The five-game set between T1 and DRX was perhaps the greatest final series in the history of Worlds. Not only were the games and storylines fantastic, but the casting, production value, and crowd energy were all top-notch. It hit every mark for what could be desired for a championship final. Watching the event — it's hard not to be optimistic about the health and interest in the competitive League of Legends scene.
Other interesting developments for the future of esports could be found right outside the stadium. Veteran casting and esports figures such as Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles and Wolf "Wolf" Schröder hosted an event of their own — the inaugural watch party and preview show for the new esports media company Last Free Nation. Gathering thousands of fans in-person and online, the Last Free Nation live event was considered an enormous success. Inven Global spoke with MonteCristo, to discuss the live event, his thought on Worlds, and the future of the scene.
Now that Worlds has concluded — how do you reflect on the finals, as well as the Last Free Nation event?
Starting with the tournament, it's not a controversial take to say that this was probably the best Worlds in history! We got a very compelling tournament bracket out of it, which is difficult to do in single elimination (but sometimes, you get lucky). We had this incredible story of DRX being the biggest underdog to ever win a major title in League of Legends, and among them in esports as a whole.
Coming from sixth place in the regular season, bombing out of playoffs, somehow making it to Play-Ins through the regional qualifier, and then miraculously winning Worlds against all odds is absolutely extraordinary. We had a really good meta that allowed teams to play very different styles over the course of the event with a lot of different champions that were used, and it really showed different strengths depending on the teams that were matching up against each other. And the story — it was extraordinary having these two decade-long veterans in Faker and Deft facing off against each other. I don't know what else you could have asked for. It was amazing.
As for our event (Last Free Nation), we were very excited. We had hundreds of people before the event itself coming to watch our pre-show — including around more than one-hundred people in line at times to get into the bar and the venue. We had hundreds of people stay for the games themselves because they didn't have tickets, so we gave them an opportunity to watch the games together as a group. People seemed very happy about that — the opportunity to have a community to go to if they couldn't make it into the Chase Center. And we had the biggest sales night ever for that bar, so it was very successful for our hosts (thanks to Harmonic Brewing) It was a rousing success overall, and we are certainly looking forward to doing more live events across different esports moving forward.
Worlds is obviously a very prestigious event — it looked like a no-brainer to host an event there, especially since you managed to secure a venue inside the stadium. How frequently do you see this being a part of Last Free Nation's content?
We want to figure out how we can do this very consistently, especially for fan bases that may not have easy access to watch parties. For example, when the next CS:GO Major is in Paris, maybe American fans would like somewhere to go for that, so perhaps we do something somewhere on the East Coast so that fans have a place to watch together if they can't make it over to Europe for the live event. Or potentially, if events for League of Legends are in Asia in the future (which we anticipate them to be), we could do a watch party for MSI Finals or for Worlds Finals in Europe.
In addition to that, if it was in China or Korea, we could potentially do a live event for fans who have traveled to that country in order to watch the finals. We may not do a watch party during the finals at that time, because most people who traveled probably would have tickets to the event itself. But that doesn't mean that we can't do some sort of preview night that we stream with a bunch of analysis, fan engagement, and questions. So we're thinking about a lot of different things that we could do in order to make people happy and engage them, and it's important to us as well because sponsors get really excited about that kind of stuff which helps us build the company.
What’s the philosophy for doing events like this? Obviously, I imagine it’s a fairly large cost as well as a big time investment. Are there any other underlying reasons besides what you mentioned?
There are a couple of things. First off, I had a really great time in San Francisco myself. And I think that's what I really missed about doing live events in esports — not all the polish and the big stadiums. Those are fun, but really just having a community event where people are excited to be there and really love esports at a grassroots level.
That's what we're trying to do: engage fans in an authentic way where we can enjoy being fans ourselves, create unique content, and provide an experience for watching the events and develop a community around Last Free Nation. All of these things are very important to us because we are approaching our business as a grassroots esports effort, that definitely has to be deeply supported by our fans in order to be successful and remain as independent as possible. We just hope that people will join us in that vision.
Looking more closely at Worlds as a tournament — we've returned to an all-LCK final. What are your impressions of this? Do you believe this could be a regular occurrence again?
