The 10th edition of the League of Legends World Championship begins Friday looking unlike any iteration before it.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic halted League developer Riot Games' plans to hold its annual multi-city tour complete with the biggest finale yet. But change is familiar to this company and to the fans, players, teams and personalities that hold League of Legends so dear.
As the League of Legends World Championship turns 10, ESPN took a look back at how the event became the largest and most-watched global esports competition on the planet through the eyes of the people that saw it unfold firsthand, planned the event, or competed.
Season 1: 'Holy crap, this is big'
Location: Jönköping, Sweden
Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez, then-Fnatic top laner: I remember when it was first announced, it was 2010. At that time, there were not big tournaments or anything, and they suddenly announced this $100,000 tournament, $50,000 for the winner. That was huge, because there was nothing like that before that. Maybe it looks ridiculous now, but at that time it was crazy for me to think about winning that. I remember I was pretty excited about going. I didn't know what to expect because I had never been in a world championship like this.
I had no idea how the teams would play, how North American and Asian teams were. I was happy to play, but I never thought we could win it. I didn't envision myself winning worlds because I never thought about it so far. For me, it was more about it was a huge tournament, the fact that I could play against people from other regions that I never got to play against. At that time, George "HotshotGG" Georgallidis was a huge name, Andy "Reginald" Dinh, all those guys.
Brandon Beck, co-founder of Riot Games: The first Worlds and the lead up to it was to serve the most competitive part of the community. We had ladders. We had teams forming around the world, and they're playing in tournaments. We had to come up with a way to bring everyone together and experience competition at the highest level, and it was really fun back then because it was a clash of metas. It was teams that didn't often get to compete with each other in an esports landscape that didn't have regular competition. It was pretty fragmented.
We always joke that we had like 100 folding chairs, and most of them were vacant. But online, we had -- I don't know the exact numbers -- but like well over a million people tuning in with concurrents of like hundreds of thousands. That was when Twitch and a few other streaming providers were really starting to take shape, and it was that convergence that made it super accessible to experience.
Marc Merrill, co-founder of Riot Games: Most people on the Riot team were incredibly skeptical, actually. I think we were all hopeful that League could become an esport. But aside from a handful of us, you know, such as me and Brandon, Steve "Pendragon" Mescon, many people at the company were skeptical and also viewed it as a massive distraction given the million other priorities that we had to go execute.
We announced our $100,000 cash prize tournament before we had even come up with the architecture of how we actually go and execute that. Part of the reason that they weren't bought in is not because they didn't hope that we could go execute esports well, but it was more of we're trying to keep the servers up. We're trying to expand internationally. We're trying to add content. We're trying to improve our capabilities across pretty much every dimension.
It's just hard. It's very hard for an organization to layer on additional complexity like that, and esports is a very different business, so we wanted to partner with organizations whenever possible.
Joshua "Jatt" Leesman, former League of Legends caster: My first memory of the world championships was watching them on stream for Season 1, except I don't even think it was on Twitch, I think it was on own3D. But it got over 100,000 viewers, and I was just sitting in my bedroom, thinking, "Holy crap, this is big." I had played casually with a team, and we had made it to a worlds qualifier, but no one really took it seriously or anything back at the time. So obviously we didn't go to worlds, but once I saw the first world championship, I was like, damn, this League of Legends thing might have some legs. I'm going to keep playing this game.
xPeke: In that tournament, you had 20 people, 30 people watching live. At that time, League of Legends wasn't as big, and not everyone was watching. When I was walking out there with a Fnatic jersey, one guy stopped me because he saw it and saw my nickname on it, and he asked me if I was a Counter-Strike player. And I said, "No, I'm a League of Legends player." He was like, "Oh, whatever. I don't know what game that is." He didn't care. He didn't know what it was yet.
Years later, it's the other way around. Everyone recognizes us. Everyone knows what League of Legends is.
Season 2: A breakout year and an eight-hour delay
Location: Los Angeles
Jacob Wolf, ESPN Esports staff writer: One of the more memorable moments of that world championship is how many people were disciplined for cheating. Riot issued five punishments total, two in the Team SoloMid-Azubu Frost quarterfinal, one against Marcus "Dyrus" Hill and another against Jang "Woong" Gun-woong.
Essentially, the way the layout for the stage of the event at L.A. Live was set up, players could turn their heads and see the venue monitor, which obviously didn't have any Fog of War because of the spectator. Teams were able to see a ton of information, and when it became apparent that Woong and Frost had done that, in particular, and given how beloved TSM is, online outrage began.
Andy "Reginald" Dinh, then-Team SoloMid mid laner: When we played against Azubu Frost, that completely ruined our mental fortitude. Those guys clearly cheated. In their comms, they were cheating. In the video, they were cheating. At that time, because esports was new, it was a big tournament, it was just a tough decision to make to potentially kick them out of the tournament because there weren't clear rules to not look behind you, etc. That really threw us off from the get-go of the tournament. RapidStar even admits it now.
