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Two Weekends In Boston Showed Two Very Different Scenes In Competitive Gaming

Two Weekends In Boston Showed Two Very Different Scenes In Competitive Gaming
From Deadspin - September 8, 2017

Last Sunday, as two top League of Legends teams battled in Bostons TD Banknorth Garden in front of thousands of cheering fans, a stadium usher grumbled a complaint that a lot of first-time esports spectators mention. The pro players, whose facial expressions appeared in close-up on big screens all over the stadium, seemed way too chill.

I would be screaming, the staffer said, as a cosplayer dressed as the pink-haired, Sailor Moon-inspired League of Legends champion Star Guardian Lux stood by. The cosplayer had been patiently trying to explain parts of this popular but often-inscrutable game. I would be like, Focus up! Go go go! Get your butts in gear!

I, too, once felt that disappointment, and I saw a sharp contrast between those League players and the fighting game players I saw at another Boston competitive gaming event the week before.

In fighting games, players mug for the audience and play up years-long rivalries while onstage at tournaments and on social media. These games revolve around one-on-one battles and facilitate pro-wrestling style strutting and trash talk. League of Legends is a team-based game where individual rivalries and player personalities tend to get sanded off in favor of synergy. So, the opposite of wrestling.

Both sides of the competitive gaming spectrum tend to eye one another with skepticism. The fighting game community tends to see slick corporate esports events as boring and lifeless. Fans in the rest of the esports world tend to think the fighting game community needs to straighten up and fly right.

On Sunday September 3, I was at the North American League Championship Series summer finals, where, with thousands of fans in the stadium and tens of thousands of dollars on the line, young pros almost always kept their cool, both in the game and outside of it.

The week before, on Sunday August 27, I was at Shine 2017, where well-known Super Smash Brothers rivalries played out face to face as they squared off over a prize pool that was only five percent of the size of the League summer finals pot.

Fighting game players get rambunctious. At Shine, that means players snarking back and forth on stage using the text in their characters custom name fields. You dont get that at events like the League tournament at the TD Garden. On stage, players stick to polite handshakes and smiles. Yiliang Doublelift Peng, who currently plays for Team SoloMid, is one of very few League of Legends pros known for breaking that mold and even engaging in trash talk at times. His most famous one-liner is everyone else is trash, which was meant as a joke; his more serious trash talk involves calling his opponents awful at their respective in-game roles. But in Boston, he refused to dish out any insults at the post-game press conference. When I talk trash, I always lose, he said. Im just superstitious now.

As Riot Games League of Legends franchise has grown, so too has the media training for players and the corporate slickness of the games championship series. The LCS feels like a well-oiled machine. The players keep to their lanes and stick to their scripts.

Shine 2017 did not take place in a stadium that seats over 17,000 people. It happened in a carpeted ballroom big enough to hold a few hundred chairs at the Seaport World Trade Center.

If the League of Legends Championship Series is the senior prom, then Shine 2017 is the hip house party that, somehow, never got broken up by angry parents coming home too soon. Super Smash Brothers does have pretty negligent parents. Nintendo doesnt support Smashs tournament scene, let alone build a league like Riot Games has done for League of Legends. Shine is a fan-run, fan-organized, fun-funded Smash event. Its also as official as Smash tournaments get.

The energy at Shine felt infectious, immediate, and electric. The players didnt have mics, but they still found ways to perform their rivalries for the audiences benefit, such as by modifying the names of their characters. The events official commentators could only be heard on the Twitch broadcast, so the attendees rose to the occasion, each row shouting out their own rambunctious take on the events at hand.

After Shine finished up Smash Wii U brackets and started the evenings Melee finals, a few hundred more attendees dragged chairs over from the casual fighting game setups all over the rest of the ballroom, building further haphazard rows behind rows. Every trip to the bathroom or the snack bar required serpentining through a jumbled, aisle-free maze of chairs and backpacks and splayed legs. It looked like a fire hazard, but there werent any venue staffers around to keep the rows in check.

At the League event, audience members stayed respectful. They pretty much had to. As I wandered from section to section to take photos and check out fan-made signs, ushers kept guiding me (and anyone else on the move) to return to my seat and just watch the game. Most of the signs were polite, too. I did see one Free Tyler sign, in reference to a notoriously banned League player. Free Tyler signs, by the way, were against the sign-making stations rules. (Yes, of course the sign-making station had rules.)

At Shine, fans kept lifting chairs over their heads and waving them around after key victories and sweeps. That trend had started the day before, when Melee competitor Johnny S2J Kim lifted his own chair over his head after solidifying his spot in Sundays grand finals. As S2J fought through the Melee bracket, fans celebrated his winsand other players wins, tooby lifting their chairs and screaming in frenzied solidarity.

Two rows ahead of me, a guy with a big stock of Four Lokos under his seat and a growing fistful of cash began placing bets on every single match S2J played. S2J kept winning, the cash wads passed from hand to hand got bigger and bigger, and the Four Loko toasts between rounds got all the more exuberant. Neither the alcohol nor the betting were legal, but Im no snitch, nor was anyone else in my section.

The tournament organizers probably wouldnt have cared even if anyone had tracked them down. They were pretty busy putting out a proverbial fire: the controversial rematch between Daniel ChuDat Rodriguez and William Leffen Hjelte, which had to happen due to a mistake with the Melee set-up during their initial matches. Long before the rematch got announced, the tipsy peanut gallery sitting behind me had already heard about the problem through the grapevine of the event and had begun to speculate at length about what should happen. By the time Shines hosts came on stage to tell everyone the bad news, fans had gotten keyed up enough to rise to their feet, screaming, Fuck no!! BULLSHIT! THIS IS BULLSHIT! You can be damn sure no one left the room, though. Everyone had to see how that match played out, bullshit or not.

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