“We built this Arena” – PiraTechnics’ day at the LCS Playoffs: The Return of the Fans cover image

“We built this Arena” – PiraTechnics’ day at the LCS Playoffs: The Return of the Fans

LCS fans returned to LAN after a two years absence at the LCS Playoffs. Esports.gg’s Piratechnics was on site to witness it live.

There’s an air of nervous anticipation at the LCS Studios as I step onto the pavement of the parking lot. A flurry of activity – security directing players and staff towards check-in and covid testing tents, setting up the queues for the expected stream of LCS fans, due to arrive in the next hour or so.

I get directed around the side of the building, spying coaches, analysts, players and cameramen milling about. Cloud9 and 100Thieves jerseys clash as I make my way through the throng and to the check-in station to receive my press badge.

After clearing through the Covid rapid test I make my way into the main entrance, under the massive screen highlighting the upcoming match, flashing in anticipation for the first live audience in two seasons of professional league play.

After waving my hellos to the familiar security folks, I jog up the steps to the press room, out of which a seating box with a wide view of the stage juts out over the audience section.

I’m not the first to arrive – familiar faces greet me as I enter the room, a cozy space complete with fizzy drinks, snacks, and cushioned seats all facing a screen. A countdown timer has already begun ticking away – 74 minutes until game time. Pregame jams play as the LCS fans begin filing into the seats.

From my vantage point in the press box, excitement begins to swell as seats fill over the next half hour. Today’s talent lineup – an all-star group including James "Dash" Patterson, Gabriella "LeTigress" Devia-Allen, Barento "Raz" Mohammed and Emily Rand, walk onto the stage, microphones in hand to greet the arrivals. I race downstairs to get a better view on ground level. 33 minutes until the games begin.

The LCS lobby, a long narrow strip of space connecting the hallway to the stage, a PC arcade, and the concession counter has filled with a crowd murmuring with anticipation. I carefully make my way upstream and file into the queue entering the stands.

A fan in front of me dressed in a jean jacket and sporting a cowboy hat proudly displays a sign hyping up the live finals in Houston, Texas later this month. As we’re milling about, he introduces himself as Gustavo, and tells me he’s especially excited for the event, being a Houston native himself. 

"I may not have a horse in the race here, but I am a fan of Blaber and Summit, so I’m here to watch them. I have an eye on Closer too – very clutch performer": LCS fan from San Diego

Gustavo tells me he currently lives in San Diego, and that he was excited to make the trip up to LA for the games today. As he’s dressed in neutral colors, I ask if he’s supporting anyone today.

Gustavo: “One thing I found out about myself over the years is that I’m more a fan of players. Bjergsen was my guy, so TSM was my team. He’s not there anymore, so now I’m king of a Team Liquid fan by proxy.”

Pira: “So you’re just scouting out the competition today, as these teams may very well face off against TL?”

G: “I may not have a horse in the race here, but I am a fan of Blaber and Summit, so I’m here to watch them. I have an eye on Closer too – very clutch performer. That’s why I’m here, I’m interested in seeing some good play!”

As the timer ticks down (only five minutes now), I take a rare empty seat on the far side of the stands. Lights turn low as the anticipation reaches a fever pitch. Players file on stage and begin setting up, to the cheers and shouts of the LCS fans. I can only imagine the adrenaline filling the competitors as they get ready to play to a live audience for the first time (for some, period!) in two years. A cacophony of excited chatter slowly dies away as numbers flash up on the big screen, replaced by a growing chant: 10, 9, 8…..

At 1, a deafening cheer goes up as the lights dim, blues and reds alternating to the furious smacking of thundersticks carried by just about every member of the audience. A quick pregame segment goes by in a blur, as the desk hands things off to the shoutcasters – a Triumvirate of David "Phreak" Turley, Sam "Kobe" Hartman-Kenzler and Mark "MarkZ" Zimmerman.

The draft gets underway quickly, with Cloud9 eliciting cheers as they secure a first round Zeri pick for Berserker, eventually to be paired with a Renata Glasc support. Despite the analysts predicting 100 Thieves over C9 2-1, I’m assured that the latter is the favorite for this match.

And then, not a minute after the game is loaded, 100 Thieves rush into Cloud 9’s Jungle, killing Robert "Blaber" Huang’s Diana in the ensuing chaos. The crowd’s excitement boils over – I can hardly hear the frantic calls of the casters over the sound.

A little later I find myself back up in the press room, comparing notes with other press corps members on 100 Thieves’ complete shutdown of C9 toplaner Summit. The first game of the playoffs is already promising to deliver.

100Thieves manage to ride their early momentum to a dominant win. The second game brings us almost entirely the same draft, with only a single champion different. This time it’s much closer, as C9 manage to contest a key dragon and nearly win the game off the ensuing fight. However, 100T hang on, however, and rally for a Baron-empowered push down the midlane to close out.

After game 2, things are starting to look dire for Cloud 9. Taking the opportunity to stretch my legs, I find the concessions queue lined up nearly to the front door – the smell of nacho cheese wafts through, carrying with it a strong sense of nostalgia for live events past.

