The Story of Worlds

Without Worlds, esports would look completely different. The stage shows you’re used to in every game from CS:GO to fighting games, the production quality you hope to see in every esports stream, the level of play you want from the biggest tournaments, all started at Worlds. Every year, Riot gathers the biggest teams in League of Legends to face off against one another.

The prize pool isn’t as big as some other events, but that hardly matters. Worlds is when everything is on the line. “The SKT Dynasty is over, all hail the new kings, Samsung Galaxy.” For the longest time, it was the only international tournament that mattered. But putting all that aside, Worlds changed esports, and every year, fans hope that Riot can do it all over again.

This is its story. These days, Worlds is one of the biggest productions in esports. It’s run as long as six weeks, takes place in massive venues all over the world, and dishes out hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money at online casinos in US alongside one of esports’ most sought after trophies, the Summoner’s Cup. But the first Worlds wasn’t the event that we’ve come to know today. “Now that we’re wrapping up Season 1, we really want to continue to evolve the experience to help establish it as one of the top esports titles in the world.” Worlds Season 1 was announced just two months before the tournament started, with teams determined through a set of regional qualifiers.

Epik Gamer, Team Solomid and Counter Logic Gaming represented NA, Against All Authority, Fnatic and came from Europe, and Xan and Team Pacific qualified out of SEA. With the teams in place, the LoL community gathered at DreamHack Summer in Jonkoping, Sweden, in a venue that, somewhat lovingly, somewhat sarcastically, is referred to as “Phreak’s Basement.” “Ladies and gentlemen welcome back to the Elmia convention centre in Jönköping Sweden, We are here for the Dreamhack Summer 2011 Championship Game, The finals about to go underway, a hundred thousand dollar tournament help by League of Legends and Riot Games. Obviously, DreamHack summer didn’t take place on the bottom floor of League caster David “Phreak” Turley’s home, but the whole affair was pretty low key, especially compared to its more recent iterations. Season 1 Worlds might not have featured the most exciting, high-level play by today’s standards.

(Casting) But at the time, it was the absolute peak of pro League of Legends. And it was only the beginning. “It’s been an amazing end of our Season 1, and like Kevin said we’re just getting started.

Season 2 is going to be amazing.” “Absolutely, and thank you to everyone at home you’ve really made this event such an overwhelming success we thank you so much for tuning in. And we’ll see you next year.” Season 2 was the first Worlds that Riot had planned in advance.

Announced in May with regional finals taking place throughout the summer, Worlds’ structure was more organized, the prize pool was higher and there were even more teams in attendance. It was the beginning of Worlds as we know it. “After the regional winners have been declared, the Top 12 teams will then put it all on the line during the Season 2 World Championship in Los Angeles california.” And all eyes were on European stalwarts, Moscow 5, (Casting) And CLG Europe (Casting) But few anticipated the threats from the east.

Azubu Frost and NaJin Black Sword dominated the group stage (Casting) While surprise winners Taipei Assassins came out of nowhere to take the top spot. (Casting) And in the end, they hoisted the Summoner’s Cup. (Casting) Of course, Riot makes video games, not trophies, and no one thought about the fact that the winning team would actually have to lift it. Which led to the Summoner’s Cup weighing 70 pounds, the heaviest sports trophy in the world. Which some would argue is indicative of some of the growing pains that Riot had to deal with at Season 2 Worlds in general. Season 2’s Worlds was bigger, and more impressive.

The grand finals marked the first Western esports tournament to sell out a sports stadium. But Riot wasn’t as prepared for that as they’d hoped to be. The first, and perhaps most notable issue, was the way the stage was set up.

Players were seated in front of the screen, meaning they could just turn around and take a peak. Most notably, Azubu Frost allegedly used this in a match against Team SoloMid to get a read on a cheesy level 1 gank. (Casting) But by the end of the tournament, Riot found four instances of screen cheating, even one from TSM’s Dyrus who alleges he looked back to prove that players could see the screen.

