Teams JDG and T1 compete in a League of Legends World Championship semifinal match in front of 21,000 fans at State Farm Arena on Oct. 29. (Clement Lee/Staff Writer)

Pounding hearts and anxious breaths echoed as four teams from the world famous League of Legends esports league met in Atlanta this past weekend for World Championship Semifinals. Fans around the world, from Korea to Minnesota, convened in State Farm Arena to watch the highly anticipated matchups between the four remaining teams competing in the two semifinal contests: Team T1 against Team JDG and Team Gen.G versus Team DRX.

The tournament being held in Atlanta drew many esports fans from the South, including David London, a senior at the Georgia Institute of Technology studying computer science. 

“When I heard [the World Championship] was going to be in Atlanta, I knew I had to jump in,” London said. “There’s already a very strong esports presence here, we have the Atlanta Rain, an overwatch team… this is going to add to Atlanta’s resume potentially being more oriented in the future.”

T1’s Dominance 

The Korean T1 team, led by arguably the greatest League of Legends player of all time, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, has dominated the world championships, with T1 defeating Fnatic (1-0), Cloud9 (1-0), Edward Gaming (1-0) and RNG (3-0) to reach the semifinals. 

China’s JDG Gaming also stayed consistent during the postseason, defeating top-ranked teams in group stages and Rogue (3-0) in the quarterfinals. Their best players include Seo “Kanavi” Jin-Hyeok and Bai “369” Jia-Hao. 

Despite the lack of advertising for the semifinal matches outside the arena, thousands of fans lined up outside the stadium waiting for the doors to open. People of all ages attended the event – some wore Teemo hats, cosplayed as their favorite game characters and even brought signs into the stadium, expressing veneration for Kanavi and Faker. Faker’s success in particular has made him into a fan favorite.

The mood, though loud and excited, was somber after the Itaewon Halloween Crowd Rush in which 151 people were killed the morning of Oct 29. Everyone in the arena observed a 30 second moment of silence before the games began. 

After the moment of silence came the first match, which pitted JDG against T1. Initially, JDG entered the first game more aggressive than anticipated. Though at first both teams slowly adjusted to the other’s playing styles, JDG’s Kanavi shifted the momentum after capturing T1’s dragon. The aggressiveness forced T1 to respond, shying away from their typical strategic playing style characteristic of Korean teams. Nevertheless, both teams competed in a close match with back-and-forth kills. T1 had a slight advantage in gold but collapsed after JDG defeated them in key team fights toward the end. 

Although T1 lost to JDG in the first game, the team maintained its composure and seemingly switched strategies by changing their draft order in the next game. Faker changed his character from Galio, who acts as a protectionary character, to Ryze, who is much more aggressive and powerful.

JDG didn’t have an answer to the shift, and subsequent games showcased T1’s significant advantage in team play and finesse with standout performances from Choi “Zeus” Woo-je, Mun “Oner” Hyeon-jun and Lee “Gumayasi’” Min-hyeong. Game 2 progressed relatively slowly, but in Games 3 and 4, T1 rode the momentum from their Game 2 victory and used map control and team fights to pick JDG apart, leading to a 3-1 T1 victory over JDG.

T1 attends a press conference after their semifinal win against JDG on Oct. 29. (Clement Lee/Staff Writer)

DRX’s Miraculous Streak 

On Oct. 30, the Korean teams DRX and Gen.G faced off for the chance to compete against T1 in the finals. Despite the rain outside, there was a convivial atmosphere in the arena as fans prepared to witness either a lopsided win for the heavily favored Gen.G or a concerted effort from DRX. 

Heading into the semifinals, DRX were the underdogs. This year alone, they had a 0-4 record against Gen.G. On the other hand, No. 2-ranked Gen.G entered the semifinals with a stronger overall team with players like Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon and LCK Summer Finals MVP Hang “Peanut” Wang-wo. Fans seemed skeptical as to whether DRX would go any further in the tournament. However, great play by Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon, Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu and Lee “Juhan” Ju-han turned the tides. 

Though DRX’s Pyosik acquired First Blood, Gen.G began to lead in gold throughout the match and eventually overwhelmed DRX by capturing their Baron Nashor. Within 28 minutes, Gen.G entered DRX’s base and earned a swift victory. 

At that point, people predicted either a 3-0 or 3-1 victory for Gen.G, but DRX maintained composure and went on to win the next three games. Gen.G took initiative in Game 2, and Hwang “Kingen” Seong-hoon and Kim “Zeka” Geon Woo gathered DRX together to partake in crucial fights down the stretch. With patience, DRX captured four Dragons and one Baron Nashor. Then, Deft led the offensive to capture Gen.G’s base to close it out. 

Riding off their hot hand from Game 2, DRX looked poised to win the next two matches. Game 3, though, was an important forecaster for the future matches: If DRX lost, they would need to change their strategy heading into Game 4, whereas if Gen.G lost they would need to fix a fundamental problem, a nearly impossible task mid-tournament. 

Game 3 began with a DRX lead in gold; however, a decisive scrimmage determined the victor at the 29-minute mark. DRX’s Peanut and Chovy provoked Gen.G’s Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk, Son “Lehends” Si-woo and Kingen. What seemed like an easy kill for Gen G turned into a grave mistake when Pyosik and Zeka met them from the other side, engaging in a flank. With the base left open, DRX managed to raid the base and take Game 3. In Game 4, DRX were much more confident and succeeded in capitalizing in the end game. With a Dragon and Baron Nashor Kill from DRX, they were able to take their base and secure the win.

DRX’s Deft and Zeka walking out after continuing their historic underdog run with their semifinal win against Gen.G on Oct. 30. (Clement Lee/Staff Writer)

DRX coach Kim “Ssong” Sang-soo attributed the win to his team’s mindset, overcoming their nerves to be victorious.

“We were aware of Gen.G,” said Sang-soo. “We are always improving, and we are always confident in preparing against them. Regardless, we don’t think about the opponent. So we were able to step up, and we went in confident and didn’t feel any pressure.”

T1 and DRX will compete for the championship title on Nov. 5 at the Chase Center in San Francisco. The winner will receive $2,225,000 in prize money.

DRX hold up their fists after a dominant performance against Gen.G in their semifinal match on Oct. 30. (Clement Lee/Staff Writer)