Since its launch in 2011, League of Legends has been a fan favourite. It’s a strategy game where two teams of five heroes battle to destroy the other’s base. The game is enduringly popular, making the League of Legends World Championship, hosted by its developer Riot Games, one of the most-watched tournaments in eSports.
This year’s tournament, which finished last Saturday, was hosted in Reykjavik in Iceland. South Korean team DWG Kia, the defending champions, were expected to win. So it was something of a surprise when the underdog EDward Gaming, a professional eSports team based in Shanghai, claimed the world title, beating DWG Kia in a final that saw the Chinese team winning 3-2.
EDG’s victory became an instant sensation on Chinese social media, with five of the top 10 topics that trended on Sina Weibo on Saturday night related to the final. The hashtag #EDGwinschampionship# was viewed 1.6 billion times, generating more than 1.3 million separate weibo discussions.
Even the state media was excited about the win, with state-run broadcaster CCTV celebrating the victory the following day as a highlight for the country’s eSports industry. Millions of people had tuned in to watch the final round of the tournament, including those who no longer consider themselves as gamers. “We grew up playing video games. And even though we don’t play anymore, we still feel a nostalgia for games. This match also gave me the feeling of sportsmanship and strong national pride, as if I was watching the Olympics,” one netizen explained.
This is the third League of Legends world title won by a team from China’s professional ranks. Wang Sicong’s Invictus Gaming won the championship in 2018 and FunPlus Phoenix did the same in 2019. Both teams have international members but are Chinese-owned, with a majority of Chinese players.
EDG was an unlikely winner, to say the least. It has struggled to perform in recent years and had never advanced beyond the quarter-finals in the last few LPLs (the professional competition for League of Legends). “No one expected them to win,” one eSports fan told Phoenix News. “In fact, most people thought EDG would be lucky to win a single game. Winning the whole championship is definitely a huge surprise.”
EDG’s success may well stem from the addition of two new players who – to use an analogy more familiar to Manchester City fans – have taken on roles as the team’s Phil Fodens (a young but highly-talented footballer). First, there’s snipper Li Xuanjun, 23. The Guangdong native joined EDG in late 2020. South Korean player Park Do-hyeon, 21, who also goes by the name Viper, was also instrumental to the team’s success.
In addition to winning prize money of about $490,000 each, players will also be getting a new apartment in Guangzhou, courtesy of EDG’s owner Zhu Yihang, whose father is chairman of Hong Kong-listed property developer Hopson (recently in the news after pulling out of a deal to buy Evergrande’s property management unit).
Other big winners include Bilibili. The video streaming platform spent Rmb800 million ($125 million) on the live streaming rights for League of Legend events from Riot Games for a three-year period and the deal has delivered some huge audiences. Last weekend’s championship final was said to have been watched by over 500 million people, for instance, making it the most viewed sporting event in China this year, noted Phoenix News.
The celebratory mood following the victory turned sour for an unlucky few, however. Fans thrilled with the win soon started posting videos of themselves on social media yelling triumphantly. But that wasn’t great fun for the neighbours as it was the middle of the night in China.
Other supporters of EDG upped the ante in their celebrations, running round their neighbourhoods completely naked. That was too much excitement as far as EDG was concerned, which posted a message on its social media page urging fans to “celebrate rationally”.
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