Saturday night on the Strip often brings marquee names in sports and entertainment. But the average tourist probably walked right past some of the biggest names from both realms as the stars sat behind keyboards and screens in an arena tucked away from Luxor casino floor.
Dozens of esports stars and popular online video gaming personalities hit the stage of the HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas for the 2019 All-Star Event, which capped the ninth professional season for mega-hit PC game “League of Legends” and raised $300,000 for charity.
Players from across the world — some as famous in certain circles within their home countries as any actor or athlete — competed in a series of fun competitions for the modest and tightly packed crowd. According to “League of Legends” parent company Riot Games, the 250 seats sold out instantly upon their online release.
The event also consistently pulled in more than 60,000 concurrent live viewers during its three six-hour events, which began Thursday night and continued Friday and Saturday.
Fans held homemade signs and sported jerseys, merchandise and even full costumes in support of their favorite stars. Gasps and screams rang out as split-second mouse clicks meant victory and defeat. Sideline reporters and camera crews slid on and off the stage’s wings.
“At the end of the day, this is meant to be a big celebration for the entire year,” said Matt Archambault, head of North American esports partnerships and business development for Riot Games. “We want it to be a celebration for the fans and the players that supported us.”
Competitive “League of Legends” started as a small event at a 2011 gaming convention, Archambault said, but it has grown to 13 multimillion-dollar, six-months-a-year professional leagues with championships that sell out stadiums.
Andy Brown wore a jersey for North American professional team Team Solo Mid as he sat near the rear of the audience with his friends. The group flew in from Chicago on Friday.
“I’ve been a fan of ‘League of Legends’ since season one (2011),” Brown said. “There’s no better opportunity to see the global talent all in one place. That’s what brought me here.”
Brown waited in line for a friendly match against Tyler “Tyler1” Steinkamp, one of the game’s biggest online personalities. The trash talk-laden game did not go Brown’s way, but he got a T-shirt for his trouble.
Ryann Kay was dressed head-to-toe as Katarina, a popular character in the game, complete with massive fake knives and light-blue contact lenses. The professional cosplay artist dressed as a different character in each event, where she posed for photos with fans and pros alike.
“It’s my first ‘League of Legends’ event,” she said. “My friends and I were packed like sardines for the drive from Arizona.”
Jackson “Pabu” Pavone is an Australian pro player who made a name for himself at last year’s all-star event, where he defeated several of the game’s biggest stars. The 19-year-old wore a bright-blue all-star jersey and was easily distinguished by his stylishly dyed, rainbow-colored hair.
He did not fare as well on the HyperX stage this year, but he said he’s enjoying his time meeting fans and fellow players.
Pavone and his girlfriend have used their trip to America to try out new things — mainly fast food and shopping, he said.
His favorite so far?
“We’re big fans of Popeye’s, so far,” he said.
Chicken and waffles is also a foreign concept for the Australians, but they now understand the appeal.