentum and SKT turned it around to win the second game.
Although they were now down two games, Royal Club had won the hearts of the audience, the analysts, and also the viewers at home. As Game 3 began, the crowd urged Royals on, cheering "Let's go, Royal," as the players took to Summoner's Rift. However, just like Game 1, Royals were set upon by early jungle pressure, a roaming Faker, and this time, Piglet absolutely dominating bottom lane. Tabe, widely considered to be one of the best supports in the world, contributed very little and could not stop Piglet and PoohManDu from walking all over his lane. Royals made bad call after bad call, were picked off by roaming SKT members, and were surgically dismantled, giving the win to SKT.
It was a very large anticlimax to see the series end so quickly. Even SKT were a bit disappointed, saying that they had prepared quite a few unused strategies. Especially for the viewers at home, the ending was probably not as good as the journey. I spoke with a number of fans afterwards, and everyone agreed that the semi and quarterfinals were the best games of the tournament.
Regardless of how quickly the finals ended, SKT impressed everyone by making an incredible show of skill. While Royal Club may have not played at their best, their rivals did put on one of the best performances we've ever seen. Faker and bengi were really top-notch, Impact's split-pushing Jax was completely unstoppable and Piglet and Pooh displayed a truly world-class bottom lane performance.
The event ended and we piled out of the stadium, a little shocked at how fast it was over. For the second time an Asian team had been crowned World Champions, and now we are all looking ahead to the future and Season 4.