The 2021 League of Legends World Championship (aka Worlds) kicks off tomorrow, October 5th, marking the beginning of a month-long tournament where 22 of the best League of Legends teams will face off to take home the Summoner’s Cup.
While Worlds is one of the biggest esports competitions on the planet, League of Legends isn’t exactly the easiest game to start watching. This time of year is one of the best times to jump in, though, as you get to see the best teams at their peak.
If you want to learn more about the game — or are a longtime fan who just wants to know more about Worlds before it starts — we’ve put together this primer for you.
What is Worlds?
Worlds is the concluding tournament in the League of Legends esports year. Teams from around the globe have qualified for the event after having successful seasons in their local leagues. Think of it sort of like the Champions League in soccer; all year long, teams compete locally for the chance to face off against the best from other regions.
This year, Worlds takes place in Reykjavík, Iceland, at the Laugardalshöll indoor sporting arena. The location means that if you’re in the US, games might take place in the morning or early afternoon.
No fans will be in attendance at the matches themselves due to COVID-19 restrictions. The event was originally going to take place in China, but League of Legends developer Riot Games had to move the location in the 11th hour due to travel restrictions and COVID protocols.
What are the rules?
Here is a very basic explanation of League of Legends. It’s a strategy game pitting two teams of five “champions” against each other. Each champion is controlled by one player, and each has different abilities. The goal of a game is for one team to break into the other team’s base and destroy a giant crystal, called the Nexus.
Players can’t just walk in and whack on their opponent’s Nexus from the beginning of the game, though. The bases are guarded by turrets that shoot powerful magic energy, auto-spawning soldier units that march toward the other team’s base, and, of course, the enemy team. Over the course of a game, which typically lasts about 30-45 minutes, players will level up, earn in-game money to buy items, skirmish against the enemy team, and, eventually, attack the Nexus.
I’m glossing over a lot of what happens in a typical League of Legends match, but that’s the gist of it. For a short video explainer with more detail, check out Riot’s introductory video made for last year’s tournament. For a slightly deeper dive, I recommend ESPN’s written article and video.
Who should I root for?
Like any sport, that’s not an easy question to answer. There are big dogs and underdogs, and you might decide to root for a team based on their name, their logo, or because you think one player is exciting to watch.
If you want to root for a US team, there are three at Worlds this year, representing the League Championship Series (LCS): 100 Thieves, which just won the 2021 LCS Championship, Team Liquid, a consistent powerhouse in the LCS, and Cloud9, one of the most storied teams in the league. (Cloud9 punched their ticket to Worlds by beating longtime rival TSM.) Europe is represented by League of Legends European Championship (LEC) teams MAD Lions, Rogue, and Fnatic. (Fnatic also earned their Worlds trip in dramatic fashion, beating one of its rivals, G2 Esports.)
They’ll be up against some tough competition, though. Last year’s champions, Korea’s Damwon Gaming, have qualified again, as has Korea’s T1, the home of perhaps the most famous League of Legends player of all time, Faker. The four teams from China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL), including the 2019 world champions FunPlus Phoenix and LPL 2021 champions Edward Gaming, could prove to be formidable opponents as well.
Dot Esports has a good rundown of the 22 teams that have qualified for Worlds.
Competition starts with Play-Ins, where 10 teams will compete for four spots in the Group Stage. The 10 teams will be split into two groups of five. Each team will play one match against the other teams in their group.
The team with the best record in each group automatically moves on to the Group Stage. To determine who gets the final two Group Stage spots, the third- and fourth-place teams in each group will play against each other, and then, the winners of those matches will play the second-place teams in each Play-In group. Whoever wins advances to the Group Stage.
Play-Ins kick off at 7AM ET on October 5th and will run through October 9th.
The Group Stage pits the best teams in the world against each other in four groups of four. Three teams in each group have already been locked in, and one of each of the Play-In victors will be added to the groups.
Each team will play each other team in their group twice. The two teams with the best record in each group will move on to the Knockout Stage, which is the final stage of the tournament leading up to the championship match.
Groups go on for a bit longer than the Play-Ins. The first round of matches runs from October 11th through the 13th, while the second takes place from October 15th through the 18th.
Finally, there’s the Knockout Stage, where the top eight teams from Groups vie for the championship. In this stage, teams will compete in a single-elimination bracket, playing each other in best-of-five matchups.
The games take place over three weekends: a quarterfinals round set for October 22nd through 25th, a semifinals round scheduled for October 30th and 31st, and the finals match on November 6th to determine the world champion.
If you don’t tune into anything else, consider checking out the Knockout Stage. The high caliber of teams that have advanced that far are almost always worth watching. That doesn’t mean there aren’t blowouts or mismatches — the champions in both 2018 and 2019 won in 3-0 sweeps — but you can expect to see some very exciting matchups during these three weekends of the tournament.
How to watch and schedule
And don’t miss out on the cool graphics
Riot usually uses Worlds to put on a spectacular show that can be as interesting as the competition itself. The 2017 Worlds finals ceremony included a giant virtual dragon. 2019’s opening ceremony featured holograms. And last year, Riot made an astonishing mixed reality stage. Each year, Riot seems to do everything it can to top the last, so it surely has some impressive technological wizardry up its sleeve for the 2021 event.