A day at the LCS playoffs

Despite playing and watching League of Legends since its early beta phase, I had yet to see Riot's new studio in Cologne. Obviously, I would never have been able to forgive myself for missing out on the opportunity to attend the playoffs live, so I decided to go - it would be a good day.

The eSports capital

The trip to the studio was an inspiration in itself. Cologne is a bustling, multi-faceted and innovative city. A region that had to start with nothing after World War II and somehow still managed to rise to prominence, this progression resembling the path to relevance eSports has recently taken. This, along with its highly multicultural population, its excellent geographical accessibility and an otherwise strong event- and entertainment industry presence, the city is without a doubt deserving of its status as Europe's eSports capital. 

The journey strongly exemplified the character of Cologne. We took the tram from the bustling business district, past the old-fashioned city centre and through an artsy student quarter on to the northern outskirts of this remarkable city. Its open nature is reflected by its ethnic diversity and wide variety of subcultures. In a matter of seconds, I saw Turkish tea houses, punk bars, literary cafes and deep house clubs. Cologne's nightlife had to wait, however - we had playoffs to attend.

A literary cafe in the middle of Ehrenfeld, a prospering Turkish neighborhood - Germans have no issues with mixing literature and beer

Germany's Next Top Model meets League of Legends

The Magic Media Company is a professional studio enterprise that hosts several shows belonging to RTL, one of Germany's most popular entertainment television channels. You don't have to be German to recognize the likes of Deal or No Deal, Germany's Next Top Model or Big Brother. A grand unicorn statue decorated the roof of the studio and all kinds of people were standing or sitting in front of the entrance, eagerly waiting to make up the audience of their favorite show. Sure enough, we saw League of Legends aficionados at the entrance having a smoke with Deutschland such den Superstar (Germany is searching for the superstar) fans - two different worlds under the same roof. In a way, it seemed more surreal than offline events filling stadiums – it symbolized our indisputable integration in the bigger entertainment industry. 

Old and young watch the game together

People of the world

The audience was an eager crowd of an incredibly diverse composition. Young children and seniors, men and women, rich and poor. I talked with Dutch business students and Canadian eurotrippers, Norse lawyers and British plumbers, carpoolers and hitchhikers. On one occasion, I even spoke with an Argentine who had traveled to Europe on his own in order to find a job in eSports. For me, the accessibility of eSports is its ultimate allure. There was no such thing as cheering for your home country, something that would be difficult to do with only two teams sporting a homogeneous ethnic lineup. The Russian Gambit Gaming was the clear fan favorite of a largely German crowd. As a law student from a poor, Moroccan background I see a bit of myself in everyone. Here, I feel at home. 

My experience with offline events was largely limited to grassroots fighting game tournaments. The LCS was of a different breed -  the focus of attention lay with the audience rather than the players, and the smooth, seemingly stressless production was something I had never seen before. Nevertheless, the hype felt similar. The room was filled with excited vibes, with everyone immersed in the game that was being played. The audience constantly produced a mixture of gasps, movement, laughter and shrieks of joy. Fans went completely mental as they saw cool plays happen, major team fights occur or even simply favorite champions being picked.

That's a crowd if I ever saw one

eSports: here to stay

As every set went 2-1 and the games took a relatively long amount of time, we weren't able to stay until the end. A day of shouting, cheering and constant focus left us tired and very much in want of a drink in order to recuperate, and it didn't take long for us to find one of the many Irish pubs Cologne has to offer and get ourselves a pint of Guinness. There, basketball fans had already started a similar wrap-up ritual, and soccer fans were well on their way watching their game on the tv screen available.

The trip was special in the sense that it didn't feel like I was occupying myself with some niche, outlandish hobby but rather with something established that has its own place in the world. It differed from a stadium experience by having a casual feel to it - professional, structured, reliable and accessible, just like any other spectator sport. To me, it signified that eSports is no longer something that merely has potential but really has become something thats bigger than a niche hobby. It is now a true industry, it is now real. 

It was a good day.


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