The 2020 edition of the League of Legends World Championship is about to begin in Shanghai — and it’s a lot to take in. The annual competition, colloquially known simply as Worlds, spans more than a month, with 22 teams from across the globe all vying for a chance to lift the coveted (and imposing) Summoner’s Cup. If you’re new to the game or don’t follow that closely, it can be confusing to jump in.
So in order to help you get the most out of the experience, we’ve prepared this handy guide to Worlds. See you out on the rift.
Just what is Worlds?
The name is pretty self-explanatory. Worlds is a tournament that pits the best professional teams from various regional leagues against each other to see which is the best on the planet. Think of it like the UEFA Champions League in soccer; all year long, teams play in their domestic leagues, and the best-performing squads then move on to an international competition.
Here’s a very helpful explainer from League developer Riot:
And if you’re completely new to not only Worlds but the game itself, here’s another primer on the basics of how League of Legends works. ESPN also has a very useful beginner’s guide.
What to expect
If you are new to Worlds, you’re in for a treat. This year’s tournament is wide open. The last two champions — Invictus Gaming and FunPlus Phoenix, both from China — failed to qualify, while other stalwarts, including Korea’s T1, which features iconic player Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, also didn’t make it. What all this means is there’s no clear and obvious choice to take home the trophy.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t favorites, of course. China’s League of Legends Pro League, the LPL, has been dominant in recent years, making Top Esports, the region’s current champion, a strong contender. The same could be said of Damwon Gaming, which dominated Korea’s LCK, and Europe’s G2 Esports, which struggled a bit during the regular season but surged toward the European championship during playoffs. Oh, and G2 also happen to be the finalists from the 2019 edition of Worlds.
All of this is to say that there are a lot of teams that could win, and that’s not counting the inevitable underdog story.
The impact of COVID
Like pretty much every live event in the world, including esports, the 2020 version of Worlds has been changed quite a bit by the current pandemic. For starters, the event was originally planned to take place across several cities in China but is now being concentrated solely in Shanghai for safety and logistical reasons. The early rounds of the tournament will take place at the Shanghai Media Tech Studio, while finals will be held at Pudong Stadium. At this point, it’s not clear whether fans will be able to attend.
Unfortunately, travel restrictions also mean that some teams aren’t participating, with two qualifying clubs from Vietnam unable to make the trip to Shanghai. Because of this, Riot adjusted the format slightly to accommodate 22 teams instead of the originally planned 24.
A spectacle beyond the game
One of the cool things about Worlds is that there’s more to it than just the competition. Teams go all-out with new jersey designs, and there’s always a new — and very intense — musical anthem for each event. Here’s this year’s theme:
The most iconic moment, though, is the dramatic opening ceremony that kicks off the finals. Last year saw a holographic hip-hop group take the stage in Paris, while the year prior featured an augmented reality K-pop performance in Incheon. Once, there was a giant dragon.
Riot hasn’t said much about this year’s ceremony, but there have been some hints. The company’s virtual K-pop group, K/DA, is back with an upcoming EP and a new member. It’s safe to say that they’ll be featured in some way. Meanwhile, Riot has teased the technology that will be used, saying it will be a modified version of the Unreal Engine-powered set that serves as the backdrop for The Mandalorian.
“The major difference: Worlds will be the first ever live multi-camera production using this technology,” Riot’s David Higdon said during a press conference. “It’s the most advanced mixed reality hardware system in the world and it will render in real time at a 32K resolution and 60 frames per seconds. I’ve had a sneak peek and it’s pretty mind blowing.”
How to watch
Given how long Worlds lasts, you might want to pick when and what you watch. For the most dedicated fans, the play-in stage lasts from September 25th to the 30th. Ten of the lower-ranked teams will compete here, with the top four moving on to the next round, the groups stage. This lasts from October 3rd to the 11th. Here, 16 teams will compete, with the eight highest-ranked sides moving on to the knockout stages, starting on October 15th. During this stage, the eight best teams in the world will slowly be whittled down until we have two remaining sides, who will play against each other in the finals on October 31st.
You can find the complete schedule right here; it’s important to note that since Worlds is taking place in China, the timezone can be tricky. Those watching in North America and Europe should be prepared for some very early games. You can stream every game for free on either Twitch or YouTube.