At the League of Legends World Championship finals in San Francisco, South Korean team DRX pulled a surprise victory over T1, the three-time Worlds winners. The final score was 3-2.
The finals pit two South Korean teams against each other in matches of wits and technical prowess. “League’s” annual esports tournament had an interesting narrative this year: One of the teams, T1, was a clear crowd favorite as the winningest organization in the esport’s history; the other, DRX, has been the underdog few predicted would get this far. In the end, the underdog prevailed. Cheers of “DRX” broke out in the venue.
Thousands attended the Worlds in person, and even more tuned in online to see two teams face off for first place — as well as the larger chunk of a mostly crowdfunded prize pool. (The final figure hasn’t been announced.) The winning team will take home approximately half a million dollars, a figure that could go up if Riot sells more in-game cosmetics, the company said.
Online event viewership peaked at 5,031,323 viewers, according to the tracking and analytics service Esports Charts. The figure does not include Chinese platforms.
Notably, both teams in the finals were South Korean, marking the return of the country’s dominance in “League” esports after China took home the win in 2021, 2019 and 2018. Returning winner T1 has one of the most recognizable players, Lee Sang-hyeok, better known as “Faker,” a midlaner with reflexes that recall those of the greatest basketball athletes.
Going into the finals, veteran fans of “League” have naturally gravitated toward rooting for T1, though some were charmed by the Cinderella story of DRX, which has never won before.
“DRX came into Worlds with a lot of doubts around them,” said Eric Teixeira, a Brazilian content creator and journalist. “They keep improving and getting more consistent.”
Teixeira bet $40 on what was thought to be an unlikely DRX win during the quarterfinals in New York and won $400, against the odds.
Avril Alanna, 21-year-old professional content creator for esports organization Cloud9, who flew in from Maryland to attend Saturday’s finals, said she’s been rooting for DRX simply because they are the underdogs.
“This is [DRX bot laner Kim Hyuk-kyu] Deft’s first Worlds run that’s gotten this far, and he’s been in the industry for so long it would be such an amazing narrative of how hard work pays off, and as long as you chase your dreams and keep at it, you can achieve anything,” Alanna said. She’s familiar with how hard work can pay off — she started playing “League” when she was 10 years old; eight years later, in 2019, she hit Challenger, the highest rank in “League of Legends.”
The tournament’s organizer, Riot Games, owned by Chinese conglomerate Tencent, has ambitions to make Worlds as ubiquitous in the collective consciousness as the Super Bowl is in the United States.
Riot’s global head of “League” esports Naz Aletaha said in an interview, “If you’ve heard ‘League of Legends,’ if you play ‘League of Legends,’ you want to tune in to Worlds, that’s our goal. And that’s why I liken it to the Super Bowl.”