Jung "RapidStar" Min-sung, former Azubu Frost mid laner: To explain what happened that day. Woong is a bit ADHD. He's the type of person that just can't sit still. He needs to move around all the time. The whole setup by Riot, Riot didn't really check it because it was their first major tournament, so they didn't realize that from the player point of view, we could see a monitor. It's something they needed to consider and check beforehand, because it was so easy to see. Honestly speaking, I've heard that a lot of the teams had seen the minimaps, and it wasn't just us.
Woong made a mistake by pinging on the minimap and when he did, we were all freaking out. All of us were like, "What the f--- are you doing? We're in the middle of the tournament. This could be considered cheating." If you see the video clips again, you can see us pinging everywhere because we were freaking out.
Jatt: Season 2, everything was still new, but I remember some big moments. We only had four casters to do the entire event, so I was paired up with Leigh "Deman" Smith and then David "Phreak" Turley was paired up with Rivington "RivingtonThe3rd" Bisland III. The format was much different in 2012 than it is now, so the biggest memory I think people would remember is the CLG.EU vs. WE best-of-five when the internet kept cutting out. So we filled about, I don't remember exactly, probably five to six hours on broadcast with just dead air as they tried to figure out what to do because the internet isn't working and we can't play the game without the internet.
Henrik "Froggen" Hansen, then-CLG.EU mid laner: The first game ran smooth or something like that, and Team WE ended up winning. Then we went into the second game, and that was remade. There may have been another remake, and eventually it ended up being 1-1 and we played the supposedly final game. The infamous cheering for killing wards comes from that game because people just kept recalling and buying wards, and we just kept killing them around Baron. Eventually about 50 or 60 minutes into the game, we have a massive teamfight firstly at mid inhibitor, and it's just extremely one-sided, and there's not really a way for them to win, but the game breaks down and there's a lot of discussion whether it should be remade, not remade, all that kind of stuff.
"We filled about, I don't remember exactly, probably five to six hours on broadcast with just dead air as they tried to figure out what to do because the internet isn't working and we can't play the game without the internet." Joshua "Jatt" Leesman, former League of Legends caster
There was a lot of talk about whether we should try to finish the series that day or it had to be rescheduled a week later to the Galen Center. I remember our team was adamant that we wanted to play on that day. It lasted eight hours, that best-of-three. We could see WE getting really tired and just falling asleep in the chairs and the couches, so we really wanted to play because obviously we'd have an advantage from doing that. We had been in L.A. for one or two months at that point already because we were bootcamping at the CLG house in Burbank. That's kind of how the pause went for us.
Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles, former League of Legends caster and reporter: I was in the ESPN Zone, which was a restaurant-slash-bar that is now the ESPN office in downtown Los Angeles. I was sitting in there in the press area for eight hours and the sound was being piped through the entire restaurant, which was reserved privately for Riot at that time.
It was "Silver Scrapes" playing on a loop for eight hours straight. It was extremely annoying.
Bridget Davidson, former Riot Games esports live producer: Remakes would take so long because we didn't have a very sophisticated, well-oiled machine on the broadcast and tech side. We'd have to go through all of our tech checks again. We'd have to get the broadcast back up and ready. We had to work with all these translators who were part-time. We had Rioters who we just identified through a mass email, who were secondhand doing translation for us. There was a facilities guy who was helping us talk to the Chinese teams. We hadn't vetted people's translation skills, and it was very difficult to communicate sometimes. Getting back into the games, it was such a long time and we had to do that multiple times because they disconnected.
We should've pushed harder on building that offline server beforehand. We did end up building it after the L.A. Live event. We built it within a week. We had proposed a four-to-six-month plan for how we were going to put this thing together, test it out and do all this due diligence. We had five people not sleep for six days and just put this thing together and have it up and running in time for the Galen Center.
We were so stressed and pressured and firing on all cylinders. I'd not slept a lot and I felt like my career depended on all of this going well. That was where my mind was at. Once we were in the show and we had made it to finals and the offline server was working and I had nothing left to do, I was paranoid. Someone told me to go out to the front because I was always working behind a table in the back.
I walked out right as the orchestra came up and was starting to play the League of Legends theme. I just looked at the crowd, saw everyone's phones and I just had this moment sweep over me. I was like, holy s---. We created something insane. I just started weeping. I looked over at some other coworkers and they were weeping too. It was such a big moment.
Season 3: The Demon King's coronation
Location: Los Angeles
Go "Score" Dong-bin, former KT Rolster jungler: When I started being a professional gamer back in 2013, I became a professional gamer because I heard there was a thing called worlds. Not just domestic tournaments but international tournaments that I could go to. I was really happy that I made it, and it was really fun to go and even when you win, the degree of happiness you feel is different at worlds.
Emily Rand, ESPN staff writer: This was the debut season for Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, near-universally accepted as the best League player of all time. The so-called Unkillable Demon King and his SK Telecom T1 squad had to go through Score and KT Rolster Bullet during worlds. At that time, they were arguably the two best teams in the world, and leading into worlds, they clashed in an epic best-of-five in the 2013 OGN Champions Summer finals that went all five games.