I spy a pair of fans dressed to the (Cloud) nines – jerseys and jackets beating the team’s iconic teal blue, chatting excitedly despite the scoreline. I stop by for a quick chat on the team’s chances at a comeback:

"We don’t have to win it all – I would love to, but if we can take [a lesson] from this into Summer Split and into worlds, that’s Ideal"-C9 fan

Mike: “There’s a bit of trepidation about [being down 0-2], but knowing we have a second life kinda helps, and we are the team for comebacks. It’s not the end of the world – I’m not sacking Spring split, but I would love them to win and go to MSI. We don’t have to win it all – I would love to, but if we can take [a lesson] from this into Summer Split and into worlds, that’s Ideal.”

Pira: “C9 were so hyped and on top of the table so long – do you think it’s worrying the way they’ve lost, or is that a blip on the radar?”

Hannah: “I do think it is a blip.”

Mike: “A bit of both maybe. Knowing Summit was this force to be reckoned with at the start, and no one had a bead on him, but now that it’s – take away his main champs of Gnar and Jayce, and then you pick a teamfighting tank – allows him to be as aggressive as he’s gonna get.

And then you need to stabilize the mid game and start teamfighting, you’ll have a better chance of winning – like we saw in game 2. But having that consistent rock is something that [Summit] doesn’t have yet – and seeing teams exploit that is frustrating.”

Pira: “What was the feeling when you first stepped into the studio today?”

Both: “It was just driving in and it hit: It’s HAPPENING.”

Mike: “It was like ‘I’ve been here before’. I turned off my GPS, because I knew where I was going. And then when I pulled in, I was like ‘I’m actually back at the LCS Arena, it feels so good.”

C9 fans Hannah and Mike
C9 fans Hannah and Mike

Back up in the press room for game three, the air is still electric, as everyone – press corps included, are on tenterhooks to see if the number #2 seed (and most dominant team in the regular season) can pull off one of their famous reverse sweeps.

The draft is up on the screen. 100 Thieves on blue side allow a highly contested Zeri pick to go through once again, having beaten it twice so far. Cloud 9 snaps it up for berserker, but the the 100T botlane lock in an old school combo of Lucian and Nami, prompting cheers, and surprise from both the LCS fans and casters:

As it turns out, this was clearly a prepared strategy for FBI and Choi "huhi" Jae-hyunuhi, as 100 Thieves manage to dismantle Cloud 9 once more, to complete a clean sweep of the series. FBI in particular looks fantastic on Lucian – he ends up popping off with a final KDA of 12/1/6.

The defending champions move on to the next round of playoffs with relative ease. 100 Thieves will next play Team Liquid (who defeated Evil Geniuses the following day) on April 16th.

With the series wrapping up, I dive into preparing my interview for the day – having requested and received a quick word with none other than FBI himself.

In talking, as he was onstage after the sweep, FBI is all smiles. The change from when we’d last spoken, after a tough loss to Team Liquid earlier in the season, is marked. Still buzzing with excitement from the live audience, the interview goes quickly as I thank FBI for his time, and congratulate him on the win.

"The fans' reaction – the crowd roaring to life for that first kill, made it the coolest thing that’s happened here in years. That was badass": CaptainFlowers

With my work complete, I pack up and head down to the lobby – still full of LCS fans chatting about the series, its surprising picks and its abrupt end. Conversation turns to Team Liquid’s bout with Evil Geniuses the following day – some of the LCS fans plan to attend both days it seems.

Before I turn to leave, I spot shoutcaster Clayton “CaptainFlowers” Raines, off-duty for today but gearing up for the games tomorrow. We banter about the match, and how amazing it felt to be in with a live crowd once again.

Pira: “Hey man, what’s it been like to be a fan, with the LCS fans, for the first time in two years?”

Flowers: “This is THE BEST LCS has felt since ‘rona took us down back in 2020. That invade – level 1, game 1 – a very basic invade, there wasn’t anything special to it, there was a five man catch in the jungle. That happens in League of Legends every day, right? But the LCS fans reaction – the crowd roaring to life for that first kill, made it the coolest thing that’s happened here in years. That was badass.”

Pira: “I think I felt the stands actually shaking! So the result – was the 3-0 a surprise for you?”

Flowers: “So I think the 3-0 was the big surprise. I would’ve favored 100 Thieves in the head to head – when you look at how both teams played in the end of the regular season – okay 100T seems to be peaking now, and C9 in a bit of a bumpy patch, but 3-0…I was not expecting the shut-out, I was expecting C9 to at least put something on the board!

100T even said it in the postgame interview: ‘Summit’s a 1v9 player – but Ssumday can handle him 1v1, and we brought the rest of the team up there to deal with him.’ Clearly they shut him down – the LCS account was tweeting – the lep image, but with the Renekton score.”

Pira: “Do you think based on today that 100T will be one of our finalists in Houston?”

Flowers: “Yeah, I think based on today and what we saw at the end of last week, I think 100T vs TL is probably the most likely final!”

I step back onto the sidewalk, still buzzing from my day the the LCS playoffs. Despite a relatively quick series, I won’t be able to forget the sights and sounds of the crowd, the cheers and jeers, chants and sense of passion that have been put on hold for the past two years.

I look back at the big screen overlooking the studio entrance as words flash crisply across it: “We built this arena”. I allow myself a smile and think “We sure did”, as I turn to flag down my ride home. It’s good to be back.

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