I’m not super into sports. But my brother is, and so on Saturday he hosted a BBQ for his “birthday”, which was actually a ruse to get us all to watch the grand final with him. Saturday, not Sunday. And so I found myself watching my first ever e-sports game: the League of Legends World Championship final.
E-sports is a fancy word for computer games. I’m not super into those, either, apart from maybe The Sims. The World Championships were held in the Staples Center in LA, the same place where the LA Lakers (a basketball team) play. 11 000 people came to the stadium to watch 10 people sit in front of computers on stage, while millions more streamed it online around the world.
The two teams of five play a best of five games, with each game lasting about half an hour. It’s a long evening (afternoon Sydney time), made longer by the incessant chatter of the commentators – men in their late twenties; the better-looking retirees of the game.
Before the games, but after [some of] the commentator babble, is the Opening Ceremony. A smoke machine fills the stadium, a blue glow descends on the stage. Through the mist appears a million-piece orchestra, playing the computer game’s theme song (it’s more epic than The Sims “Build Mode” music, don’t worry). Then lights appear on centre stage to reveal two oddly clad keyboardists behind a fence of stalagmite-like fluorescent spires. I am informed that the men are The Crystal Method, the 90s electro duo. Erupting from the ground behind them is a man who looks like a robot, playing some epic guitar riffs. The man is painted white, wearing a Freddie vs Jason-esque mask, except his mask has LED lights instead of breathing holes. This is the guitarist from Limp Bizkit. A scantily clad woman ferociously rubbing on an electric cello, pulling sexy faces, joins him.
After the music ends, we turn back to the commentators, who are talking endlessly about strategy. The teams are China’s Royal Club vs Korea’s creatively named SK Telecom T1. They each apparently all live together in a team house, playing full time, and getting paid a salary by the team’s sponsors. The prize for the championship is $1 million, and the players have presumably been training for months. I don’t know why I’m surprised at the way it’s basically like real sports (except for the house thing).
The players choose characters to play. They’re are all pretty elaborate, some even voiced by famous actors, including Australian David Wenham. Before the game starts, each team is allowed to ban the other from choosing certain characters, so it’s good to be skilled at a bunch of the characters. Then each team has to kill the others, collect gold, take down some turrets, and then eventually take the other team’s base. There are some complexities to it; people are invisible sometimes, something about people having pink warts, I don’t know.
The game itself is incomprehensible to me beyond the basics; there are lots of lasers and minions running around and heaps of different things to look at on screen.
I was cheering for the same team as my brother, so in between handfuls of chips and sips of beer, I would yell the things he did: “First blood! Get him! Get him! C’MOOONNNN!” The screen provided handy prompts for me: “SKT Faker has slain RYL Lucky!” I knew that was good for me.
There are three different scoreboards: one for the gold, the turrets, and the kills. So I could never figure out who was actually winning. As I got drunker and fuller, though, it became apparent that my team, SK Telecom T1, was obviously winning, because they were pretty far ahead on all three scoreboards. Soon afterward, everyone was shouting and cheering, there were more lasers and explosions on screen, and SKT had won round one.
I’d definitely picked the right team to support. Game two started around 10 minutes later, and they smashed it again. Then game three, and then it was over because SKT were unstoppable.
On reflection, the grand final experience was pretty similar to other grand final experiences that presumably happened on the weekend: I ate too much, drank too much, shouted a lot, and the commentators talked too much. Sure, I had no idea what was going on, but I never know what’s going on in the football, either. At least this game had pretty colours.