This weekend the North American championship for the video game League of Legends was played in Madison Square Garden. This is such a big deal for gaming that even ESPN reported on it:
This is a big deal in gaming for a few reasons.
First, Madison Square Garden was sold out for this event. That is indicative of a wild rise in popularity for competitive gaming.
And second is the narrative. For those unfamiliar with League of Legends it is kind of analogous to basketball. Both teams have five players working together and each of those five members occupies a distinctly different role. The real story of this matchup is the story of the AD Carry for Counter Logic Gaming, who goes by the handle “Doublelift” in game.
The AD Carry can be thought of as similar to a basketball team’s shooting guard. Whereas the shooting guard generally scores many of a team’s points in basketball, the ADC does a great deal of the team’s damage in League of Legends and is easily requires the most mechanical skill of any position.
Doublelift has been widely regarded as one of the best players at his position in the entire world for some time now. This is impressive considering North America is not as talented as some regions (like Korea, which easily boasts the most dominant teams on earth). But due to one circumstance or another, Doublelift had never won first place (or second place) or been on a team that went to worlds. Oh sure, he’s scored a pentakill in the all-star game at worlds:
But he hasn’t met with much success here at home despite consistently impressive play on his part. His team has been in first place mid-season a few times, but they always crumbled and, frankly, choked in the playoffs.
However, last night all that changed. After finishing second in the regular season (by a hair, they lost a tie-breaker for first place) CLG swept their way through the playoffs to meet Team Solo Mid, the most dominant team in North America’s history. While TSM finished fourth in the regular season due to a late season slide, they came back strong in the playoffs. TSM has appeared in the last six championship games in North America and this year’s team was considered to be more talent-laden than many in years past. Most people were picking TSM to defeat CLG, with some even claiming CLG would be lucky to win a single game in the best of five series. One of the commentators even said before the match that CLG winning would be a fairytale, but that fairytales are called fairytales because they’re not real.
In previous seasons due to lack of overall talent, Doublelift would often attempt risky plays to try and one-man carry his team to victory. Sometimes the results were spectacular:
Doublelift’s history is saturated with similarly unreal plays. However, in many cases, as with the game above, CLG would wind up losing the game.
But recently the lineup has been changing. Last year CLG added jungler Xmithie (whose old team, Vulcan, defeated CLG in the above game), who had never really met with much success as a player. That year CLG also converted talented AD Carry Aphromoo to the support position (by some reports, much to his chagrin, but Aphro wanted to play in the pros so he did it). Aphromoo quickly became one of the best support players in North America and struck up a friendship with Doublelift. The two dominated, but were still unable to carry the team. Then, this year, CLG made to big moves with their roster. First they brought in one of the most talented top-laners in North America, ZionSpartan who, himself, had spent most of his career as an undeniable talent on bottom-tier teams. And with the addition of Poebelter, a young phenom who had only previously played for losing teams himself, this year Doublelift had the talent around him where he didn’t have to try and be a hero in every game and could, instead, just focus on being a solid AD Carry in team fights.
So we have a team of players who had always played for teams that failed to make decent showings. In a twist, the results have been incredible.
Of course, we still get highlights out of Doublelift, such as this team fight from Game 2 of last night’s championship where Doublelift completely turned it around:
And how fitting that it was Doublelift and his friend Aphromoo who walked away from that fight after Aphromoo saved Doublelift at the last second so that Doublelift could just do his thing.
To paraphrase Doublelift they were a team of people who had bee losers their whole career who nobody expected to win. But reminiscent of what Michael Jordan had done so many times in Madison Square Garden, Doublelift stepped up in the playoffs doing his own job with seemingly unparalleled skill. This year there would be no choking as the rest of the team played out of their minds as well (the MVP award actually went to ZionSpartan, but it could’ve gone to any of them). The result was a 3-0 sweep of North America’s historically most powerful team.
It was the fairytale that was never supposed to happen. Not only that, it was the type of narrative that esports needs to continue its growth. With ESPN starting to report on professional gaming this is a pivotal moment for the sport. This wasn’t just good for League of Legends, it was good for all of esports. Whether or not people game, most people still relate to an underdog story or the story of somebody who works hard for years and finally gets the payoff.
All in all it was a magical weekend. I feel lucky to have been a fan during this time when esports is breaking into the mainstream and, as a CLG fan, it was nice to see Doublelift and his teammates finally win after all these years.