Annenberg Radio News

Passion, community, and competition: A deep-dive into the world of esports

How Riot Games is redefining competitive gaming and the esports experience at the 2022 League of Legends World Finals

[One-sentence description of what this media is: "A photo of a vaccine site on USC campus" or "Gif of dancing banana". Important for accessibility/people who use screen readers.]

(Crowd cheering)

Over 16,000 fans packed the Chase Center in San Francisco this past weekend to watch two Korean teams compete in one of the biggest esports events of the year: The League of Legends World Finals.

If you’re not familiar with it, you might be wondering what is League of Legends?

Well, League of Legends is an intricate online MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena, known for its split-second strategy and decision-making. Players battle against one another using various characters called champions, with each possessing a set of unique abilities and play styles.

“League” pins two teams of five against each other with one common goal — taking out the enemy’s base.

League of Legends is insanely popular all around the world. Over 150 million players log in every month, and this weekend’s event was a perfect example of the passion and community surrounding the game.

(Crowd cheering “League of Legends”)

Funny enough, League was created by two USC graduates, Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill. They attended USC together and bonded over their love for video games, and after college, they founded Riot Games out of their LA Apartment in 2006.

In the years since, Beck and Merrill have developed Riot into a gaming powerhouse, developing other successful games such as Teamfight Tactics and Valorant alongside League of Legends.

More groundbreaking games are on the way in the coming years from Riot, including a highly anticipated fighting game and an MMO or massive multiplayer online game.

They have also expanded far beyond video games. Riot created Arcane, an animated TV series that set the record as Netflix’s highest-rated series within a week of its premiere in 2021. Imagine Dragons wrote and performed the theme song titled “Enemy.”

(Enemy by Imagine Dragons)

A second season is currently in production, and pop-star Lil Nas X is rumored to perform the theme song. Beyond that, Nas X seems to be getting more involved with Riot, even being named the President of League of Legends leading up to the big event.

At a press conference before the World Finals, CEO of Riot Games Nicolo Laurent joked about Nas X leading the charge on creating a Riot Games Theme Park, but he was only half joking. Laurent said:

Nicolo Laurent: I fundamentally believe that that’s where the world is going in the 21st century, the center of gravity for entertainment - that’s going to be gaming, that’s going to be us.

Nas X and superstar Jackson Wang created music for the World Finals and performed during an impressive opening ceremony with stunning visuals and choreography on Saturday night. The production was off the charts like a Super Bowl Halftime Show.

(STAR WALKIN’ by Lil Nas X)

Riot has been dreaming about creating a multi-generational entertainment company, which is becoming a reality. This past weekend, the World Finals was a perfect example with all kinds of events going on everyday.

On Thursday and Friday nights, Riot put on a drone show over Fisherman’s Wharf. Over 100 drones took flight and lit up the sky with dazzling visuals, including the logos of each team competing in the Finals, the World Finals trophy, and the Riot Games logo.

(Crowd reaction to drone show)

Riot also hosted a massive Fan Fest event outside the Chase Center, where thousands of loyal League of Legends fans participated in exciting activities. Fans had the opportunity to play the game on the same setup that professionals use and could participate in exciting games to win free merchandise.

Fans also attended meet and greets with their favorite league players and celebrities, including mega-popular live streamer Tyler1 and Game of Thrones actor DeObia Oparei, who voiced the newest champion in League of Legends, K’Sante.

Oparei had no exposure to the gaming world before voicing K’Sante and was amazed by the passion and community surrounding League. Oparei said:

DeObia Oparei: Coming into this world, it’s been an absolute joy to see the level of kind of heart in people like it really means something. It’s like, wow.

Like Nas X, Oparei derives so much purpose from his involvement with Riot, as both are proud advocates for diversity and representation of the LGBTQ community.

DeObia Oparei: It’s very meaningful for me because it’s very important to me that because K’Sante is, you know, a queer black LGBTQ champion. And the fact that I get to play that character and get get to be received by everyone here so warmly and celebrate it is awesome.

Inside the Chase Center for the World Finals, the energy and the crowd were electric.

(Crowd cheering)

The matchup was a perfect storyline between the greatest professional League of Legends player of all, Faker, and his long-time friend Deft. Their relationship dates back to their high school years, and while Faker has won the championship a record three times in the past, Deft had never won despite a very successful decade-long career.

Faker plays for the esports organization T1, while Deft is a member of DRX. For context, T1 was a heavy favorite going into the tournament, while DRX was counted out. Very few people thought they had a chance to make it past the first round of playoffs.

In the end, the series went to the maximum five out of five games and surpassed all expectations. Deft and DRX ended up conquering Faker and T1, extinguishing years of demons and doubts.

It was the perfect Cinderella story and the perfect way to wrap up an incredible weekend.

(Crowd cheering for DRX)