The League of Legends 2015 World Championship: A Primer

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This Thursday, sixteen teams will meet to compete for a trophy and $1 million prize in the 2015 World Championships for League of Legends. Put on by Riot Games, the developer of League, the tournament becomes a greater spectacle every year as teams continue to improve and production continues to soar.

This championship is the culmination of a year’s worth of season play, called the League Championship Series, where 10 teams in each region compete across two seasonal splits for a spot at Worlds. Teams hailing from every region—places like North America, Europe, Korea, China, Southeast Asia, Turkey and Chile—will go head-to-head, all of them gunning for that World Championship.

This is no small production, as last year’s viewer numbers topped out at 11.2 million viewers during the final matches, with a unique viewer count of 27 million. Those are numbers that beat out events like the NBA Finals in viewers, and it’s only going to grow from there, as League’s penetration into both new countries and existing markets here in the US increases.

Worlds takes place for an entire month, starting on Oct. 1 with the group stages and culminating in the final matches on Oct. 31. Expect four weekends of non-stop, intense matches of League that will see the best of the best test their mettle against each other.

If you’re new to League of Legends or the competitive scene, here’s a quick primer on what to expect. You don’t need to know the intricacies to appreciate it, but knowing a few details might make the spectator experience better.

What is League?

League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena game, or MOBA, a genre that spawned from the map creation community for Blizzard titles like Starcraft and Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos. In a MOBA, each player controls a single character, who are called “champions” in League. Teams are made up of five players each, who all have their own specialties and roles to play in battles.

Each team has one objective: to destroy the enemy team’s Nexus, a glowing gem-shaped building at opposite ends of the map. A vast area sits between each Nexus, which is made up of a forest (commonly referred to as “the jungle” by players) and three paths connecting the bases called “lanes.” Since matches are intended to somewhat emulate an ongoing battle, there are bases that house each Nexus, with protective turrets running down each of the lanes and computer-controlled soldiers, called “minions” or “creeps,” that mindlessly charge down the lane to their impending doom. It’s a little sad, but those creeps are the key to taking down turrets—turret shots hurt a lot, so having lots of little bodies to take hits while your team strikes the turret is key to “pushing” down a lane towards the enemy base.

Each champion starts out small, but by killing minions, enemy champions and buildings they can grow in levels and earn gold to buy items, increasing their power immensely. Each role has a different focus they might be working towards: top lane players tend to focus on buying items that make them more difficult to kill, mid lane players like their magic skills to do lots of burst damage, and ranged attackers build items that let them attack for large damage. As each player slowly approaches their full-slotted inventory, teams will begin to leave what’s called the laning phase (where they stand around and kill creeps for gold), and start fighting the enemy team, pushing for control of the map and different hot zones of contention.

Each team has five players and a coach, who all take part in a draft before each game. Teams take turns banning and picking champions from the pool of playable champions, and this is where a significant amount of strategy happens. Certain picks or bans can signal that a team wants to play a specific line-up or strategy, so teams will often try to either hide their overall strategy until the last few picks, or secure the core champions necessary as early as possible. It’s really interesting way to start, and as you watch the tournament you’ll likely begin to note certain contested champions and core picks for each style of play.

So that’s the basics. Now, who do I cheer for?

Well, the blanket answer is to cheer for all teams. It’s a big celebration of play from teams all over the world and blah blah blah. Cheer for the game. The tournament. The spirit of competition! Etc.

The hot prospects to watch this year come from a variety of regions. SK Telecom T1 are the raid bosses from Korea, led by one of the most iconic players to grace the game, Faker. Throughout several World Championships, Faker has proven again and again that he is the number one mid laner in the game, and the rest of SKT T1 isn’t too shabby either.

Most are turning their eyes towards the no. 1 EU seed Fnatic to take down SKT, as they had a domineering 16-0 run of the European Summer Season leading up to the playoffs. Going undefeated in every series is impressive, but matching up to Korean and Chinese squads could prove difficult. They have an impeccable carry in Rekkles and one of my favorite top laners with Huni, though, so their run through the tournament will be one to watch.

From China, the no. 2 seed Edward Gaming looked to be the strongest from the region going into the summer finals, but LGD and Invictus Gaming proved their worth with convincing victories over EDG. North America’s best hopes are with Counter Logic Gaming, who gave an impressive performance in a 3-0 sweep of Team Solomid to take the NA Summer Championships. TSM is likely out for revenge though, and Cloud9 has a lot to prove as well, coming from behind as the sixth seed at the end of the Summer Split to secure a spot at Worlds with consecutive series wins against higher-seeded teams in the Summer Split. A potential dark horse or a fluke, they could easily offer an upset or two in the group stages.

Group stages?

Yup, this tournament goes for a month, so you can be damn sure there’s gonna be plenty of games. Teams will compete in a double-round-robin group stage, where each team within a group plays each other twice to determine seeding. The top two teams from each of the four groups will move on to the main tournament bracket, where single-elimination best-of-five matches will be played all the way up to the finals. You can check out more about the specifics here. Matches tend to run anywhere from thirty minutes to over an hour each, so expect lots and lots of League. Having a watch party might not be a bad idea; this is more akin to the World Cup than a typical NFL Sunday.

Are there other resources out there?

Riot’s own website for Worlds will provide running tallies and statistics from every match, as well as player bios and team info. You can also peruse the e-sports section of their site to find info on each team’s performance in previous splits and World Championships. For more info, you could also check out the LoL Gamepedia site, which provides info on players from throughout League’s competitive history.

Whether you plan to deep dive on this, or just want to enjoy some competitive gaming, this October is going to be a month full of exciting games. So get excited, join in on the trash talk and excitement! E-sports has always been about the love of the game, and there’s nothing more exciting for old e-sports fanatics like me than seeing others join in on the fun for the first time.

Eric Van Allen is an Atlanta-based writer who is psyched to cheer on his favorite team, Fnatic, to their predestined victory over SKT T1 in a thrilling 3-2 Grand Finals match. You can follow his e-sports and games rumblings @seamoosi on Twitter.

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