Games

The Roar of a 'League of Legends' Crowd

The atmosphere of any live sporting event is a unique slice of that sport’s spectator culture. Where does eSports, and specifically League of Legends, fit in?

I’m sitting near the front row at my first live eSports event. It’s the League of Legends North American Regionals quarterfinals featuring Curse vs CLG, and the stakes are high. One of these teams has a chance at attending the World Championship in South Korea. The other is going home. The two teams file into their rows of computers on stage, while a huge screen starts a countdown to this pivotal match. From somewhere in the back row, up in the bleachers, comes the sound of a vuvuzela.

The atmosphere of any live sporting event is a unique slice of that sport’s spectator culture. Baseball might be about hot dogs, cracker jacks, and long breaks between plays. Hockey might be about chants or throwing octopi onto the ice. They can be heated affairs with hostile rivalries between opposing fans, or they can be calmer affairs dedicated to the appreciation of a match well played. Where does eSports, and specifically League of Legends, fit in?

The first thing that I noticed when entering the movie studio lot is that Riot approaches their North American matches in a different way than usual sporting events, specifically in terms of the food and drink selection. More specifically, they were not serving beer at the game. It’s telling that alcohol consumption and sporting events are so bound together in my mind. Sports spectatorship can be a raucous event, heavily fueled by alcohol. I had assumed that in the pursuit of cultural legitimacy, a rowdy game of League of Legends would be well stocked with booze.

Of course at some other events, Riot does serve alcohol. I suspect the minimal drink offerings have more to do with the venue and its lack of a beverage license than to catering to the event’s young audience. What came first when selecting a venue was a location amenable to the production of a high production event, not an opportunity to mirror traditional sports concession stands.

The high value production atmosphere made the event more like a game show in some ways than a competitive event. In between matches, a “hype man” came out to rile up the audience, tossing out branded plushies, building excitement among the fans. The play screen in the center stage would air League related YouTube videos, and with commentators on an elevated stand behind the crowd, each match felt very much like a performance. There were no jostling drunks or human waves rippling through the crowd. It was limited, but strategically so

On the other hand, most of the audience openly and loudly cheered for their team of choice, waving signs showing their support (or some League of Legends in-joke). Coming off a boot camp training session in Korea, the CLG hype was real and the meta drama of the event could be felt in the crowd. After CLG’s painful 3-0 loss to Curse, their interpersonal conflicts leaked over into the internet with trash talk coming from fans and other League personalities as well. The conversation surrounding these live events can feel like the trappings of professional boxing or even pro-wrestling.

Last year at the League of Legends World Championship, Riot sold out the LA Staples Center. It was the closest that eSports has come to mimicking the live spectator culture of traditional sports, but its fate is far from decided. The diversity of the crowd, both its gender and racial makeup, was greater than I imagined, but it is still something that the eSports scene struggles with. Likewise, live spectatorship could take on the antagonistic fervor of a heated soccer match, and maybe this is the extreme, the quiet and restrained applause of a golf audience. There is a separate culture not just among players, but among viewers, which is still being shaped today.

What gives me the most hope for a healthy and vibrant spectator culture? As the first match came to an exciting finish, everyone in the crowd stood up to applaud uproariously. Whereas before there were noticeable chants for CLG, there was general jubilation for a match well played. In the heat of the moment, when the game takes on its most realized form, when one of the star players stands up, huge smile on his face and nearly throws his headphones off in excitement, the crowd is a unified whole, embodying a passion for skilled play. I have written a lot of about League of Legends, especially its growing, shifting, indeterminate eSports culture, but in that moment more than any other, I felt part of something grand and enduring.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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