Dote Night: The Perfect Crowd

My favourite musician from League of Legends' Worlds final

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.

This column usually focuses on Dota 2 exclusively but today I’m looking at the experience of going to live eSports events so it’ll dip into League of Legends territory. I’m not sorry!

Over the last year or two I’ve been to a lot of live eSports events. It started with The International 3, the 2013 iteration of Valve’s annual Dota tournament. It was one of my favourite gaming experiences of all time, I think. It took place in the moderately sized Benaroya Hall in Seattle, whose main auditorium seats 2,500 people, and I’d say the non-arena setting was great in terms of the atmosphere it generated – large enough to accommodate a decent crowd, good acoustics so cheers and shouts didn’t seem to get lost and it was easy to navigate.

Of course, the tournament itself played a large part in that enjoyment too, particularly the knife-edge grand final between Na’Vi and Alliance. That was some fantastic Dota and, played out in that particular space, one of the most exhilarating evenings I’ve ever had.

There have been other tournaments since which have offered up some great matches. For instance, I’d put Alliance v Cloud 9 at ESL One Frankfurt in the same league as the TI3 final – game 2 in particular. But the thing is, the setting was different and thus the mood was altered.

ESL One Frankfurt took over the Commerzbank Arena for a weekend at the end of June in 2014. I had access to players and commentators (kind of crucial to the work I was there to do), a great view of the stage, was surrounded by enthusiastic fans (one of whom accidentally sat on my head) and knew far more about the pro scene this time around.

Mousesports (as was) signing table at ESL One

But Commerzbank Arena and Benaroya Hall are very different experiences. Commerzbank is huge. It has a concert capacity of about 44,000 people and some zones of seating weren’t being used. It wasn’t like going to a packed football match or sold-out concert. From my own experience the atmosphere was less close and the crowd, less prone to getting caught up in the emotion. That didn’t stop the games from being exciting but the spectators appeared less closely aligned with the action taking place.

Interestingly, though, I’d say the atmosphere grew livelier and more prone to emotion as the sun set and into the night. Perhaps it was because more was riding on the games – not least because they were threatening to last past the time an audience was allowed to be in the arena – but I’d also suggest there’s a contributing factor in the form of the lost daylight.

In the day, I find it harder to see the screens and therefore harder to follow the action. As night falls the artificial lights in the stadium and the gigantic screens up front come into their own. Their colours are vibrant, the action is clear. You can also use lighting to draw attention to parts of the stage or to create spectacle where it’s invisible in the daytime.

I noticed a similar effect at Worlds for League of Legends. The finals took place at the World Cup stadium in Seoul, South Korea – an open-topped gargantuan arena. The event kicked off with a bombastic performance from Imagine Dragons. Pyrotechnics, dancers banging massive drums, that kind of thing. It was a great performance to kick off the event but I’d say there was generally more faffing about in the audience while it was daylight.

Imagine Dragons

At night, the stadium stage was lit up in the opposing team colours of red and blue, spotlights shone and suddenly the massive screens popped with colour and action. It drew the attention and had the attitude of sustained spectacle. Obviously, as time progressed the crowd was increasingly desirous of seeing a victor emerge, too, but I believe the aesthetic changes helped build that sense of atmosphere.

Worlds at night

My favourite live League of Legends event was actually the All-Star in Paris earlier this year. It took place in an indoor arena – Le Zénith de Paris – which has a capacity of about 6,000. The audio translation system was broken so I couldn’t follow the commentary easily and was going back and forth between the main auditorium and the press area (where I was streaming the English language commentary). Outside it was bright and quiet, inside it was dark and joyously raucous. Even in the press area, just outside the main space, you could feel the crowd’s enthusiasm and be exhilarated by it. The vibration of feet stamping in unison, chants being taken up and recirculated, reactions to picks and counter-picks…

MadLife enjoying being in the pro-gamer front row at All-Star

All-Star is a different kind of tournament to Worlds. Worlds is the culmination of a year of work. It’s about proving you’re the best on the planet. All-Star is more about fan service and includes a few novelty matches as well as international face-offs. As such, that affects the relationship between crowd and player. But I think the smaller size of arena, the enclosed space, and the ability to curate light in the darkness all play a big part in easily generating that wonderful infectious crowd energy. I noticed it again – albeit slightly less potently – when LoL held a live weekend for the LCS in Wembley earlier this year. Dark space, moderately sized crowd, massive enthusiasm.

This year’s Dota 2 International was kind of a cross between Worlds and Wembley. The setting was KeyArena, an enclosed space capable of holding 17,000. It felt enormous but not overwhelmingly so, and the enclosed nature helped control the general mood and guide audience attention. The final matches were very different to the previous year’s though – anticlimax was a word I heard a fair bit. There’s obviously no way to prove this, but I wondered at the time whether a smaller venue would have alleviated a little of that feeling simply through generating a slightly more intimate-seeming relationship between members of the crowd and the action taking place on the stage.

