I Went To Australia's League Of Legends Final And I Was Very Confused

According to Steven Hassan there are many different types of cults. There are destructive cults. The kind that separate you from family and friends, brainwash you — all that strangeness you hear about on 60 minutes. Moonie-style shit. Scientology.

That’s one side of the cult spectrum.

Then there are the benign cults. The opposite end of the spectrum. Those are a little different: a community of like-minded people coming together to celebrate shared values; positive values. Values that leave people feeling vitalised, energised. Feeling good about life. From the outside looking in those values might be strange, other worldly. Confusing. But who are you to judge?

Who am I to judge?

TL;DR: the word cult is not a pejorative. It just isn’t.

Maybe there are circumstances in which being in a cult can actually be a good thing.

Okay. Let’s begin.

Picture the scene. Imagine a club. Imagine a club with its obnoxious lighting and overwhelming noise. Imagine bass that shakes the ground and makes your toes tremble. Imagine a female DJ, dressed like a robot, wearing a helmet with sound waves darting across an LED screen it as it jerks awkwardly to a synth rhythm. Imagine all those things in one single goddamn space.

Now imagine a Mega Church. The kind of Mega Church where that shared, unfiltered energy is so thick it could raise Christopher Hitchens from the grave and have him speaking in tongues. Imagine Hillsong. Imagine chewing down on that McDonalds-esque variety of shared spirituality. Imagine giving yourself wholly to that experience. Hands in the air like you just do not care.

Now combine those two completely separate things into one. Imagine that.

That’s what it felt like attending the Oceanic Pacific League finals for League of Legends.

I am sitting in the back of the Big Top at Sydney’s Luna Park. I am looking down at a sea of faces. And I am confused. So confused.

A man called 'Riot Hype' is standing on a raised stage. He bellows into a microphone: “Are. You. READY?”

The crowd, it seems, is ready. Born ready. Almost instantly — in unison — they batter red and blue glow sticks. Together. Rapidly. Everyone does this except me. The sound goes ‘thub-thub-thub-thub-thub-thub’. I look on awestruck. Utterly alone. Like I’ve woken up from a coma in a dystopian future where everyone batters glowsticks and I’ve missed a really, really important memo. Maybe it’s a utopian future. I haven’t quite decided yet.

What. The. Fuck. Is. Going. On. Here.

On stage is a powerfully glossy set-up that looks like a combination of the Running Man and that new Spelling Bee show on Channel 10. Like a 1980s version of the future. A friend almost whispers it out loud.

Shush. Shush. They might hear you.

For the first time in a long time I feel like an outsider in a culture I belong to. But also, another feeling: the feeling that I’m actually missing out. That something truly incredible is happening here. Something beautiful. Something important. But I’m not evolved enough to understand quite what that ‘thing’ is.

I’ve been to esports events before; let me make that clear. I watched Starcraft II at Blizzcon. I went to a drizzled out ESL event in Parramatta. I’ve watched many an MLG stream. I tune into Evo once a year like we all do. Filthy casuals.

But I’ve never seen something like this. What the hell even is this?

It’s League of Legends of course; the global phenomenon that seemingly grew beneath our noses. You either love it or look on with a confused grimace. Those are the two extremes.

When I first arrived in Australia almost eight years ago I went to an AFL match. Growing up in the UK I knew nothing about this sport. I remember it appearing in one episode of Neighbours. In Scotland my friends and I called it ‘mulletball’. That was the depth of our knowledge.

I remember my initial confusion. Why does everyone suddenly back off when someone catches the ball? Why does that little referee man keep pointing his fingers after someone scores?

But that confusion? It lasted roughly 30 minutes. By the end of the match I felt as though I knew what was going on. I could follow the match. I had a basic understanding of the rules.

I could watch 10 hours of elite level League of Legends being played and I’d still have absolutely no fucking idea what is going on.

That is not an insult. But it’s not a compliment either. I have no idea what it is. I have no idea what anything is. This game makes me feel old.

