After being on the ground for MSI 2023 Finals Weekend, our reporter gives their opinion.
Rolling into London on a bright morning, I was filled with excitement for the weekend of matches ahead; not simply to watch the action of the series unfold as titans of the game went toe to toe, but to be within touching distance of every kill, every outplay, and every triumph that was to come.
Stepping off the train, there was an immediate hum throughout the city - not its usual bustle, but something else, something purposeful, and full of anticipation. It was finals weekend, and the grand tournament this place was playing host to was drawing to a close, but that only made the static in the air more palpable.
I began to pick up on the tell-tale signs of those who, like me, were here to witness the pinnacle of competition. Perhaps it was something subtle, a backpack filled with snacks for the day and a murmur amongst friends as they reviewed the clashes so far. Sometimes something more noticeable, a flag, face paint, merchandise of the events and teams - and the dreaded, but ever-present Teemo hats.
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By the end I was to be an expert of observation, and discover there was a certain satisfaction in picking up on these clues across a carriage or a crowd, knowing that I was, for a time, at the very epicentre of the competitive League of Legends community.
As I journeyed further onwards through the tube, the electric buzz and thunk of tunnels under the city only bolstered this feeling. I recognised some of myself in other travellers who hesitantly waited on platforms or glanced at maps one too many times as we passed from station to station, awaiting our eastward stop.
The trail only grew stronger once I hit Stratford, where a busy hub of faces searched out for guidance towards the Copper Box Arena. As if to confirm our suspicions, the neon glow of billboards advertising MSI were ever-present in the area, watching from above as guiding beacons for our mutual purpose, a focusing hand to lead us towards our destination.
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In a way, arriving at the venue was like coming home. Finally I was here, and a smile broke onto my face despite my best efforts to suppress it. Be it the crowds, the statue calling-cards of famous players or even the beats blasting out from the Red Bull DJ-mobile (it caught me off guard too) everything was at once tangible and real.
Don't get me wrong, I'm somewhat of a League esports superfan, but even I was caught off guard by the sheer mass of people gathering and clamouring to get inside. I know that I enjoy the game, and in a hypothetical sense of course other people must too, but I had never expected or witnessed anything quite like this before.
Celebration and festivity were in the air, and my earlier searching had found its home, a place where I knew for certain all were members of the same community. There was a validation to it all, a pure enjoyment. No longer was it a hobby too rarely shared by others, but a facet of my life that was now at the forefront, and consuming my attention entirely.
Into the arena, I was stunned at the scale of the production laid out before me. I'll admit, I wondered how all of the presently vacant seats would be filled, but one by one they were occupied by fans, and by the time the games started I was looking at a roaring sea of like minded people.
I saw characters come to life with accuracy and care I only thought possible for professionals, and my ears rang with the cries of chanting supporters as the pro players took to the stage to battle it out.
Even in the build up to games, there was a stark difference in the usually half-watched segments setting the scene and discussing players' talents. Both those doing the analysis and the players themselves were there - seemingly within touching distance - and I found myself even more interested than usual in what each and every one of them could bring to the table and whether they would manage to perform it in front of my eyes.
Going in alone was nerve racking, I'll admit, but I soon found myself making conversation with new friends with a naturality and ease that can only be produced in such an environment. After each series and the event as a whole, I not only came away with a day's entertainment, but new memories and friends I had shared them with.
The draft seemed to matter more than ever, as I watched the teams' and coaches' reactions as they battled it out to start the game with an advantage over their rivals. Whereas my usual cynicism for meta picks and patches would've overruled this stage, I saw it differently.
Gone was the traditional 'what' of trading strong ADC for strong ADC, and there in its place was the 'why'. The priorities and styles of teams were more prevalent than ever before, and I found myself grasping this subtle art and its shotcalling order within each five-man roster, no matter my previous level of knowledge about the team.
This fascination only increased with every unorthodox pick, and the sly smile of watching these kinds of lock-ins happen at home was drowned in the thunderous and roaring wave of the crowd, like some kind of single-minded organism responding in unison.
Into games every kill, every objective and even particularly damaging trades held so much weight. The players commanded the attention of every set of eyes in the venue, some hoping for their triumph, others for their torment, and so every input became tension, became mass, and became volume.
Instead of through a computer, the voices of the casters boomed through the hall inescapably, masterfully narrating the unfolding chaos as some fans cheered and others despaired, with particularly passionate flag-bearing champions of their teams corralling songs of support from the rest of the audience.
MSI 2023 was my first time spectating an esports event live from the venue, but after such a wonderful and unforgettable time it will not be the last. Like so many moments before, and with the golden road now in sight for the LPL, this event may go down in the storied halls of legends. And this time I can say - I was there.