Although Faker and T1 became known for a standard (see: boring) vision-based style in years to come, 2013 SKT was a significantly more aggressive squad in an assassin-based meta that suited Faker's incredible mechanical prowess perfectly. Whoever emerged the victor of that series was going to be a worlds contender, and SKT did it with incredible performances from everyone on the team. However, everyone remembers Faker and his ridiculous outplay of Bullets mid laner Ryu "Ryu" Sang-wook in a one-on-one fight with both players using Zed.
SKT were likely to win that Game 5 regardless, but that was the killing blow, and what people remembered when they appeared on the world championship stage that year.
David "Phreak" Turley, Riot Games caster and analyst: We knew Faker was good. We knew SKT was the favorite at worlds that year. He was the best player in the world. But it was so early in League's history that it was like, "Oh, they're the best right now, that's nice." I don't think ever at any point I was like, "What are the next two years going to look like," so I never considered if Faker was going to be a star forever.
MonteCristo: I remember right before worlds at the Staples Center just this sea of people waiting outside the Staples Center. I was on one of the upper decks, and all I did was walk over on a balcony and just look over and then have thousands of people see me and cheer. That was a really surreal experience, even coming from Korean esports where everything is much larger scale, because I had never seen anything like this in Western esports in spite of having been involved in the scene since about 2004.
This really showed how big esports could get in America, a place where esports had never been big in the same way that we had seen it in Korea, China or even to a lesser degree, Europe. That made everything much more grand in terms of scale than I think it ever had been before. It really was, as we look back at it now historically and even in 20 years from now, we'll look at it as, this is where shit got real in America.
xPeke: I was more excited about the Staples Center than anything. I remember seeing these posters outside the venue, and one of them had my face on it. That was unbelievable to me, taking a picture and seeing in a three-meter poster, just my face next to the other guys. That was crazy to me.
When you make worlds, you never expect much. Of course you want to win with all of your heart, but you never really feel it until you start getting through. When we played in that semifinals, that's where we were starting to get it. Playing in front of a huge crowd, only four teams left. We are already one of the top four teams in the world. I was getting this feeling of, "Maybe we can win the whole thing. Maybe we can actually make it." Even though I knew SKT were very good, I was hoping to win it.
Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao was crazy good at that time. I remember in that series it felt impossible to do anything with Uzi and how well he played. At that time, no one knew the limits you could play. People would play their lane, they'd try to play it as best as they can but maybe they'd not push it as hard as Uzi did. He felt like he'd not lose any creep score and he would try to punish every CS. That's what made his laning so strong. He would always farm, farm, farm. He'd always be hitting you and at the same time in a safe position. If you actually went in on him, he could flash out or do something else. He knew his limits very well.
Phreak: So Uzi vs. Faker in the finals. I don't think anyone realistically expected Royal to win. This was a mistake that all of us made on the analyst desk, and it was really immature on all of our points. We had an ongoing analyst prediction tracker, and for whatever reason, everyone was about three points behind Montecristo, and of course he's going to pick SKT in the finals, and finals is worth five points. So the only way to win analyst predictions Jeopardy is to vote for Royal to win the upset. We valued that over a good esports presentation, and that story is very emblematic of where we were as broadcasters in 2013. We would rather win analyst bingo than just, you know, say the correct thing in the worlds final. Like, just actually why? It breaks my heart because I was on that panel and I chose my vote.
People really expected SKT to absolutely crush. Royal was going to get 3-0'ed quick, and then they're out. It was the most-least-interesting worlds final of all worlds finals because at this point everyone was fully bought into Faker. Good job to Kim "Nagne" Sang-moon, he actually brought Faker to a close series. SKT was by far the better team, and it was cool because then it was Faker winning his first worlds and it was the start of what is still the biggest dynasty in League of Legends esports.
Season 4: Samsung shut the world down
Location: Tour of Asia (Final in Seoul, South Korea)
MonteCristo: Just from watching the games, if you look at that year, the level of competition in South Korea was absolutely bonkers. It was my favorite year of casting in any esport in history because every game was so hype.
We were still on the tournament system, so we had the three tournament-style seasons, so it was really exciting by the time we got to the finals. You have teams that were rising, like Samsung Blue, who won a season, and you had the very famous KT Arrows vs. Samsung Blue finals on the beach in Busan in the summer, which is still one of the best best-of-five series played in League of Legends history to this day. You could certainly make the argument that it is the best, and sometimes people do. I don't make that argument, but for me it's probably top three.
It was just extraordinarily exciting, and even in the lead up to Worlds, having the miracle run by NaJin through the gauntlet was also super exciting when people expected KT Arrows to take that last spot.
Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, Team SoloMid mid laner: I like worlds in South Korea just because of the low ping solo queue and the food is really good there. There's just something about being in Korea -- especially back then when it was the dominant region, right? It felt like you were in the land of the greats. The solo queue practice was also really good.
Froggen, then-Alliance mid laner: Samsung White and Blue and TSM ended up being our main practice partners. A lot of the things we prioritized, the way we played and stuff, ended up being changed a lot based on how White and Blue were playing. White were a lot better than Blue, I think. Mainly we'd play against White and I think we had some stupid record against them, like 21-3, as in 21 losses and 3 wins against them. They were just extremely good. We tried to change up our picks and see what we could do in order to try to win against them. Some of the stuff that ended up working is actually what we ended up losing to KaBuM with, so we kind of got baited into trying to beat this one team that was extremely, extremely good. We didn't learn or get too much out of our practice, I would say, just based off of those things.