But strangely, I find myself getting involved. I find myself following the crowd as they rise and fall at strange, completely unpredictable moments. The teams select their heroes, the crowd goes bananas. “Oh shit,” they seem to cry in unison. “OH NO HE DIDN’T.” This drama — at a character select screen of all places — seems to allude to a tightly inter-connected set of systems this 6000-strong crowd understands implicitly. Systems I could only dream of understanding.

Everyone cheers when one player kills an enemy opponent. That I can understand. But it’s hard to understand exactly how that plays into the flow of the match. The commentators frequently make reference to Gold – a resource that I initially assumed plays into the end game, but then it doesn’t. Does it? I’m still not sure. Each game seems to end with one team brazenly blasting into the enemies base and completely destroying it.

Again: I am so confused. But there is a primal part of my lizard brain that seems to enjoy this on some level. Maybe I sub-consciously understand this video game. Maybe League of Legends taps into some unknown sub-section of the human experience.

I am having a hard time explaining this experience.

Because, honestly. Without someone clearly telling you how this all works, League of Legends is completely impenetrable. Particularly for someone like me, who only plays real-time-strategy in passing, if at all.

But something is happening here. That is undeniable.

The League of Legends OPL finals took place at Luna Park. 6000 people watched live, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t even begin to imagine how many people came to Luna Park — in cosplay, in League of Legends t-shirts – just to be part of the event. I saw them leaving the park before the finals. Heading home early to watch the livestream because they obviously didn’t have a ticket for the final itself.

“Why did they come here if they didn’t have a ticket,” I asked myself, but I already knew the answer. League of Legends is a lifestyle. There was a trumpet blast and they paid heed to the call. They arrived in hordes, like moths to the flame.

Again, that is not an insult. I am in complete awe of this. It’s incredible.

Young and old. Male and female. All types. This is perhaps the most diverse crowd I’ve ever seen at a video gaming event and I’ve been to hundreds. And they are so friendly.

I do not understand this video game. I am having a difficult time parsing this event. But I want to understand. I want to be part of this.

Human beings are natural born conformers. Numerous sociology studies have proven this. One particular experiment: a person is placed in a room among a group of people who have been instructed to lie about a single innocent question. How long is this line? In this situation a few outliers will cling to the truth, but most will succumb to group mentality. Against all reason they will lie to maintain parity with the group. Some will even believe the lie with every fibre of their being. This is one of the many ways in which cults operate.

Towards the end of the League of Legends OPL finals I find myself clapping at the right times. I become excited by the correct plays, despite having only the barest understanding of what is actually happening. On some level, I find myself enjoying the experience.

One of us. One of us.

In the end the Chiefs won. They beat Legacy 3-1 in a hard fought victory after Simon ‘Swiffer’ Papamarkos combo’d the entire Legacy roster, allowing his team mates to close out the game in style.

A good time was had by all.


    Woah, this really sounds like being stuck inside an 80s Arnie film set in the future world of 2015.

    Sounds really cool, and slightly disturbing, like you shifted through a rip in the fabric of spacetime and ended up in a parallel universe where things went a little differently.

    Yeah, the problem with e-sports is that it only speaks to those who are already within the community. Anybody looking on will have no idea what's going on.

    This guy goes into better detail why.

      That guy makes some good points. Thanks for the link,

      I had a party on the night of the OPL final and I chucked the Twitch stream on like any ol sporting event and I sat there and explained the game in 15 minutes to people who were curious and I actually had a whole bunch of people really enjoying the event without ever playing League of Legends. It definitely requires explanation to the uninitiated but just like any sporting event if there is someone there explaining it to you a bit as you go it becomes much more enjoyable and accessible.

    This sounds just like every time I would end up anywhere near the Riot booth at PAX.

      You're able to get near the riot booth?

    I feel I can very much so relate to this,

    Housemate plays League - I not so much, played it way back in its Beta days but I actually despise the game.
    From the very get go core mechanics of this game put me off and I have never had a sense that I connected with the community (Something I've done rather well in the vast array of MMORPG's I've played over the years).