The Paris All-Star from the balcony

For me, my ideal event in terms of that buzz, seems to be something with a capacity of several thousand rather than tens of thousands. I like the dark because I like the way you can curate the experience people have within that, and it has the advantage of making the giant screens more legible. I don’t know that that’s a common experience, but I’m sharing it in the hope that you’ll share something back. Please tell me about the best live gaming experience you’ve ever had.

13 Comments

  1. Hex says:

    You broke the front page!

  2. gorgonaut says:

    I can’t take this. I fold.

  3. jezcentral says:

    The best live gaming experiences are LAN parties, surely? :)

    • grom.5 says:

      That’s true with a band of friends. LAN, especially around 3AM with the lack of sleep lead to some memorable event. We played tennis with Day Of Defeat for example. Pretty funny to use whatever you have to do something different because “why not”.

      However, the All Stars event was really something. Fan service with dream teams and new mode. Also, the French shout-casters, Chips&Noi from O’gaming, are famous for their live events. They really managed to put the public on fire. In a way, it looks much more like a LAN with exuberant friends than a sport event. Maybe that’s why I really liked it.

      Under, you can find some crowd highlight from the events. Raise your baguette.

  4. Horg says:

    E-sports and the UK don’t really seem to mix that well, so experiences of live gaming are fairly rare to begin with. I only follow DotA these days, but about the closest thing we’ve gotten to live e-sports is The International ”Pub Stomps”. A great idea those, but even then there are never any in my area. The only relevant live experience i’ve had is music, and I always find that the smaller and shittier the venue, the better the gig (excepting when Rammstein tour). A good venue should not be fit for purpose; the toilets should not work, the bar should be over priced, the cloak room should not exist, the stage should be just slightly too small, and the crowd floor should have awkward pillars blocking the view forcing everyone to fight for the best spots. If we’re really lucky, there will even be technical problems.

    Last year in February I went to see Korpiklaani with Metsatoll in the basement of Manchester students union. That’s a Finnish and Estonian folk metal band respectively. I consider it one of the worst, and therefore best, venues to see a band as it ticks most of the above list. Despite the union bar getting a recent referb, the basement venue, unofficially known as ”Manchester Academy 4”, feels like someone threw a mixing desk into a hole and called it a day. The opening act was Andraste, the kind of band that gets sent out to die in silence. They played to a small crowd of politely curious but indifferent watchers, and after they ”warmed up” the audience, Metsatoll came out looking like they would rather be anywhere else. But suddenly, the floor fills up out of nowhere, and half way through the first song the atmosphere is electric. I knew right then it was going to be a special gig, and so did the band as their expressions changed from boredom to surprise to exuberance. They killed that set so hard you would think they were headlining an arena tour. I barely had time to get an overpriced drink before Korpiklaani came out, not wanting to let the atmosphere die down and because Metsatoll had massively over run their time slot. They, also, proceeded to kill it. Near the end of the night, we were truly blessed as half way through what I consider their best song (Wooden Pints), the sound died completely and the house lights came up. Technical problems! The band stopped in their tracks, but the audience cheered and kept singing the chorus until the sound came back on, letting the band pick up where we left off to finish the set. They also ran over time which almost never happens at union gigs, they tend to be tight about curfews, but honestly I think we would have rioted if they had called it too early. Overall, it was one of the best gigs of my life.

    When Valve start setting up for TI5, hopefully they will learn some lessons from last year and pick something more intimate. Something small, something dark, something barely fit for purpose. Standing room only with an over priced bar, and pillars that block the view so spectators have to jostle for the best spots. That’s how you put on a show.

    • Philippa Warr says:

      The UK had G3 a few months back – the CoD section was rammed, CS was less so, then came FIFA and last was StarCraft 2 iirc.

      I was talking to the organisers about it and they agreed about national and regional biases to particular games and platforms. UK and consoles, for example.

      I don’t think going compleeeeeeetely dark and dingy is the way I’d go – I love seeing a whole heap of people enjoying something and it becoming more accessible/normalised. Hopefully the more eSports grows, the more there will be these ranges of venues and event sizes tho. Arenas, smaller theatres, community centre halls with hideously uncomfortable plastic chairs AND sticky-floored pub basements :)

  5. demanrisucom says:

    Whenever I want to feel chills all up my body, I watch the last half of the video you linked. The International 3 ran about two months after I started playing Dota, and – for me, at least – it was my first experience with the awesome power of a crowd screaming for something they love. Hell, when I introduced my parents to Dota, I showed them the first game of the grand finals. They didn’t understand the game, but they understood why it was so compelling to me.

    eSports is some fucking amazing shit, yo. I hope I can make it to an International in the future.