We had these internal bets with TSM about who could do better against the Samsung teams in scrimmages and whoever did the best, the other team would have to buy them food or something like that cause both of us were just getting railed.
Bjergsen: One of the most memorable things for me during the 2014 world championship was being one of Samsung White's main scrim partner and just losing every single scrim against them. I think our record against them was 3 and 25 or something, and even in two of those wins it was them up 10K gold and them throwing for us to have a miracle teamfight or them losing focus. It can kinda demoralize you during a tournament, because damn, are we ever really going to catch up to these guys? They're so freaking good. I haven't played a team since that was so dominant.
We ended up facing them in the quarterfinals too and getting smashed pretty bad, but we won a game. We took a game off of them.
MonteCristo: Here's what happened. The game that TSM won against Samsung White is famous because it's the only game Samsung White lost outside of the finals. Here's the real deal of what happened: Samsung White, that entire year, would troll teams that they thought were bad. They'd play nonsense compositions in Korea and see if they could win because they were very cocky as a team.
Samsung White was up 2-0 in this series and they proceed to do an absolutely idiotic level 1 because they were trying to troll TSM or see what they could get away with. They were punished and TSM got a snowball in that game. But they came back in Game 4 and clapped the ever-loving s*** out of TSM, so three of those games were not close and the one game was classic, if you were familiar with the way they played, was classic Samsung White trolling. TSM never, ever, ever had a chance in that series.
Reginald: *Laughs* No one trolls a world championship. Let's be honest here. When we do win tournaments like IEM Katowice or any of these, we're often easily discredited because we're a North American team. Like, "Oh, an NA team won. It's a fluke." I'd say we deserved that win. It's one game, and it doesn't really matter at the end of the day. It's really about winning a championship. We lost. I honestly don't really care. I think it's funny people come up with reasons to say that this team is trolling at a world championship. That just doesn't make sense to me.
"We had these internal bets with TSM about who could do better against the Samsung teams in scrimmages and whoever did the best, the other team would have to buy them food or something like that cause both of us were just getting railed." Henrik "Froggen" Hansen, former Alliance mid laner
Erik "DoA" Lonnquist, former League of Legends caster: That Samsung team completely blew up after worlds. Like they all went to China, you know, to play on those teams. That was right before the Korean Exodus. That was kind of the peak of Korean dominance of League of Legends. You could say 2015 was right up there as well with another SKT win, but 2014 was where it really felt like Korea was like the king of League, right? And you had to come to their home turf to beat them.
It was such a big event, and the stage was amazing. You had all these great traditional Korean drummers, you had Imagine Dragons performing, and they did an awesome job. Just being there and getting to experience all that in person was something else.
Season 5: A dynasty born amid an exodus
Location: Tour of Europe (Final in Berlin)
Whalen Rozelle, Riot Games senior director of esports: It took a couple of years for everyone inside Riot to embrace this concept of hey, esports is important enough that we should make patches around it, right? I believe it was 2015 when we had a pretty horrid meta, and it was like there were patches happening like right prior to worlds. It was pretty controversial. The Juggernaut meta. Fans don't just want a great meta to play, they want a great meta to watch and so that was sort of the eye-opening moment of like OK, we really need to be more coordinated.
When it comes to worlds meta, It's about making sure that the rate of change decreases over time, especially prior to our big tournaments like MSI and worlds, to ensure that everything is a little bit more balanced but we don't throw pros off their game right before the tournament, so that allows us to see them at the peak of whatever powers they can be at that tournament instead of them just having to learn new champs.
Lucas "Santorin" Tao Kilmer Larsen, then-TSM jungler: If I remember correctly the only win we got was Jason "Wildturtle" Tran playing Mordekaiser, which if you have an AD carry playing Mordekaiser, yeah, that's the 2015 worlds patch, you know? There was so much random stuff going on, and it felt like it definitely didn't help us as a team.
Usually if you're a bad team or slumping or whatever it might be, when you go to worlds and you get to scrim all the best teams you usually get better and you'll improve. But if you have to focus on new drafting and picks, what's strong, what's weak, you don't really get to put as much time into your actual team and how you perform as a team so it definitely hindered us a little bit that the patch was so different.
Emily Rand, ESPN Esports staff writer: One of the more poignant moments happened away from the rowdy European crowd in Paris, when paiN Gaming bot later Felipe "brTT" Gonçalves proposed to his girlfriend Giuliana "Caju" Capitani. After defeating Counter Logic Gaming, paiN walked to the front of the stage and took their final bow to a round of cheers from the fans. Backstage, there was a setup waiting for brTT with the Brazilian broadcast to propose long-distance to Caju.
"I want to be there," she said after pausing a moment to collect herself and accept. "This is unfair. I want to say one thing I can't say live."
Here's a fan-made translation of the moment.
