Why Tallahassee? Scenes From The League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational

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“How many of these do they need?”

Someone is asking another press member behind me about the game, and I turn around out of curiosity. He’s a white man in what looks like his early 40s, dressed all in black with radio gear strapped to his waist and a backwards baseball cap. He’s part of the event center staff, not associated with Riot Games or League of Legends. A local. He’s pointing at the biggest numbers in a screen full of them—how many champion kills each team has made.

“Before they win, I mean.”

It’s a good question, but the numbers he’s fixated on aren’t directly related to winning. The other press person—a young man at least two decades younger than the Man in Black—is trying to explain as best he can about bases and towers and inhibitors and all that. It’s convoluted, and I can tell the Man in Black is confused. I wish I had a better way to explain it to him.

He leaves after staring at the monitor for a bit.

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“I asked one of them, ‘What do you think about playing international?’ And he said to me, ‘I love America.’”

She cracks up with her co-worker, both of whom are clearing out the catering room’s coffee area. I’m trying to figure out if the middle thing is decaf or not. It’s too late and I’m too tired to drink decaf. They’re young, and black, and gone before I can ask if they follow the game or if this is their first encounter with it. I still don’t know if the middle thing was decaf.

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“What do you think of all this?”

I’m standing in the arena for the last match of the day. It’s sometime around midnight, and my brain feels like it’s on fire. SKT T1 is rushing out of the gate to meet TSM. The arena’s not as full as earlier, but it’s fuller than you might think for something starting so late. A lot of people want to see this one.

I’m not sure where press seats are exactly, so I’ve cornered myself against a concrete wall near an usher. He’s a young black guy with dreads that might still be in college—he has a beard and mustache that makes me think, “You are in college.” I’m not judging him, really, it’s just a young person’s beard and mustache. That’s what my brain thinks, anyway. I want to know his opinion on what he’s witnessing.

“This?”

“Yeah, the game,” I say as I gesture to the giant stage and mass of fans. “What do you think? Who do you want to win?”

“Between these two?”

I wonder if I’ve surprised him, if he’s shocked that I’ve bothered to ask him anything beyond where I should sit. I wait for my question to totally sink in. For him to realize that, yes, between these two.

“Yeah,” he finally says. I see he’s been looking at his phone. Who knows how much he was even paying attention to what I said. It’s possible he has no idea about the game but instinctively responded in a cheerful, positive way.

“I really like them both, but I want TSM to win.”

Maybe he really was paying attention. He picked the only North American team at the event.

DAY TWO

A security officer wearing a dark mustard yellow uniform stops directly in front of me. The movement on the screen seems to have grabbed his attention. After a few seconds, he turns, sees that he’s blocking my view, and starts walking again before pausing. He’s still watching.

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There’s a middle-aged black guy sitting alone at one of the round tables in the catering area. It’s the middle of an important match, so the room’s empty of press, players, shoutcasters, and anyone else that’s actively involved in the game. He has a half-eaten plate of chicken and rice in front of him, and he’s wearing one of the bright red polos that seem to be standard issue for the catering staff. There’s some PR people at the other end of the room, but they’re doing whatever it is PR people do.

There are three monitors playing the game. The guy with the chicken and rice watches the middle one.

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The Man in Black returns. He approaches the same press guy from yesterday. It looks like he’s about to say something, but then doesn’t. He stares at the screen as the Chinese team stomps the North American one.

DAY THREE
The local paper has a feature on League of Legends and the Mid-Season Invitational. I ask the waitress at breakfast for a buck in change to buy a copy. The article, which covers the basics of the game and event, is mostly about the economic impact on local businesses.

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There’s some sort of military luncheon going on in the room at the end of the press area. Folks of all ages are slowly filtering in from the escalator, and several burly event staff are preventing them from wandering into this side as they wait for a giant gate to open and let them pour into their destination. The few that come close don’t seem thrilled at being herded. They eventually get the idea and stop trying their luck against the invisible fence.

A middle-aged white man in military dress strains to eyeball the closest monitor. One of the event staff has his arms outstretched to ensure the military man gets no closer.

“I didn’t even know this was going on,” the military man says.

One of the women from Riot’s production team starts talking with him. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but it looks like the man knows the game in passing at least. That’s what I assume, anyway, based on how animated he is in their discussion.

Sometime later, I spot her leading him past the press area into the production hallway that leads behind the scenes. I wonder what he’s being shown and what he thinks about it.

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“Does your energy regenerate?”

One of the venue’s EMTs has wandered into the press area and is pointing at the monitor. The Korean team is in the process of getting slowly beaten into submission by the European underdog. (The European team would go on to lose, but things looked surprisingly good here.)

“Yeah, but it’s ridiculously slow. It’d take you the better part of an afternoon if you sat around for it to happen,” says the European press guy that’s been sitting across from me for three days.

“Huh,” the EMT says. He watches for a moment before gathering his things and heading up the escalator into the arena.

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The security officer from yesterday is back. He stops in front of the same monitor long enough for me to see that the patch on his sleeve identifies him as a Florida State University police officer.

Not to be outdone, the Man in Black returns again with a friend sporting a significant beard. They speak quietly as the Man in Black points at the monitor, and his friend pumps a fist in the air before the two of them leave.

DAY FOUR

“Do you understand what’s going on?”

“Yeah, sort of. It isn’t hard; pretty much just a big game of Capture the Flag.”

“I still have no idea what’s going on. They keep making noises like ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ so I’m sure something’s happening. It’s interesting, though.”

Two ushers—one a young black guy with short hair, one a middle-aged black woman with glasses—are talking nearby. It’s already several matches into the day’s Finals. At this point, I’m a walking pile of skin that’s managed to maintain some semblance of sentience. I’ve taken a nap every afternoon to try to keep myself from falling apart, but I’ve completely checked out from interacting with other humans. But something about this makes me want to share my excitement.

“Capture the Flag is a pretty good comparison!” I’m almost yelling. “The top side wants to blow up the base on the bottom side, and the bottom side wants to blow up the base on the top side. And, uh, there’s stuff in the way.”

“Oh, okay.”

I keep going. “This is actually a pretty big match! EDG against SKT—this is like a smaller version of the Super Bowl.”

“Neat,” she responds. I stop talking and just watch.

Rollin Bishop is a writer and tinkerer who tweets too much about anime and terrible jokes @rollinbishop. He is also bad at briefly describing himself.

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