Skip to main content

NALCS Spring Split Finals in Vancouver - Day 1

A few months back, Riot Games eSports division announced that the North American branch of the League of Legends Championship Series (NALCS) was going to be coming to our own backyard: Vancouver! As “seasoned professionals” of the eSports circuit it was something we immediately set in our schedule.

By “seasoned professionals” I, of course, mean that Shogun Gamer has attended several different eSport events for coverage both locally and internationally. It might not be our primary focus of the site, but considering a fair number of the writers and our star photographer has fallen into the hype of professional gaming, it’s something we try and support in our own way here.

NALCS Entrance

We enjoy watching the series and whenever we can we strike out to events to try and spotlight the community, the talent, and the spectacle of it all. This is done primarily through the stunning work of my colleague, Melissa Dex Guzman (you should check her out), who acts as our event photographer from time to time.

From a personal point of view, I find myself swept up in the hype of it all. When I was a kid I used to watch anime, and wish the real world had something like Pokémon where we could all celebrate gaming skill and strategy. Now we fill stadiums with fans who watch professional gamers duel on stages with all the pomp and circumstance of any other pro-tier sport. Commentators in suits, a dozen cameras or more flying around the stadium and sweeping across the stage, flashing lights and epic song scores, hell even pyrotechnics and massive metallic cups are up for grabs!

As we’ve tried to spotlight in the past Vancouver is an up-and-coming locale for the eSports scene. Our humble port town has played host to a variety of events including the Canada Cup, the World Finals for Pokémon, and now League of Legends NALCS Spring Finals. The scene has been growing by leaps and bounds the last for years, but this get seems like one of the biggest (the first one I’ve been to that filled up a stadium).

NALCS Swag Table

Arriving an hour before the opening of the doors we had an opportunity to walk the venue and get a lay of the land. It was nothing short of awe-inspiring to see the flurry of workers running around the venue trying to get everything ready and set up for the door open at 10:30 am. When a venue/company collectively works to put on a show of this magnitude there are, of course, a ton of moving parts that must come together (and a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong). To that end, I just wanted to take a quick moment before diving into the event itself to shout out the hard-working staff that not only made sure the event went smoothly but also helped to broadcast our host city to the world, shoutcast the hype, and make sure we in the press were taken care of and had everything we needed to do our jobs too.

At 10:30 on the dot the doors opened and the fans began to stream into the Pacific Coliseum. We’d seen the crowds outside, but there’s always something overwhelming about the flood through the main doors when the event venue that size first opens. The crowd split and everyone made their way through the event which featured a swag table, sign-making station, and plenty of booths to purchase official Riot Gear along with all manner of snacks and beverages before the games started (shortly after 12 pm when the EU games wrapped for the day).

NALCS Sign Making Station

Once everyone had their sweet new collection of merch and enough food and drink to make it through the day, the crowd started to settle in filling just over 70% of the stadiums massive seating capacity and taking it from an attraction with the stage as the feature to an impressive showing of the gaming community coming to support the players and the game on a scale that we’re still getting used to seeing. This led to a countdown (literally) as the announcers whipped the crowd into a frenzy as the feed switched over from the EU feed to the NA finals and the first matchup of the weekend (featuring Phoenix1 and FlyQuest fighting for 3rd and 4th placements).

What was of note to the local fans that came to support the scene was that we have a few representatives of Canada, and even more specifically Vancouver, on the stage. Both teams had at least one Canadian player with team Phoenix1 having two Canadian gamers including a Vancouver local who was an immediate fan favourite. Even more fun was that the Canadian players were wearing their pride openly by sporting flags as capes as they came out, showing off their love of the homeland in the run-up to the final five matches to decide their NALCS Spring Split standings. The commentators and announcers even paid tribute to the Canadian players and the Vancouver scene, which gave this aging nerd a swell of national pride. I mean how often have we got to see BC’s flag fly at a major eSporting event?

The answer is not nearly enough!

BC and Canada Flags

Finally, the games got under way and the first match-up was a rather lop-sided smashing on the series underdogs FlyQuest. Leading up to the finals plenty had written off the team as one that wouldn’t place, or at best might have only made it to something like 10th place. Instead, here they were fighting with everything they got to claim a third-place prize.

And fight they did.

In the second and third games, FlyQuest made their mark, showing that they are a dedicated team of professional gamers and shouldn’t be written off. The two games went quick and seemed entirely one-sided in the favour of Fly. It was so impressive of a sweep for the two back-to-back matches that the internet (and local stadium) started to cheer for the potential underdog win. The Twitter polls online were overwhelming in favour of Fly over Phoenix1 and the stadium was chanting their name throughout (even though it was Phoenix1 that had the Vancouver hero).

If you were writing a script for the most dramatic conclusion to a story like this it could only have one third act turn: a neck-and-neck battle that goes all the way to the last moments of the last game. As much as it teetered back and forth with some pretty convincing wins for both teams, the final match was an absolute slug match with both teams landing major objectives and winning their own team fights both ways. In the end, though, it was Phoenix1 that pulled it out, winning 3-2 in the five-game set.

NALCS Floor

It will not surprise you to know (even if you weren’t in attendance or watching it all unfold online) that the crowd was explosive throughout. With the epic drama unfolding in a manner that almost felt like it could have been scripted, it was so textbook intense, the stadium shook under the weight of the roars as the fans cheered on both teams straight on through to the closing moments.

To say that we had fun would be something of an understatement. We’ve had fun covering fighting game tournaments held in the back room at local bars and dedicated gaming rooms tucked away in casino floors. We’ve had fun at sporting events like this big and small for the last couple of years, but Vancouver has certainly not seen anything this impressive in scope to-date.

Phoenix1 Wins

Hopefully, this is the tip of the iceberg where the scene is concerned. I choose to believe that Riot Games and League of Legends have now issued a challenge to their fellow competitive game developers and eSports collectives. They’ve thrown one hell of a first act, with much more (the first and second place finishes) coming tomorrow which promises to even bigger and more explosive than it was today. What we need now is for Riot to keep coming back to Vancouver and helping us become a regular part of our culture and our community, forcing others to act as well and making eSports a staple of the Vancouver scene.

Winner Interview

 

P.S. 
Let's give a shout-out to the pigeon that showed up half way through the event. Nothing will help us stand out as a scene for eSports like the natural beauty of British Columbia inserting itself into the event by buzz-bombing the fans and soaking up camera/stream time!

Pigeon! Pigeon! Pigeon!