“And as soon as we saw that pause we were like “Holy sh*t our plan might not work.” We looked straight to Azubu Frost. And Chaox noticed their players looking at our map. Looking at the minimap, and they started talking. And then, there’s also proof in the replay that there’s been pings at dark areas where we’re standing. Where they have no vision of.

“: Riot let the players off with a fine, and admitted it was their mistake, but it marked one of the biggest scandals in competitive League history. On top of that, viewers at home experienced some issues with the broadcast. The tournament was plagued by technical issues which meant plenty of pauses and plenty of Silver Scrapes.

“So we are here at Day 4, they day that was never meant to happen, it is the extended world playoffs and as you can see the construction is going on behind us right now, hopefully things will happen all to plan today.” But Riot took it all in stride. Worlds Season 2 was one of the most successful, widely viewed esports events the West had ever seen, and Riot used it as a springboard to create one of the most important esports events in history.

“Thank you for watching the Season 2 World Championships and we will see you in Season 3 goodnight!” Before Worlds Season 3, the West’s esports scene was drastically different than what it is today. Tournaments were small, often held in hotels or convention centers. Dota 2’s the International was unique in 2013 for selling out a concert venue, but TI2 was tied to Pax Prime and not its own event. Season 3 Worlds was the culmination of Riot’s efforts to bring as much of League of Legends esports in house as possible. Instead of teams qualifying through regional qualifiers after a year of third party tournaments, they qualified through Riot’s own leagues.

“The NA scene has gotten so strong, it’s eight teams going in and competing for first place.” Riot set up the NA LCS and EU LCS, while licensing out league operations in China to Tencent , Garena in South East Asia and OGN in Korea. Teams would qualify from around the world for a shot at the biggest tournament Western esports had ever seen. Season 3 was held in California again, but this time, the Grand Finals took place at the Staples Center, a 21,000 seat basketball and hockey stadium that had hosted the likes of Kobe Bryant and Wayne Gretzky, making it the biggest audience to attend an esports event in the West’s history.

It was a landmark for the scene, and a sign that esports wasn’t just some passing fad. It was growing, and League of Legends was leading the charge. But it wasn’t just those optics that made people pay attention. Worlds Season 3 was all about the Korean Hype Train. “All aboard the Korean Hype Train SK Telecom T1.” After Korea’s strong performance the year before, all eyes were on NaJin Black Sword, Samsung Ozone and of course, SK Telecom T1 and a young mid laner named Faker.

But SKT weren’t the only strong team in attendance. Moscow 5’s legacy lived on in Gambit Gaming, who put on a strong performance in Group B (Casting) Only trumped by Fnatic’s utter dominance in the same group (Casting) Meanwhile, Group A was ruled by SKT and China’s OMG (Casting) And Chinese champions Royal Club, with superstar AD carry Uzi seemed unstoppable in the bracket, with wins over OMG (Casting) And Fnatic. (Casting) But, as has become something of a Worlds tradition, one of the tournament’s best matches took place in the semi finals, SKT and NaJin, two Korean titans, clashed for a spot in the Grand Finals. (Casting) But it was SKT and Faker who struck the last blow, moving on to the finals, where they swept Royal to lift their first Summoner’s Cup. (Casting) Season 3 Worlds was the beginning of a legacy that would go on to define competitive League of Legends. It was the beginning of a saga that saw Faker transform from a young prodigy into a champion and in turn the greatest player to ever touch the game.

It was also yet another sign that North America, a strong region in the scene’s early days, was beginning to fall behind the competition. TSM had attended all three Worlds up to that point, but bombed out of groups with a dismal 2-6 record. C9, the North American champions who dominated the NA LCS under the leadership Hai lost 2-1 to Fnatic in the quarterfinals. (Casting) Despite the enormous hometown crowd, NA teams just couldn’t cut it at Worlds. But the crowds didn’t care. Once the NA teams were out, nationality was left at the door.

Fans came to see the best League of Legends possible, and the teams delivered. (Casting) Between the storylines, the quality of the play, and of course, the incredible level of production, there was nothing more impressive in esports that year than Worlds. Sure, ESL and DreamHack were running tournaments back then, but they didn’t look like they do now. TI was still a year away from ten million dollar prize pools and filling up Key Arena.