    Last hitting mobs feels more like a dick move helping no one but yourself - Having to compete against your own teammates for gold is the worst conceivable image in my head and is probably the number one reason I find the game so toxic.
    Being support feels unrewarding as hell
    Pay to win character unlocks
    Game is released as free and all the people I know who play it have spent way too much money on it - I call you all suckers.
    Very few maps - game feels really small and repetitive - like if people call Call of duty bad - At least it has like 16+ multiplayer maps - Dota 2 by comparison is already much more diverse.
    Looks like it came straight out of 2008 still - in 2015

    I just don't get it - to me this game is no different to WWE Wrestling.

      I was nodding along until you mentioned wrestling. You leave my precious sports entertainment out of this. It did nothing to you.

    I work at Luna Park - in fact, I was the Venue Supervisor for the gig... and it's easily the most fun I've ever had at work. Mark, if you saw a bald guy in a black Venues shirt hovering around the gig (likely with a gigantic grin on his face), that was me.
    The amount of planning that went into the day stretches back months. Bumping in the actual infrastructure (both inside and outside the Big Top) was a coordinated effort of about a hundred contractors from a multitude of different companies.
    When the show opener kicked off and it really began, the production managers and I all hugged each other and watched with pride as the audience went nuts. None of us slept much in the last week, but at the end of the day all the heartache and pain was worth it.
    I've never seen the Big Top look so good and I've never seen a crowd so engaged with what they were there for. Reading this article really made me smile and I'm proud to have been involved with such a fantastic and professional production.
    With all that being said - whatever was happening on screen was a total mystery to me, too... but I couldn't have cared less. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Last edited 11/08/15 1:39 pm

    "Now imagine a Mega Church. The kind of Mega Church where that shared, unfiltered energy is so thick it could raise Christopher Hitchens from the grave and have him speaking in tongues. Imagine Hillsong. Imagine chewing down on that McDonalds-esque variety of shared spirituality. Imagine giving yourself wholly to that experience. Hands in the air like you just do not care."

    @markserrels I love you man, that was poetry.

    Why are they not in sound proof boxes like most e sports (dota, starcraft) or does it not matter that the crowd and the commentators are giving away all the positions and tactics...??

      Audio gets pushed out from the stage to the crowd. A good PA system doesn't leak noise behind where they're positioned - they're specifically placed to cover the room from front to back.
      You know those speakers set around in a ring in front of musicians? They're called foldback monitors and they're why musicians can hear what they're playing. It's the same with e-sports - the lack of foldbacks means the players can't hear the commentators.
      Combining that with a good set of noise-canceling headphones and the game's audio means the commentary would sound like a garbled, white noise.

        Pink noise through noise cancelling headsets actually, but what your'e saying Stu is sorta right ;). Riot is always on the money with this stuff.

        Stu you good man, tis Nick from VIM. Lovely comments :)

          Oh, hey man! "Sorta right" is close enough for me! You guys are welcome around the Big Top any time, hope to work together again soon. Thanks for putting together a memorable event!

      We actually run pinknoise in their headsets so that the casters are pretty much not audible. It just sounds like muffled mumbling.

    I think in order to understand league you need to play league, at least a little bit, and get better at it so you can see the skill curve and conceptualize a coordinated team even if you can't pull it off yourself. You then need to watch a few matches of varying degrees of skill using your now basic knowledge of what the myriad of goals during the game are and see them playing out. You get a feel for champion trends and so on and what is rare to see played etc.

    That said, needing all that is part of the problem for a lot of competitive games seeking a viewership. people just want to watch at first, they may later do some research and try to understand it but the basics need to be apparent and in league and moba in general, they aren't. Having good commentators bridges the gap considerably, they get excited about something and it transfers to their listeners, the analyst caster is able to explain the overall ebb and flow of the match during downtime but again, in terms you will likely only know from actually playing the game.

    For what it's worth though, it is an enjoyable watch if you do take the time and it doesn't really take that much time to furnish yourself with some basic knowledge of the game through play to better help you understand what is going on. Outside of the gameplay elements, the tournament structure, teams, prize pools, coaches, merchandise and so on are all pretty similar to that you would find in other conventional sports.

    Now you see here... You wouldn't have this problem if you went to a Counter Strike event. They're the kind of experience that you could take your parents too and have them understand it all by the end of a night, much like how you could learn about AFL.

    I'm not that old but I admit MOBAs also scare and confuse me... and I at least really enjoy regular RTS games as well.

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