These two unprecedented plays clinched the ‘League of Legends’ championships

Watching competitive, professional “League of Legends” play can feel extremely daunting. Watching it with 11,000 of your best friends, however, is much more inviting. 

Such was the case with my first eSports tournament this past weekend at Madison Square Garden: the North American “League of Legends” Championship Series finals.

The atmosphere was electrifying: 11,000 screaming fans in a sold out Madison Square Garden! It was impossible to not get deeply involved with what was happening on-stage and on the massive screens overhead, where the game was displayed live in all directions using MSG’s enormous ceiling-mounted scoreboard. Look at this madness:

The view from Tech Insider’s seat in Madison Square Garden, where over 11,000 people attended the North American LCS finals. Ben Gilbert / Tech Insider

At no point was the atmosphere more raucous inside MSG than during Sunday night’s finals match between Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) and Team SoloMid (TSM). The teams are considered rivals, and CLG lost the last five games against TSM. Moreover, TSM had an incredible season — they were considered a clinch for first place. 

So it was a big surprise when TSM was shut down 3-0 in a best-of-five match against CLG. 

And it was especially devastating when TSM suffered what’s known as a “pentakill” at the hands of CLG in the second game of that three-game sweep. Here’s what that looks like:

So, uh, what in the world happened?

In short: one of CLG’s players killed all five of TSM’s players (“League of Legends” is a five-on-five game). It was a crushing blow against TSM’s strategy, and it led to their swift defeat at the hands of a longtime rival.

It’s also something that rarely happens in “League of Legends” competitive play: Teams form strategies against such devastation. And that’s smart, as death in “League of Legends” means wasted time. And wasted time means a potential loss in the long run.

When an entire team is killed, it’s a death knell.

What’s bizarre about this year’s finals games is that a pentakill happened on the same day, in the same season-ending games, but on different continents. While MSG was full of “League of Legends” fans in New York City, Hovet Arena was filled with “League of Legends” in Stockholm, Sweden — and during that game, Europe’s Fnatic took it to Origen with a pentakill of their own. Here’s the full thing:

Unsurprisingly, Team Fnatic went on to defeat Origen in its best-of-five series. 

But why are these plays so important? Because in “League of Legends,” being killed means being delayed. Once your player avatar dies in-game, you must wait for it to “respawn” back at your home base.

But your home base in far from the action, and every second you spend hoofing it back towards the game is time that the other team is taking advantage of. And that’s why it’s so devastating when one team gets a pentakill: It means the team that pulled it off has unfettered run of the match for however long it will take for them to slowly meander back into the fray.

The “League of Legends” map is pretty big. Here’s a look at the full map — called the “Summoner’s Rift” — with some helpful diagrams overlaid:

Summoner's Rift

There are three “lanes” used: top, middle, and bottom. Each team has a home base that the other is trying to reach, in order to destroy a “nexus” (the yellow circle). Whoever destroys the other team’s nexus first wins.

In the North American finals this past weekend, CLG executed that pentakill here:

Summoner's Rift

The arrows are where that kill went down. The circle is the nexus. 

That means that the entire TSM team was killed at their home base, giving CLG precious time to taken down TSM’s defences and destroy its nexus. 

“League of Legends” is a carefully-played tactical game, very different from twitch-based games like “Call of Duty.” It’s brazen for a single player on any team to take down the entire opposing team, but it’s a risky move that paid off twice yesterday for two now number one teams.

Both North America’s CLG and Europe’s Fnatic are headed to the “League of Legends” World Championships (“Worlds” for short) in October as a result of their wins this past weekend.

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