Davidson: One of our main contributors to the success of these events was a woman named Lisa Neshanian. She actually passed away a few years ago. She was the magic-maker. She got the name "Riot CoolLady" from someone on the community forums. If someone wanted a picture, autograph or to propose on stage, she'd be sought out. She'd go to great lengths. The paiN handler had approached her and had talked about the proposal, and she was just like, "Yes. We're going to do this." She coordinated with the broadcast and one of the casters from Brazil and brTT. They got her on the line and we had a camera set up in the back, right near the makeup station. We made this little makeshift area for him. It was very scrappy looking, but it was a really important moment for him.
Jacob Wolf, ESPN Esports staff writer: Playoffs for that event were wild. Many people will remember that Fnatic beat reigning Mid-Season Invitational champion EDward Gaming in the quarterfinals, but I remember a lot more fondly another quarterfinal: KT Rolster vs. KOO Tigers. KOO beat KT in an exciting series, only then to dominate Fnatic in the semifinals and earn a finals berth.
MonteCristo: KOO were the scrappy underdogs, and they were two very different flavors as teams. SK Telecom T1 is the most prestigious esports organization in the history of esports. Period. It's not an argument. You're not allowed to have that argument. This is just the truth. Going back to Brood War, continuing into other games, especially League of Legends. So they're very polished, they're very professional, they're very well-funded by SK Telecom.
To have them in this final up against this team of friends. KOO, in many ways, was not very stereotypically Korean. They're really loud. They're extremely boisterous as a unit. They're constantly shouting at each other. They had to get team houses at times that put them in the basement because they'd disturb all of their neighbors because they were so loud all the time. You really got this energy of this group of friends that were constantly yelling and having a good time. They were really fun to be around.
Not only that, they were poor. There were times, and I think you can go back and look at this historically, where they literally couldn't afford electricity for air conditioning in Seoul. So the fact that this team even made the world finals, as what was effectively an amateur organization, this was before they were bought out and before they had money. They were so poor at the time where they couldn't even have basic amenities, which was and is a super cool story in esports history.
I'm still bummed they didn't win this final.
Season 6: SKT go back-to-back
Location: Tour of United States (Final in Los Angeles)
Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong, former Samsung Galaxy jungler: remember having hard times back then and thinking that the teams who come to the World championships have to bear the rough schedule. My mind was out there moving from the West Coast to the East Coast, but it was fun to see different sceneries of each city. In particular, I really liked the ambiance of Chicago. I still remember the Tad's Steak we ate in San Francisco. Our team went there together once but I visited again because the taste was just amazing for me.
Jacob Wolf, ESPN Esports staff writer: When one of the wildcard teams, Albus Nox Luna, beat the now-ROX Tigers, G2 and Counter Logic Gaming in group stages, I think we were all kind of stunned. They ended up in a tiebreaker with ROX for first in the group, which they lost, but earning a playoff slot versus H2K like that was crazy. No one expected that.
Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski, then-H2K Gaming jungler: I even remember being super hyped about it and jumping around because we got the good draw in playing against them. But we had to work our way to face them and they also deserved to be in quarters because they did win against G2 and CLG. There was a reason they were there and why other teams were not. I don't think it was a fluke and I was pretty happy going all the way to semis.
Jacob Wolf, ESPN Esports staff writer: And then we had three South Korean teams in the top four ...
Jankos: It was pretty exciting to play Samsung in the semifinals. We thought back then that we could win. I remember playing at Madison Square Garden. It was really fun. The crowd was kind of from both sides. It was everywhere. When we were losing, they'd kind of give us the flashlights like at a concert or something.
It was probably the best venue I've ever played in. Madison Square Garden definitely takes the cake for back then.
Tyler Erzberger, ESPN Esports staff writer: I was in New York City at Madison Square Garden for the historic semifinal between the ROX Tigers and SK Telecom T1. As a traditional sports fan since I was a little kid, going inside one of the most famous sports arenas in the world for an esports match was one of the most surreal moments of my life. The semifinal itself, which was already talked about as the unofficial championship, somehow exceeded all expectations, both teams playing at their absolute peak form in front of a hot crowd that was packed to the nosebleeds.
The match had everything, from Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyun's surprise Miss Fortune selection, to SKT T1 accidentally picking Nidalee, and of course, we can't forget about the most famous Worlds play of all-time -- Kim "PraY" Jong-in's heat-seeking missile that almost blew the top off of Madison Square Garden
Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere, host at Riot Games: I was really stoked and the fact that it went all the way to five games and also that idea that was already lingering then that there could be a changing of the guard. The question as to whether SKT would keep winning, that was already in the air.
Before Game 5, I went down to the floor and said, 'I want to headbang to Silver Scrapes! I want to dance to the song!' I asked production to take my mic off. I rushed down and it was so cool. Maybe it was delirium cause I was turning around on my own axis so often. I was just looking around and all the lights and everyone in the crowd and realizing we're all here together for League of Legends and we're having a blast. It was great. Then I had one of those feelings that this is never going away. This is only going to get bigger and bigger. It was magical.
Tyler Erzberger, ESPN Esports staff writer: What I remember most from that night other than witnessing the best League of Legends match to ever be played (and that statement remains true to this day five years later), is the line of fans that somehow found the ESPN desk near the top of the arena following the games. We were interviewing Faker, and there was a mile-long line of fans in the corridors as the clock was approaching midnight just for the opportunity to see the best player ever up close. They wouldn't budge until the security guards of the arena had to usher them out because they wanted to get home before the sun came up.
Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan, former SKT support: I would have to say 2016 Worlds was the best event of my career. MSI and worlds in 2015 was the first time I got in an international competition. And for the team and I, the win felt surreal and I think it meant a lot for us as well as it did for the fans because of the fact that there isn't a team out there that has two consecutive wins.
I think the most memorable thing was Ashe and Miss Fortune. The fans still send me that clip and it is used as a meme, which I am grateful for.
Season 7: SKT and Faker fall
Location: Tour of China (Final in Beijing)
Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage, then-Misfits mid laner: I didn't make Worlds the two years before that, so making it finally was obviously a big achievement. Just making it in general and then landing there, seeing the stage and all that, all that was just insane along with scrimming and playing on the Chinese server. Overall, just getting there was a really cool experience.
It was a crazy experience in groups. On the last day, we needed a single victory over WE and we would automatically qualify for quarterfinals, but we lost that and previously to TSM, so it made it a situation where if TSM beat WE or Flash Wolves they would qualify instead and we wouldn't be able to get out of groups. So we were just watching backstage, and first off they faced World Elite and we were pretty confident World Elite would destroy them, because World Elite were a really, really strong team and really, really early-game focused. They were really excellent at the meta back then, which was Ardent Censer, so they obviously dismantled TSM really fast.
Then I remember us all watching the TSM vs. Flash Wolves game, and though we were all cheering for Flash Wolves, we kinda expected them to lose. They were 0-5 at that point. We were, like, damn, do it for us, guys! Give us a chance for a tiebreaker! I don't know, man, but they f---ing did it and gave us a chance to get a tiebreaker against TSM. After the TSM and Flash Wolves game, the tiebreaker was instantly held onstage, and we won, so it was a crazy experience, kicking TSM out too, which obviously felt great.
The week of scrimmages leading up to the SKT match didn't go well. We had issues, and it actually felt like we were losing too fast. Then the day came, and we just wanted to try our hardest and not be afraid at all. Let's just play how we normally do, which is really aggressive.
I remember entering the stage everyone was cheering for SKT, but after each game, I felt like the crowd were cheering a little bit more for us. And at the end, everyone was cheering for Misfits. It was insane.
As a player, it was one of those moments that you normally never forget. They just kinda burn themselves into your brain.
Phreak: SKT, for whatever reason, refuses to lose at worlds. They've never lost a worlds they've been to. I remember being very keen on Samsung Galaxy being the better team. SKT had one good player, and thankfully he's good enough to win some games, but no one else on SKT I had really any faith in.
There were people who were saying, "Look, form is temporary, class is forever. How can you not see that SKT is a better team than Samsung Galaxy. Look at their history. Look at what they've done this year." And I was like, "Yeah but have you watched worlds? These guys could barely beat Misfits and probably should have gotten 3-1'd. Sorry, SKT is not that good anymore."
There was enough contention there, but at the end of the day it was not even close.
Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan, SKT: For me, worlds in 2017 was not a happy memory, and I tried really hard to erase that. Just thinking about the final stage is pretty bad for me.
"As a player, it was one of those moments that you normally never forget. They just kinda burn themselves into your brain." Tristan "PowerOfEvil" Schrage on the 2017 quarterfinal match against SKT
Ariel Horn, then-Riot Games executive producer: There had been several close calls before this final, where somehow Faker was able to find a way, that no one expected to see him finally lose. But suddenly he did, and as it unfolded right there and Faker cried in his palm, I remember yelling to the front deck, "Stay there."
It hurt us all. It was the end of an era. The Demon King had been defeated. Bae "Bang" Jun-sik was also standing there in disbelief as the confetti rained down. When SKT eventually emerged from the booth, we followed him and got that turn and tears shot that is so famous now.
RapidStar, then-coach of SK Telecom T1: It was his first time crying in front of the camera, but it wasn't my first time seeing him cry after major games. For example, in 2017 MSI, even after we won the finals, Faker cried backstage because he is a perfectionist. He has a very high standard for himself and if he feels he doesn't meet the standard or hasn't accomplished or met his standard, he gets really upset and frustrated.
It wasn't my first time seeing him cry, but when I did see him crying in front of the camera, I felt really sorry because I felt like I could've done more as a coach to perfect him. I know how much Faker tries. Everyone knows Faker as this genius player, but it's just not that. He tries really hard. He practices a lot. There's a lot to Faker that people don't know about. His personality as a perfectionist is what makes him Faker.
Davidson: I was devastated for him, and I think we really captured the human element of this and of him. I think that was an important thing for him to show. It's not a thing of him crying and giving him his privacy. When you're an athlete of his stature, people want to be on this journey with you, and they will feel what you feel. That's the magic of sports. You as a fan are invested and feel like you have such a big stake in this. You see the person you're rooting for and are here for going through this. It evokes so much emotion. That was a really powerful moment for everyone.
Ambition: It was extremely thrilling when we broke the Nexus in our last match. I felt something I had never experienced before while hearing the roar of the audience. So many fans and friends congratulated us, and I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment for quite a while.
