This year’s League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) finale is the latest esports event to welcome an audience to attend in person. Riot Games announced on Friday that the final two matches of the LCS Championship, the league’s postseason summer tournament, will take place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on August 28th and 29th, and fans will be able to attend the event.
During the pandemic, the league shifted to an entirely virtual format where players competed online and casters commentated remotely. It has moved slowly toward a return to events with fans. The final two matches of the Midseason Showdown tournament in April brought the players and production crew onstage at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, but there was no audience in attendance. LCS matches for the Summer Split have taken place in the LCS studios, but like with the Midseason Showdown, fans have been absent.
As the vaccine rollout has accelerated around the US in 2021, the league realized they might actually be able to host the LCS Championship at a venue with a live crowd, Chris Greeley, Riot Games’ head of esports for North America and Oceania and the interim LCS commissioner, said in an interview with The Verge. “We spent a lot of time talking to the folks at the Prudential Center, who were also talking to the state of New Jersey, to get an understanding of what regulations would look like and what the evolving health standards would look like. We got to a point where we all kind of looked around and said, ‘Oh my god, I think we’re gonna be able to do this.’”
If you want to attend the LCS Championships, the league is recommending that you are vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending, and says “we’ll post more detailed information regarding health and safety protocols at the Prudential Center as we get closer to the event.”
I asked Greeley if there were any contingency plans in place for a worst-case scenario. “There’s no pandemic playbook, so it’s hard to start to put those contingency plans in place because there’s no known set of variables,” he says. “It’s not like, ‘Alright, well if X happens, we’ll do Y’ because you just don’t know. But we’re spending a lot of time talking to the folks at the Prudential Center or on the ground to get an understanding of where they are in terms of local health regulations to make sure that if things do change, we have the ability to shift and pivot.”
Greeley seems optimistic that live events will continue in 2022, teasing that the LCS already has venues picked out for next year’s Midseason Showdown and the LCS Championship. And he reminded me that the League of Legends World Championship is set to take place in North America in 2022, six years after the previous championship was held in North America in 2016.
Some events in China have welcomed fans sooner than the LCS. While most matches of last year’s League of Legends World Championships in Shanghai had no in-person audience, more than 6,000 fans were allowed to attend the final match of the tournament. And the Overwatch League’s (OWL) Shanghai Dragons just hosted an in-person event on Friday.
Other organizations have announced news this week about esports events that fans can attend. Valve revealed that The International, one of the biggest tournaments in esports with a more than $40 million prize pool, will now take place in Bucharest, Romania. The Call of Duty League (CDL) announced details about the Major V tournament, which starts on July 29th at Esports Stadium Arlington in Texas, and information about the league’s championship weekend, which kicks off on August 19th at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, California.
Speaking of the Esports Stadium Arlington, the venue is hosting the first in-person OWL event in North America in 2021 on Friday. The Dallas Fuel will be playing a match in front of a 50 percent capacity audience, though they’ll be competing online against their opponents, the Houston Outlaws, who won’t be in attendance.
For the CDL and OWL, getting back to live games is important for teams since events are a part of how they make money. Unlike the LCS, where all teams play in the same venue during the regular season (when they aren’t playing remotely due to the pandemic, of course), the CDL and OWL are modeled more like the NBA or NFL, where teams host events in the area where they’re based.
Friday’s Dallas Fuel event won’t be an official OWL match, but there’s still a lot to look forward to about bringing people together to watch esports live, Justin Rojas, VP events at Fuel owner Envy Gaming, told me this week.
“I’m excited to just see a bunch of people cheering again,” he says. “That is why I do events. To see the look on people’s faces when they are excited and enjoying something you created and made happen. Seeing how that brings people together — no matter how hard the event is, and how much work you put into it — once you see that, it always makes it feel worth it.”