With most sports leagues postponing or suspending their seasons, there is one major sport left alive. No, I’m not talking about the upcoming UFC 249 fight or the HORSE competition being planned by the NBA – I’m talking about electronic sports, or esports. Specifically, I’m talking about the League of Legends (LoL) Spring Split, which is currently in playoffs season. With hundreds of thousands of fans already tuning in to watch online, ESPN has picked up remaining playoff games and will be airing them on ESPN2. So, there’s a good chance that you, a bored sports fan, might stumble onto a game and be utterly confused as to what in the world is going on. That’s where I come in. This is The Beginner’s Guide to Watching LoL Esports.
Part 1: How does the game work?
At its most basic level, League of Legends is a team game. Two five-man teams go head to head on the map known as Summoner’s Rift with the goal of beating the other side. Each team has a base with a Nexus, which to visualize, is a floating crystal thing. The primary objective to win LoL: each team must fight to get to the opponent’s nexus and destroy it before losing their own.
The Summoner’s Rift map has three lanes that run throughout the entire length of the map, with the area between the lanes informally called “the jungle.” Typically, the team of five is broken up with one positioned in the top lane, one in the middle lane, two in the bottom lane, and one in the jungle. Before the game, each player picks a character, or champion, that fits into whichever of these roles they choose to play.
Okay, so by this point you’ve loaded into the game and can see the players in their respective lanes. Each team has a base on opposite sides of the map. From that base, there are three lanes that extend towards the enemy base – one on the top, in the middle, and in the bottom. Each lane has 3 towers that protect your nexus. Each team’s nexus continuously spawns three minion waves, one going to each of the three lanes. Your objective is to kill all of your enemy’s minions, kill the opposing player, destroy their towers, and ultimately destroy the nexus.
There are certain strategies necessary to win any LoL game. While the minions are marching towards the enemy towers, a laner will likely need to either kill or severely hurt the opposing top laner to reach the nexus. To do that, they need to either obtain an individual advantage over the enemy or a team-wide numbers advantage. Do you remember the player in the jungle? That player can be the most pivotal in the early parts of the game, as the jungler’s job is to surprise attack, or gank, the enemy laners.
There are three more small things you should know about. Three neutral objectives exist in game for either team to grab. They are the Rift Herald, the dragons, and Baron Nashor. These boss monsters can each give a massive advantage to the team that grabs them, and are almost always the site of major teamfights and pivotal moments in games.
Overall, the objective is simple: kill the enemies, get the neutral objectives, destroy towers, and defeat the nexus. But to do that requires teamwork, skill, strong reflexes, and keeping a level head. Each match is a tense 20 minutes, where the teams delicately position themselves for explosive fights that can be sanguine or heart-wrenching. It’s a five-man game of chess that turns into a fast-paced sport, where a tenth of a second can mean the difference between anguish or triumph.
Part 2: How do playoffs work?
There are currently four matches left in the playoffs. Each match consists of a best-of-five that takes place over a single afternoon, where the first team to get three wins moves ahead. However before each match, there is a draft stage, where teams take turns picking champions that they will pilot during the actual games. The draft stage itself can determine the outcome of a game, where teams can compose the best teams to create an advantage before the match has even begun. The first two matches will be semi-finals matches, where the winners of each will then face each other for a chance at the title. There will also be a third-place finish match between the losers of the semifinals matches.
Part 3: Meet the teams
Four teams are currently left in the playoffs: Cloud9, Flyquest, Evil Geniuses, and TSM. The first semi-finals match is between Cloud9 and Evil Geniuses. After losing in the finals last Split, Cloud9 made some drastic changes to their roster by switching up their bottom lane. Now, they are the heavy favorites to win the playoffs, finishing the season with a 17-1 record and steamrolling the third seed 100 Thieves in their first match with a quick 3-0 victory. On the other hand, the Evil Geniuses are new to the league this Split. However, they have a team made up of veteran players and have shown promise as the second seed, finishing with a 11-8 record.
Flyquest and TSM will face off in the second semi-finals match. Both of these teams are long-standing teams, but have very different histories. Flyquest has been a low-tier team for much of its existence, never being in serious playoffs contention. This year has been their most successful yet, finishing with the fourth seed. However, they face the most successful team in the North American League of Legends history: TSM. TSM has won six titles and has been in the top three teams more than any other team. Behind their star mid laner Bjergsen, they won a grueling series against 100 Thieves in the loser’s bracket to get to the final four. So far, they are the only team to beat Cloud9. However, this Split the team has been inconsistent, and Flyquest has the chance to take advantage and make it into the finals for the first time in their history.
Overall, you can see why these playoffs are shaping up to become one of the most exciting one in years. Cloud9 has a chance at redemption, but faces a difficult veteran team,the Evil Geniuses. Flyquest, after years of being a low-tier team, has a chance at making it to the finals for the first time. But, they are challenged by the everpresent TSM, whose strong but inconsistent play makes them a wildcard in any matchup. If you have never thought about giving esports a try, now is the time.