Samsung's strength was its tight management skills - maneuvering just as we had practiced for. Everyone at the time aimed for such moves, but we were the best at it.
Season 8: The South Korean dynasty crumbles
Location: Tour of South Korea (Finals in Incheon)
Sjokz: It was one of those years where we didn't have the biggest of expectations and somehow it became one of the best years for European results. I was honestly not as surprised that Fnatic was going to do well. I thought they'd looked competitive and they could definitely look more competitive as the tournament went on. I was especially very excited and thought they'd win it after they beat Invictus Gaming in the group stage to get that No. 1 slot, the back-to-back. They beat them once, then they beat them again in a tiebreaker to get No. 1 so they got a better draw. That really tricked me.
Barento "Raz" Mohammed, former League of Legends Pro League caster: For me it was always a debate about who was better between Royal Never Give Up and Invictus Gaming. Because in the regular season, iG would just smash it. They would come out with perfect splits. They would only lose once, and it was to RNG.
And so I always believed that iG could be a worlds contender, and when I heard from the international community that they didn't believe that iG could be champions, or more importantly that they were fifth or sixth place. They felt that iG wasn't going to be a worlds championship contender, I was like, "Whoa, you guys are going to be surprised." I felt like they didn't really recognize how good these players were and honestly how much it was based off of the development of their younger players and the less-experienced players.
Jankos, now G2 Esports jungler: When fans saw Korean teams struggling, they'd cheer for the Europeans instead of the Chinese teams. The crowd was really, really loud when we were beating RNG in the quarterfinals. A big part of the crowd were Chinese fans, so they were quiet, but all the Korean fans were cheering for us.
After the first game, I was kind of doubting myself though because it was such an one-sided game for RNG. Then again it wasn't that one-sided, I just thought it was because we didn't get that many kills. But looking back it wasn't. Then we won the second game and when we won the second game, I realized for sure we could win against them. Then it got super exciting.
Raz: Everyone was insanely surprised, including myself, of how RNG lost to G2. I still have a bitter feeling that RNG was of course the better team that just had the wrong read on how the meta should be played throughout the entire year. So they found out when they went up against G2, a team that fully embraced the top side meta and said, "Yeah we're just going to put bot lane on the most self-sufficient lane as possible. Put 'em on Heimerdinger or whatever, and you guys just hold the door." And that's what I felt like should have been the identity of a lot of teams if they wanted to be championship contenders, but RNG was always the team that had such a damn good bot lane that they didn't want to change.
Sjokz: For G2, what the hell was that? I still don't understand how that happened. I don't want to diminish any of the other members at all but you have to pin down the fact that they make it to the semifinals, so much of that, to the vigor, the power, the motivation of Luka "Perkz" Perković and what he was able to muster in that moment.
From very early on, he took the weight of the entire team on him and he grew into that role better and better. He shuts off everything but being the best and his teammates being the best and making it to where they want to make it. That's why that 2018 year was such an anomaly because I truly also believe that that year was one of them where he always wants to win and he always wants to believe he can win, but that must've been such a strange experience because this was not a team where anyone expected anything from.
"That year was the year that Korean teams stopped performing that well. Afreeca was low-key choking in the first game against us. Them grinding 24/7 and being super stressed out about the games didn't really help them." Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski, G2 jungler on 2018
All the years before, the pressure had been so incredibly high. When they win their first split and went to MSI, when they went to Worlds 2016 and bombed out and didn't do well, even though they had good groups. The whole vacation meme thing. All that went directly into his head, into his conscious and translated into his drive.
As it ended, I remember LPL interviewer Candice Yushuang coming up to me and being like, 'I'm so happy for you. Congratulations! It's so sad for Uzi ... but I'm so happy for Perkz.' We had such a great bonding moment there. Since then we've always been respectful of each other's team but sometimes we understood that we were really happy for our teams or really sad for our teams. Oh my god, that was such a great moment.
RapidStar, then-assistant coach of Cloud9: Playing against Afreeca Freecs, we already knew we had a really good chance because Afreeca was the weakest of the quarterfinalists but we didn't know it'd be that one-sided of games. At the time, I remember [Cloud9 CEO] Jack Etienne was so happy, because we were writing history because it was the first time since Season 1 Worlds that a North American team had made it this far. All of us were thrilled. We were writing history. We knew going into Fnatic, we had almost zero chance but we were still thrilled to go up as high for a North American team.
Jankos: That year was the year that Korean teams stopped performing that well. Afreeca was low-key choking in the first game against us. Them grinding 24/7 and being super stressed out about the games didn't really help them. Thanks to that, we won the game kind of easily because I felt like they didn't really perform well at all. I felt like that was the first year that we would kind of see that Korea is not performing as good anymore.
Everyone was super excited because for the first time in a while we'd have a Western team in the final, be it Cloud9 or Fnatic. Of course everyone knew Cloud9 would never win against Fnatic. I thought we could beat iG because we did beat RNG. So what is iG to RNG? But I was proven wrong. *laughs*
Sjokz: Seeing Fnatic up there on stage in the final, seeing a European team representing in the final for the first time since Season 1. This really felt like a: look where we are now. Look at all the naysayers and the haters who said we couldn't make it. You couldn't say it wasn't deserved because they beat some great teams on the way. They had those tiebreakers vs. iG. They deserved to be there. And they choked. *laughs*
Jankos: It did feel like the gap closed between Asia and Europe starting with that tournament. We did beat RNG, and we were the third European team to be there. It did feel like the gap was smaller than it used to be.
