Watching history being made

League of Legends 2017 World Championship winners Samsung Galaxy savouring their win at Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium last Saturday.
League of Legends 2017 World Championship winners Samsung Galaxy savouring their win at Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium last Saturday.PHOTO: RIOT GAMES

Last Saturday, standing in the middle of Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium, on the brick brown track where athletes chased Olympic glory nine years ago, I witnessed history being made.

Over 40,000 fans packed one side of the stadium; the other was dominated by three towering screens and a stage with two enclosed player booths.

From the start, SK Telecom T1 was clearly the favourite. SKT swept three of the last six titles. More importantly, it was the home of Lee "Faker" Sang Hyeok, 21, one of the most highly regarded and well-loved League players of all time.

The underdogs, Korean compatriots Samsung Galaxy, seemed a scrappier side, with no marquee names or title-winning pedigree.

The finals kicked off with a performance by pop prince Jay Chou and a massive entourage of masked dancers. Any other day, he would have been the main draw; today, he was just the warm-up. The crowd truly went wild only when their teams came on stage for the best-of-five match-up.

The first two games were won handily by Samsung Galaxy, as it demonstrated impeccable coordination and discipline to take down the champions.

By the third game, the sky above the Bird's Nest had started to darken. Inside the stadium, the atmosphere was one of general disbelief. Was SKT really going to fall?

For a while, it seemed that SKT would turn the tide. They got kills, they got turrets. You could feel a collective sigh of relief.

But in a flash, SKT's seemingly insurmountable lead vanished. Samsung Galaxy managed to catch their opponents out of position, and doggedly pressed the small advantages home.

When the final drop of life left SKT's Nexus, the roar from the crowd was deafening.

But crowning the new champions was a bittersweet moment. After the loss, the camera panned to Faker, completely crushed, slumped over in his chair sobbing, too overwhelmed to notice his opponents coming into the booth for a handshake.

Then, slowly, the crowd started chanting his name. Acknowledging that even in defeat, he was still one of the all-time greats.

After Samsung Galaxy lifted the Summoner's Cup and confetti rained down on the newly minted champions, American pop rock band Against The Current came on to perform this year's rousing theme song.

On that cold Beijing night, the song lyrics seemed strangely apt:

"Legends never die when the world is calling you.

Can you hear them screamin' out your name?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2017, with the headline 'Watching history being made'. Print Edition | Subscribe