Evo was years away from Mandalay Bay, and the CS:GO Majors hadn’t even started yet. There’s no question. Worlds Season 3 set the standard for modern esports. Riot set the trend and showed the world what esports could look like. And most that came after, decided it was esports should look like. Every esports tournament wanted to fill up the Staples Center, but Worlds did it.

“I really cannot believe I’m actually saying this, but that does it for the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship so on behalf of the entire broadcast team, goodnight and thanks for watching.” If Season 3 Worlds was Riot proving they could put on the biggest esports show in the West, Season 4 Worlds was them proving it could work on a global stage. Season 4 took Worlds to East Asia, with matches played in Taipei, Singapore, Busan and Seoul. The finals were held in an even bigger venue than the Staples Center, the Seoul World Cup Stadium, a 66,000-seat arena that was built for the 2002 Fifa World Cup. It was bigger in every way, with even more teams in attendance. Riot opened up more spots for Southeast Asian and International Wildcard teams to compete, which began a legacy of underdog teams playing spoiler and messing with the competition.

KaBuM e-Sports may have finished last in their group, but their single win over Alliance provided one of the most hype, least expected moments from the entire tournament, pushing Alliance out of contention for a spot in the playoffs. “And I can’t believe it Deman. Kabum takes the game over Alliance!”

“What the hell just happened!?” But this time, all eyes were on Samsung White and Samsung Blue, the two best teams in Korea. Both teams were strong, but since Blue had defeated White throughout the year, many saw them as a slight favourite. But after a shocking 3-0 victory for White in the semifinals, (Casting) Blue’s captain, Dade, the general, handed his signature jacket over to PawN to signify a changing of the guard. And with that jacket on his back, PawN made sure to leave his mark.

(Casting) But Season 4 Worlds wasn’t the biggest esports event of 2014. After the incredible show Riot had put on the year before, several esports tournament organizers stepped up their game. Most notably, the Dota 2 community put together the largest prize pool in esports history for TI4, with $10.9 million shared across the 14 participating teams. Riot didn’t increase their prize pool for Worlds in response. In fact, it stayed at just over 2 million, taking some of the wind out of their sails. Sure, Riot took the tournament on a grand tour of Europe, from London to Paris to Berlin, but it somehow didn’t feel as big as some of the competition.

On top of that , the tournament ran in the middle of one of Riot’s most frustrating metas. The juggernaut meta defined worlds 2015, with the same champions being picked and banned for most of the playoffs. “And as for EDG’s bans I think since they’re on red side. They may just be locked into the gank plank Mordekaiser and Elise.” Partway into the tournament, Gragas, Ziggs and Lux were disabled as well, bringing champion diversity even further down. Gragas was one of just a few viable junglers in the meta, and without him, fans got very used to watching the same comps duke it out over the course of a month.

“The issue that appeared in game prevented Reignover from casting the Gragas Q spell and the refereeing team they did investigate and exhaust every single option to resolve the issue in-game. Including allowing Gragas to die and attempt to resolve the matter.” As for the games themselves, Samsung’s win the previous season highlighted the Korean exodus, which saw a number of LPL teams sign top-tier LCK players in the hopes of finally breaking China’s second-place curse at Worlds.

This included all members of both Samsung teams. It wasn’t the first time a defending champion wasn’t in attendance to defend their championship, but after two straight years of Korean dominance, many hoped that the streak would break. Cloud9, who ran the impossible gauntlet to make it to Worlds 2015 looked incredible, going undefeated in their first week of groups. (Casting) But couldn’t keep the momentum going, and along with the rest of NA, went winless in week two. “What a heartbreaking defeat though, Cloud9 getting essentially reverse swept here 3-0.” Meanwhile, following TSM’s disappointing finish, beloved top laner Marcus “Dyrus” Hill announced his retirement during the tournament, bringing the crowd to tears, providing one of League’s most touching moments.

