Undercover at the 2019 LoL World Finals

Photo © ltgaila

The arena hasn’t even opened yet and the line already stretches half a kilometer down the boulevard, growing and growing with no end in sight. I’m early, but after 3 minutes of following bronze and black Worlds2019 apparel down the road under a misty rain, there’s a hysterical edge to my thoughts that wonders if I’ll get in on time. It’s only 11 AM and the opening ceremony’s at 1 PM. That’s enough, right?

To fill the wait, I queue up the Riot Games Netflix documentary on my phone, and start to fill in the blanks on my admittedly limited League of Legends knowledge. They retrace a 9-hour long quarter finals game pause filled with endless technical difficulties and I laugh under my breath, hoping that we’ll have better luck this afternoon. Maybe I jinxed us a little? Oops.

By the time I get to my seat, after splurging a little in the official shop (sue me, the K/DA merch is adorable, Riot really got my number), the arena is almost entirely full. The French commentators are testing out a few war cries to encourage G2, including a particularly well-found variation on “we will rock you” that makes the entire structure shake when 20 000 people stomp their feet in unison.

It’s breath-taking.

The entire crowd is intermittently lit up with flashes of colour from wrist-bands that light up during important moments, making the audience into a part of the show. And then, the opening ceremony starts. I’d watched the 2018 show on my laptop, a first foray into League of Legends where I understood nothing but appreciated the complexity of the show and the fantastic soundtrack.

This time, I’m in the middle of the action – and damn, does Riot know how to put on a show. The opening ceremony isn’t a concert, it’s much more: the visuals, the music, the dancing, the special effects – they all blend together to create something unique, something breath-taking. And when the lights flash on to reveal the players all standing on stage, Perkz with the Croatian flag wrapped around his shoulders, it’s a rush of emotions. My chest is tight – with pride, with fierce joy, with tenderness for these players that are going to put everything on the line in a few moments, for a shot at glory, at making history. I’m a part of a unique moment and it’s momentous.

The crowd is polite, they cheer gamely for the FunPlus PhoeniX players. The ovation for the G2 players is a whole other ballpark. The French commentators say there’s a 6th player for the team that day, in the arena. They’re not wrong.

Every single action, every attack, every gank – the arena comes to life with gasps, yells of excitement, disappointment, frustration. Not a minute goes by without a “Let’s Go G2” chant, or a cheer to push them onwards, remind them that they’re playing at home. The camera pans onto Perkz and Caps laughing together and the crowd chants its approval. Bercy isn’t entirely unbiased.

Despite the extra encouragement and the original predictions from everyone – casters, analysts, commentators, crowd – G2 falls 3-0 to their opponents. FPX are crowned champions. The crowd is subdued, but still applauds. The keyword today is fair-play, from start to finish.

And then, the unexpected happens : G2 returns. The players come back into the arena, despite the defeat they just endured, despite how much they probably want to return home and lick their wounds in private. They turn around the stage, stop on every side to turn to the audience and bow. The noise is deafening. It’s a standing ovation, as Paris shows them how much they are loved. I feel my chest tighten, as I clap as hard as I can. I might not have known these players before the competition began, but this moment’ll stay stuck in my mind forever.

Paris – and France in general have always held a reputation of being the best esports audience. The Worlds 2019 Finals definitely confirmed it. The passion in the stands brought the action to life for everyone. Whether it’s the expert fan behind me, commentating every move to his neophyte friend, or the 8-year-old child yelling because the blue team was losing, sitting a row in front of me, all their hearts are beating in sync. I gasped and cheered along with them, yelling myself hoarse to let G2 know we were rooting for them, to never give up.

As an esports fan, experiencing that game live was a dream come true. As a Paris Eternal fan, it made me look forwards even more to the Homestands coming up next year. The Zénith is a mythic Parisian concert hall, and I can’t wait to see it decked out in red, blue and gold, filled with fans cheering as one for the Roosters to win. It’s going to be amazing, and I for one, cannot wait.

After all, we French do know how to throw a good party.

See you in April. #FiatLux

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