Probably not — the LPL is still going to be extremely strong. At least with the LPL, there were complications (especially around COVID) that the teams suffered that are overlooked by a large number of fans. As I understand it, some of the Chinese vaccines are less effective at dealing with some of the COVID symptoms compared to perhaps many of the vaccines that Western and Korean teams might have gotten. So I think they were probably hit harder by getting COVID than a lot of other teams at that tournament.
Other teams might have also previously had COVID. And due to all the lockdowns in China — those players may not have had it before. I think that is worth talking about — that undoubtedly this event was shaped by the majority of teams getting COVID at some point in time. I imagine that was a worse experience for the Chinese teams than any other teams at this event.
Also, the Korean teams really did power up for this event. Obviously, you wouldn't have expected DRX to make it anywhere close to as far as they did, and much less win the finals. And I think that if Gen.G and DAMWON hadn't played each other in the first round, DAMWON probably could have gotten a little bit further, as well. If we had a double-elimination bracket, perhaps DAMWON would have been able to do something.
I'm less impressed by Gen.G, given that they never really came online throughout the event. But yeah, I think Korea will continue to do well and I look forward to the continuing battle between Korea and China. There were extenuating factors that probably caused the Chinese teams to underperform, though.
Throughout the end of the 2010s, though, Korea definitely did not look as strong compared with most of the game's history. What do you think caused this bounce-back, where they've made the majority of semifinal spots in the last two years?
Probably a lot of it is many professional players retiring and becoming coaches — that's probably a huge factor amongst these teams, is that many Korean teams have very deliberately begun to build out more robust coaching staffs. And a lot of the first and second-generation players that have retired are now moving into coaching roles, and their knowledge of the game really helps out.
Also, Korean teams realized that they couldn't just play this very safe and conservative style, as vision was removed from the map. You have to take risks at certain points in order to be successful now because you can no longer operate with complete information like you used to. So these things all lined up, and they learned a lot from teams like G2 Esports and the LPL teams about playing a more creative and aggressive style. It is starting to be rewarded.
What does the final mean for the scene going forward? Overall, it was a pretty doom and gloom year — viewership wasn’t as great throughout most of the tournament, popularity in the game plateaued in certain regions, etc. Obviously, though, the final went great. In terms of if League of Legends can continue to grow and sustain itself, are you optimistic?
Yeah. I think most of the viewership issues were because it's not in a good time zone for Europe or Asia. If I was Riot, I would never host an event in North America again. You have very low viewership for LCS that is continuously declining, so there's not a lot of advantages to having it in NA. And then also, you have really terrible times for your European audience. And oftentimes, it has to be pretty early in the morning for your Asian audience.
Having a European timezone often allows you to put games in the evening in Asian timezones, and having it in an Asian timezone allows you to put the games in the morning for Europe. So I would just do it in Asia and Europe forever if I was Riot.
That was primarily the problem. At least the finals viewership was better because it started at 5pm PST. As people in China, Korea, and other parts of Asia woke up (especially because the series went to a full five games), it really helped boost the viewership towards the end, and showed the big numbers that we had.
Also, for European fans, it was so exciting that nobody gave a sh*t about staying up until 6am or however late they had to stay up for it. It was totally worth it in the end. It was immensely successful. I also think having Faker in the final is obviously a huge driver for fans, especially former fans that may not watch League of Legends anymore. If they hear that Faker versus Deft is the final, many fans will remember those names, even if they stopped playing League or following esports in like 2015 or 2016. So it probably brought a lot of people back as well.
You’re someone that has been a leading voice in pushing for format changes from Riot. What do you think about the news that they’re finally going to have some changes for MSI and Worlds? It's been stated that it’s not going to be double-elimination, but what are your overall impressions?
I think if the group stage's fixed, it's not so big of a deal that it's only single — you can have single-elimination if we have more international tournaments a year, right? If they add another international tournament, that would obviously help significantly. And also, fixing the group stage would help significantly. The primary problem with the single-elimination bracket right now is that the seeding is terrible.
If you have two different groups of eight, for example, and you play more games in the group stage, then you can get a good seeding. Which allows you to have first place from Group A play fourth place from Group B at the top half of the bracket. And then in the bottom half of the bracket, you do first place from Group B versus fourth place from Group A. So you're trying to separate these teams into opposite sides of the bracket in order to get compelling matchups throughout. If you had a better group stage, you could do better seeding, which then makes single elimination better. Obviously, we should have a better group stage and then also have double elimination, but I hope at least some of these things are being fixed.
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