An online feud spilled over into real world violence at MOTAT last night when passions erupted at the 2016 League of Legends national championship final. Don Rowe was there, and found it the most exciting part of the event.
Last night, perhaps for the first time ever, the Museum of Transport and Technology played host to a bout of hooligan sporting violence that would rival your best sideline punch-up at the rugger.
Twenty-four minutes into the first game of the 2016 League of Legends national champs, a fistfight broke out in the crowd, scattering the gathered eSport enthusiasts and their parents.
Words were exchanged, a beverage was thrown, a throat was grabbed and several right hands bounced off the dome of the taller man. I’ve attended Thai boxing and mixed martial arts events for almost 10 years now and I’ve never seen a fight break out with such passion and rage.
The mothers in the crowd looked on disapprovingly, their every motherly premonition around videos game and violence seemingly confirmed.
“I heard it’s over some Twitch beef,” a source divulged. Talk shit, get hit, as they say.
Suitably inebriated, I followed the ruckus with interest. I’d never been to a League of Legends event, and couldn’t have anticipated a fight, but if there’s one thing I know about live sport it’s that beer is super expensive, so I treated it like any other good old kiwi sporting event and got sufficiently preloaded before arriving.
It was a good decision, considering the nightclub aesthetic. Heavy bass, dubstep, flashing lights and smoke machines made for a futuristic battledome filled with anthropomorphic creatures, sultry nurses and a man dressed as a woman with pink hair and giant steel fists. I’m forever impressed by cosplayers, many of whom look legitimately terrified to be in public, let alone dressed as a sexual fox thing, and yet strut their stuff in front of hundreds of people.
And hundreds there were – or at least one hundred anyway – gathered beneath MOTAT’s hallowed roof to watch 10 dudes on computers battle it out in a tiny animated forest. League of Legends is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), a copy of a copy of a Warcraft mod from the early 2000s that’s now an international sport with muti-million dollar prize pools. The world champs, known as Worlds, are on now in Las Vegas; The Spinoff is publishing a weekly recap by LoL superfan Eugenia Woo.
The players (athletes?) were arrayed in two teams and sequestered behind giant perspex barriers – protection from the crowd, the noise, and one another. Each team had a coach, who walked ominously behind the players like the owner of an internet cafe.
‘Shoutcasters’, aka commentators, played out live over the crowd, doing a competent job of explaining the fundamental mechanics and strategies of the game, as well as providing live play-by-plays. A dubious World War II analogy aside, it was surprisingly professional work from certainly unheralded broadcasters.
It might have been for naught, however, as this was already a highly educated crowd.
As a recovering League of Legends addict I have a good feel for the game, but kids in the crowd around me were discussing strategy and the current meta on a level on par with professional sports analysts, considering picks, counterpicks, gameplans and adjustments.
The excitement of the crowd was undeniable. They roared at every play, banging together complimentary thundersticks like a netball crowd. But by 45 minutes into the first game I was longing for another fistfight. My thundersticks sat uninflated in a pocket, wedged against a voucher for free fries at Burgerfuel.
League of Legends matches have no fixed time limit, and range on average from a 20 minute thrashing to protracted hour and a half long wars of attrition. In a best-of-three series, there’s a real danger of sitting around for anywhere up to three or four hours.
I decided to go for a wander. In a soiled bathroom one of the pugilists from earlier was washing his face and dabbing at his mouth with a wad of toilet paper. It made for a grim sight, not only because I needed to take a slash.
Back out front the guys in the red corner were up 1-0. Spinoff contributor Lucy Zee was there for the Wireless, and hucked me a Heineken from the bar. Alas it was Heineken Light, and thus disgusting. Things were getting dire.
Fortunately, game two was almost a formality, and Tiger Eye took an easy 2-0 victory. After the actual fight earlier it was a bit of an anticlimax. While the flashing lights, screaming fans, intricate costuming and overall ambiance is super cool, the game itself as a spectator sport lacks the visceral excitement of a real, physical interaction, and thus felt somewhat lacking in engagement for the casual viewer.
Bridging that gap will be the key to LoL’s transcendence to a mainstream spectator sport, if it’s possible at all. But as the international scene demonstrates, there are more than enough hardcore fans in a global society to sustain all manner of niches. And for the ones who dig it, particularly those at MOTAT last night, League of Legends is every part as exciting as a good bit of biff.
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