Season 9: China on the rise
Location: Tour of Europe (Final in Paris)
Kim "Doinb" Tae-seng, FunPlus Phoenix mid laner: Originally I was certain that I was going to retire in 2018. I even announced my own retirement. I felt like I had been playing for so many years and I didn't have a good result behind me. I started to doubt myself. Maybe I just wasn't able to get a good result. Maybe this was enough and I should just leave the scene.
Then FPX came to talk to Rogue Warriors. They were very persistent. One of their upper management team, Emily, she talked to me every day for over 10 days about daily life and how badly they wanted to have a good result. Even though I wasn't feeling so well, because of my trust in the management, I decided to stay for one more year.
Raz: FPX had a very specific style. When they went into groups, I was still surprised that they lost a game, but I wasn't surprised in the fashion that they lost and I also didn't think they would be doomed off of one game. They lost for sure in one way in the first game, and it didn't look good, but also this is just who they are as a team.
When LPL wasn't performing well at international events, guess what happened? Everyone was like, "Well, you guys are looking pretty bad right now." So there's zero faith from the Western audience that the LPL teams will perform. And now that the LPL teams have actually won worlds back-to-back, and they're going for the third, everyone is like, "Well, you're all gods." *laughs*
Jacob Wolf, ESPN Esports staff writer: The expectation for G2 at this event was through the ceiling. The team made the biggest roster change in Western League of Legends history by taking away Rasmus "Caps" Winther from world finalist Fnatic and moving Perkz bot, then winning the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational handedly, with Worlds 2019 set for Europe. Could they be the first team to do the full grand slam -- to win both domestic titles, the MSI title and the world championship? Everyone expected everything from this team.
Jankos: The crowd was insane. They were cheering for us so hard. They were booing FPX. They were really cheering for us, but they were also cheering for SKT and Faker. Even DAMWON. We are from Europe, they want us to win and they want us to do well, but we shouldn't forget it's all a competition and everyone should be respected equally. The crowds were doing a really, really good job.
They were hyping us up. In Spain, when we did beat SKT and DAMWON, that was pretty insane as well, because the arena was going wild and Carlos was also Spanish and he was running around the crowd. They were doing the wave and the Berlin arena couldn't compare to what we experienced in Spain. It was super crazy and so exciting. It was actually a great experience.
In Paris, it was also insane. The arena itself was maybe not huge but the opening ceremony was pretty sick. The new song, right, and all the stuff that happened on stage. Until the games themselves, it was pretty, pretty nice *laughs*. As soon as we started playing, it was going downhill and downhill. Everything else was nice.
Of course we were sad, crying and unhappy with ourselves. I couldn't sleep the whole night. I didn't really talk to anyone, either. I know there was an after party going on, but I didn't have the mental strength to attend it.
So I just kind of laid on my bed, and I was just waiting on my flight home, which would happen the next day in the morning. I couldn't really sleep. Some families were there, so some players wanted to spend time with families. For me, I just wanted to cry in my pillow.
It was a disappointment. We wanted to win the whole thing and we didn't really succeed in that. Looking back. Of course it's not the end of the world. We can still win it the next time.
Carlos "ocelote" Rodríguez Santiago, G2 Esports owner: It's stressful when you're watching a game that you can't do anything about as an owner. Your job is done in the offseason, and when s--- hits the fan, your support system is well-equipped to deal with it, right? There's nothing you can do, like your job is done. You're like a spectator, right? And you can say a couple of words that might help them win a game, but you feel helpless.
I'm telling you, bro. It's f---ing tough. Worlds is tough. We made a content piece last year, an hour long documentary. And at the end, Perkz is crying and he says, what do you want me to tell you? I just want to be human again. That's a man that's been for two months going through the highest amount of mental stress, but you don't even realize it's there. It's building up that when everything is over, he's no longer thinking about the fact that he lost, he's just happy he's a human again.
Sjokz: To take upon yourself to change that team and reconfigure it, to go play in the bot lane so that you can get that player that would be in the mid lane. To do that, as a player, that was something that was really unseen in Europe and for someone who is so exquisite in his role. That comes from the desire for the team to be better and the project to be good regardless of how it eventually would make him feel.
The way he rises to the occasion and puts everything in light of the goal, which is winning -- be it the European finals, be it MSI, be it the world championship, that is what has always defined Perkz. There are many great European players that I want to see lift the worlds trophy, but out of all of those, if Perkz were to win a world championship, that would just be a deserved crowning achievement for someone to put everything he has in his life and in his body towards that goal.
Doinb: We didn't know if we'll be able to win the world championship. But for a professional player it's always a blessing to be able to play. A lot of players don't get that chance. Either they're just not good enough, or they start to go downhill, or they get old, and no one wants to pick them up anymore. But it was different for me.