Fans fill Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul’s Guro District on Nov. 19 to watch the League of Legends World Championship finals in which T1 went head-to-head with Weibo Gaming. (pool photo)
“Wow, my heart is swelling!”
Esports fans exclaimed at the top of their lungs from their seats at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on Sunday afternoon, where they gathered to watch the first League of Legends (LoL) World Championship in South Korea in five years. The enthusiasm was palpable at the stadium after the long-awaited return of the final match of the Worlds to Seoul, where it was last held nine years ago.
The roughly 18,000 tickets to watch the game sold out within 20 minutes during pre-purchase in August. The game industry, which had been in a slump due to decreasing live coverage viewers and contracting industry size, anticipated the championship to help reinvigorate the industry, as South Korea has a significant fan base and boasts a sizable industry.
Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok of T1 heads into the LoL World Championship finals on Nov. 19. (Yonhap)
The game, which commenced at 5 pm, especially drew interest as the South Korean powerhouse T1, which has won three out of 12 LoL world championships so far helmed by Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, 27, came head-to-head with the Chinese team Weibo Gaming, which surprised fans by beating frontrunners like Gen.G and Bilibili Gaming. T1 advanced to the finals for the second consecutive year after some time away from the championships following its victory in the championship game in Los Angeles in 2016.
Kang Min-hyeok, 24, and Jeong Tae-gyun, 22, who are college students, came to see the match both wearing hats like the one worn by Teemo, a character in the game. “The appeal of esports is that both men and women and young and old can enjoy it without limitations as to time and space as well as physical ability,” said Kang.
“We’ve been watching Faker’s matches and playing along since season two of LoLd Cup,” said Kang, referring to the LoL World Championship in 2012. “It’s really exciting to see a team keeping up such amazing skill for so long.”
Jeong added, “I didn’t reserve tickets ahead of time because I never expected T1 to make the finals. I ended up managing to score one at a premium for 500,000 won from a second-hand marketplace last week.”
“It’s worth it whatever the price was,” he said.
Kang Min-hyeok (left) and Jeong Gyeong-tae (right) hold up signs cheering on T1 in the LoL World Championship finals held at Gocheok Sky Dome on Nov. 19. (Chung In-seon/The Hankyoreh)
Lee Jun-gyeong, 27, said, “Faker is my age, and I’ve been watching him since his pro league debut, so it kind of feels like we’ve grown up together.”
“Now that I’m here myself, it’s great to feel the way everyone’s enthusiastically supporting one team,” he continued.
Visiting the venue alongside Lee was 27-year-old Im Ju-hye, who laughed, “Don’t you think that Faker’s a little ‘out of your league’ to say you two grew up together?.”
Lee Chang-geon (left) and Jeong Hwa-yun, two college students, hold up handwritten signs cheering on T1 in the LoL World Championship finals held at Gocheok Sky Dome on Nov. 19. (Chung In-seon/The Hankyoreh)
A number of overseas fans had traveled some distance to cheer the players on. Visiting from Australia were 29-year-old Tim and 28-year-old Michael, who said they were thrilled to realize their decade-long dream of seeking Faker compete in T1’s home country of Korea. They added that while visiting Korea for the Worlds, they had stopped in other places besides Seoul, including Namhae.
Two visitors from France, 28-year-old Deborah and 26-year-old Vladi arrived at the venue in head-to-toe cosplay as Vi and Qiyana, avatars in the game. Both of them raved about T1 as an “astonishing team.”
Deborah (left) and Vladi from France came to watch LoL World Championship finals held at Gocheok Sky Dome on Nov. 19 in full cosplay. (Chung In-seon/The Hankyoreh)
Ahead of the finals, the viewers’ excitement was ratcheted up by an opening performance appearance by the girl group NewJeans. The group attracted attention last month with its release of “Gods,” the competition’s theme song.
Fans who were unable to visit the Gocheok Sky Dome in Guro in person gathered at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul to cheer the competitors on.
This is the first time that crowds have gathered in the streets of Gwanghwamun to cheer for an esports game like they do for the World Cup or Olympics. “Game fans have their favorite gamers, just like soccer fans have their favorite players,” said Yu Jang-yong, 31. “We cheer when we see our favorite players too.”
As though to pay back their fans for their support, T1 soundly defeated Weibo Gaming 3-0 to take home the championship cup. Faker became the first gamer to win the Worlds four times in his career, setting a new record after his historic third win in 2016. Faker and his teammates Choi “Zeus” Woo-je, Mun “Oner” Hyeon-jun, Lee “Gumaysi” Min-hyeong, and Ryu “Keria” Min-seok all relished their first Worlds win.
Members of T1 hold up the “LoLd Cup” after crushing Weibo Gaming 3-0 at the LOL World Championship finals on Nov. 19, held at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. (pool photo)
By Chung In-seon, staff reporter; Ko Byung-chan, staff reporter; Kim Yeong-won, staff reporter
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