“Now it’s time to open a new book, right now my story ends here but I still even with me gone I still want everyone to support TSM and all of my teammates.” “TSM! TSM! TSM!”

Not only did Korea continue to dominate, the grand finalists, Koo Tigers and SKT, swept nearly every team they played. The only team able to put up a fight against either was KT Rolster, the third Korean team at the tournament. And in those Grand Finals, Faker led SKT to victory once again, making the team the first ever two time World Champions. (Casting) All eyes are on League of Legends during Worlds. The venues wow the crowds and the champions display the absolute highest level of play. But between the prize pool discrepancy, North America’s complete disaster of a tournament, and the terrible meta, Riot needed to ratchet things up for Season 6.

Season 6 Worlds did bring some changes. For one, Riot actually increased the prize pool through fan contributions. And while it wasn’t a scratch on TI’s prize pool, the increase to $5 million was a welcome change Then, perhaps in response to the sudden meta change ahead of Worlds 2015, Riot played it on a patch nearly a month old, giving players plenty of time to experiment with new picks, like Gorilla’s Miss Fortune support. “An insta lock Miss Fortune.” “Something really weird I don’t care about my last point.”

And to bring it all together, Riot took worlds back to NA, back to the Staples Center. Things weren’t perfect, but the tournament was more exciting. Europe seemed stronger, with H2K taking first in their group in a tiebreaker match against EDG. (Casting) Wildcard legends Albus Nox Luna made a deep tournament run, becoming the first wildcard team to make it out of groups, “All I want to say is that, hey guys, we are from wildcard and they have told you before, being underdog doesn’t mean being a loser, that’s all.” And Samsung Galaxy provided the first ever five game Worlds Grand Finals against defending champions SKT. (Casting) But of course, SKT prevailed, turning their legacy into a dynasty.

With three world championship titles under their belts, it seems impossible for anyone to ever upset their place as League’s greatest team and Faker as League’s greatest player. But every dynasty has to fall eventually. Worlds 2017 took things to China for the first time, with a tour through Wuhan, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, ending the tournament in the Bird’s Nest, the biggest venue in League of Legends history.

This time, Riot shook things up with a larger play-in stage, that saw the lowest seeds from every region but Korea play against the champions of the Wildcard regions for four slots in the group stage. Gigabyte marines provided 2017’s fun wildcard matches, taking games off Immortals and Fnatic. And while they didn’t make it out of groups, neither did two of the North American teams. But Cloud9, ever the Worlds hopefuls, made it to the quarterfinals, and took Team WE to five games, giving NA fans just a little more faith in their region. (Casting) Meanwhile, all eyes were on Longzhu Gaming, the first seed out of Korea and new favourites to take SKT’s crown.

Unfortunately, they fell to Samsung Galaxy, 3-0, in the quarterfinals. (Casting) While both Misfits and Royal Never Give Up both pushed SKT to five games, back-to-back. (Casting) In the end, Samsung emerged victorious, with a swift 3-0 victory over SKT, earning their org a second Worlds trophy and ending the SKT dynasty. “The SKT dynasty is over, all hail the new kings, Samsung Galaxy!”

“Your 2017 World Champions.” It shocked the world, but perhaps more importantly, it shocked Faker, who was moved to tears by his first major international loss in years. Worlds isn’t the only tournament that matters anymore. For League, there’s MSI to show off international strength, and as for esports in general, tournaments like TI, the Majors, even Evo have stepped up their production values to match Worlds. But somehow, Worlds is still magical every time. It’s not just about the best teams in the world competing on the world stage.

It’s not just about the tours Riot makes, taking fans from venue to venue with a unique show in each one. It’s not just about the extraordinary levels of production that Riot somehow manages to top each year. It’s about what the tournament stands for. Worlds pushed esports forwards.

It cemented what the modern major tournament should look like. What it should feel like. For both the players and the fans. Ever since that grand finals at the Staples Center, esports has never turned back. Worlds changed esports, and every year, fans tune in to see if they can do it again. Thanks for watching.