The 11th season of the League of Legends World Championship, organised by the game’s developer Riot Games, drew to a close on 6th November after almost a month of intense competition. For only the third time in the event’s history, a Chinese team would take the overall title and the largest share of the $2.225m prize pool.
Shanghai-based Edward Gaming ventured to the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik to compete in one of the most prestigious eSports events on the planet today. Iceland was the home of the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational and the event’s organisers did such a good job that it was selected as the new host city for the 2021 Worlds. Although it did not feature a live audience, millions across the globe were tuned in to live streams of the group and knockout stages respectively.
A smooth pathway to the knockout stage for Edward Gaming
Edward Gaming arrived into the main event’s group stage as Summer Champions of the LPL and were seeded first for Group B to play against South Korean team T1, American outfit 100 Thieves and Japanese team DetonatioN FocusMe. With four wins in six games, Edward Gaming secured the second qualifying spot in Group B behind T1 who posted an almost flawless 5-1 win record.
The real drama was in Group D where all four teams found themselves tied on three wins and three defeats apiece. A tiebreaker was subsequently arranged, with MAD Lions and Gen.G eventually knocking out LNG Esports and Team Liquid respectively to advance to the knockout stage.
Edward Gaming bidding to end the Korean dominance
At the knockout stage, each match was played in a best-of-five format. In a gruelling five-game, all-Chinese quarter-final, Edward Gaming edged out Royal Never Give Up 3-2 to advance to the semi-finals, where they would face a South Korean side Gen.G which breezed into the last four 3-0 against Cloud9.
Although South Korea may have been the dominant force going into the knockout stages, Edward Gaming proved they were more than up to the task against Gen.G. They didn’t lose their heads after Gen.G took control of the opening encounters, with Scout and EDG coming into their own during the latter half of the match. The latter’s impressive skills on control mages including Zoe, Orianna and Ryze thwarted Gen.G’s Bdd. In fact, across all five matches, Scout racked up a hugely impressive 25/6/24 scoreline, effectively carrying the rest of his teammates through to the 2021 League of Legends Worlds final where they would face another South Korean foe.
In fact, had Gen.G defeated Edward Gaming, it would have been another all-South Korean final like the one witnessed in 2017. Nevertheless, there has been heavy domestic investment in Chinese eSports. The central government continues to push eSports over ‘real-world’ sports like football and athletics. Shanghai, the home of Edward Gaming, also harbours ambitions to become the number-one eSports capital on the planet. Domestically, some 500 million-plus Chinese people consider themselves gamers, so it is an undeniable hotbed of talent.
That’s why there was extra pressure on Edward Gaming to try and win the Summoner’s Cup, three years after falling at the quarter-final stage. They locked horns with DWG KIA, who are considered by many to be the strongest and most consistent League of Legends eSports team in the world. DWG KIA didn’t lose a single game until the semi-finals, so were clearly in imperious form.
However, Edward Gaming took first blood in the final, thanks to a hugely successful team fight in the Herald pit. DWG KIA responded with a comfortable win in game two, amassing an unassailable kill lead within the first 20 minutes. DWG KIA pinched the third game after obliterating Edward Gaming over an Infernal Drake. Edward Gaming’s talisman, Scout, showed tremendous poise to help level the contest once again at 2-2 in the knowledge that he and his teammates had zero margin for error to take it down to a fifth-game decider.
In the winner-takes-all game, DWG took the first dragon, but Edward Gaming would draw first blood despite DWG taking the objective in Herald. The mid-lane was where Edward Gaming really stole the initiative, racking up four kills and a drake. From there on in, it was Edward Gaming’s title to lose. They demonstrated good patience to pick their battles in the latter stages to maintain their advantage and lift their inaugural Worlds trophy.
Profitability still a major issue for LoL and other major eSports events
Riot Games first hosted large-scale competitions more than a decade ago to market the League of Legends franchise. Now, it has become big business for the professional eSports teams that compete for the seven-figure prize pool. John Needham, head of eSports at Riot Games, once described the event and the game itself as “the future of sport”. One of the biggest hurdles for Riot Games and John Needham to overcome is the event’s profitability – or lack of. League of Legends Esports remains a lossmaker, but Needham remains relaxed about this, insisting the studio’s “midterm” plan is to break even and invest any future profits into enhancing the league.
The League of Legends World Championship is one of the biggest on the planet. Although its prize purse is dwarfed by the likes of The International and the Fortnite World Cup Finals, the latest Worlds attracted attention from some of the leading bookmakers in the world. bet365 offered a comprehensive range of eSports betting markets throughout the finals and given that it covers over 70,000 events through live streams, it was no surprise to see some of the action beamed directly to bet365 customers from Reykjavik. As one of the most licensed and reputable operators, it’s heartening to see its League of Legends coverage reach a bigger demographic. There’s even bet365 in Australia, which has licensed the bookmaker with a Northern Territory license since 2012, despite government rules forcing the platform to undertake something of a makeover compared with the brand in other regions.
Despite the enormity of the biggest eSports competitions, Riot Games isn’t the only company to overestimate the profitability of major eSports events. Epic Games’ 2019 Fortnite World Cup contained a record prize pool of $30m, but the firm later admitted it had “overestimated” how much it could generate from eSports that year by as much as $154m. Finding the right balance between staging regular showcase events and having large prize pools will be key for the long-term sustainability of the competitive gaming scene. However, the latest edition of the World Championship highlighted how League of Legends is still one of the biggest games in the world.