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Everything you need to know about League of Legends' World Series championship

There is no bigger esports event than the League of Legends World Championship. Over the next month, 22 of the best teams from around the world will duke it out in Shanghai before an audience of over a hundred million viewers. The winner will not only take home a multi-million-dollar grand prize but will also earn the title of world champion—until next year, that is. It's an enormous and spectacular event, but this year the stakes are even higher: Many of the best teams, including last year's champions, failed to qualify for the tournament, and it feels like anyone could snatch the Summoner's Cup this year.

Just like the game itself, however, Worlds can be a daunting event to spectate—especially if you're new to League of Legends. Fortunately, this guide has all the information you need to need, from the schedule and format explanations to suggestions on which team to root for. As the competition ramps up over the next month, consider this your one-stop guide to the League of Legends World Championship.

What's the latest League of Legends Championship news? 

We'll keep this section updated with the latest information as the tournament continues. Here's what you need to know: 

  • Worlds kicks off on September 25 at 1am PDT with the first matches of the play-in stage.

How do I watch Worlds 2020? 

Because it's being held in Shanghai, Worlds 2020 matches are going to be airing during the early morning hours for North Americans. That's going to make it extremely tricky to watch games live unless you're willing to stay up well past midnight. Fortunately, every match can be found on Riot Games' Twitch Channel or the LoLesports YouTube channel.

If you play League of Legends, consider watching live games or recorded matches on the LoL Esports website. You can log in using your LoL account and you'll earn extra rewards for spectating games.

We'll explain how the format works below, but here's the rough schedule for Worlds 2020:

  • Play-in stage: September 25 to 30
  • Group stage: October 3 to 6 and October 8 to 11
  • Quarterfinals: October 15 to 18
  • Semifinals: October 24 to 25
  • Finals: October 31

If you want to watch live, specific match times can be found here.

If you want a handy way of keeping track of every match, Cyandris on Reddit has created a Google Calendar you can easily import that'll automatically convert to your timezone. 

What is Worlds, anyway? 

Worlds is the most ambitious esports event in gaming and even if you're not a diehard fan of League, there are still plenty of reasons to watch. At Worlds, the competition is extremely fierce and big upsets are almost always a guarantee. Riot Games also tends to go all out for the opening ceremony of the finals (happening on October 31). 

The coolest part are the wild musical performances that use cutting-edge alternate-reality tech not really seen anywhere else. For the past few years, League of Legends has been turning a few of its champions into pop stars, releasing awesome music videos and hit singles. During Worlds, the voices behind those characters perform on stage with their digital in-game representations, using AR to make it all look like 3D holograms. This started back in 2017, when the mainstage performance was interrupted by a giant Elder Dragon storming the stage and has gotten better each year. This time around, Riot Games is using Unreal Engine technology made by the special effects folks behind The Mandalorian TV series to render mixed-reality special effects in 32K at 60fps. It sounds pretty wild. That's all during the grand finals on October 31 at 3am PDT. If you're limited on time over the next month, this is the one match you shouldn't miss.

What if I don't play League of Legends? 

That'll definitely present a hurdle, but it shouldn't stop you from watching. How intensely you want to follow the competition, however, is going to be up to you. Even hardcore fans don't have the time to watch every single match, but I'd recommend skipping the play-in and group stages (detailed below) unless there's a team you're following competing in those matches. Otherwise, the knockout stage is where the real competition begins.

League of Legends is also hopelessly complicated and, if you've never played a MOBA before, you might feel pretty lost. We'll update this guide with recommendations for "noob streams" with commentary specifically geared toward newer players, but there's no way to immediately understand everything that can happen in a match. Riot Games has a pretty good overview of how matches work, which you can watch below.

That video explains LoL from the birdiest of birds-eye views, but there's so much depth to League it could take tens of thousands of words to explain it all. But instead of trying to absorb all that information being thrown at you, you should ignore most of it. Don't bother trying to understand items or advanced maneuvering, and instead focus on the big picture: Who is where, which team has more gold and kills, and which team has taken more objectives?

At the end of the day though, you should probably just play LoL. Yeah, it sounds scary and its reputation for being a toxic hellhole is concerning, but LoL is actually surprisingly easy to get into. There's some easy tutorials to work through and your first matches will be paired against similarly new players, so everyone will suck as much as you. It's fun. 

What's the format and prize pool? 

The World Championship is a multistage event that takes place over an entire month. It features the top teams from around the world and is seeded according to each team's performance during their regional events that took place earlier this year. The best teams move straight into the group stage, while the rest are put into the play-in stage. Here's how it works.

The play-in stage

  • 10 teams divided into two groups
  • Each group completes a round robin cycle of best-of-one matches.
  • Team with the most wins moves on, team with the least is eliminated.
  • Third and fourth-place teams in each group fight in a best-of-five match.
  • Winner fights second-place team in the other group in a best-of-five match.
  • Winner of that match goes onto the group stage.

The group stage: 

  • 16 teams divided into four groups; 12 teams qualify directly, 4 from play-ins.
  • Each group plays a double round robin of best-of-one matches.
  • Two highest ranked teams in each group move onto the knockouts stage.

The knockouts stage: 

  • Single-elimination bracket tournament with the remaining eight teams.
  • Each match is a best-of-five.
  • Winner becomes the Worlds 2020 championship team.

The prize pool for Worlds 2020 is not confirmed yet. That's because a portion of the winnings is accrued through the sale of in-game cosmetics themed after the winning team. The base prize pool is $2.5 million and is divided among all teams like so: 

(Image credit: Riot Games)

Which team should I root for if I don't have one? 

The best way to experience Worlds is to pick a team or two and follow their progress instead of trying to watch every game. But which teams do you cheer on? The easiest way to pick is to start with teams that are from your region. If this is your first time watching LoL esports, you won't have much familiarity with that team's history, but that's fine. Below, I've broken all the teams from the major regions and pointed out notable picks newcomers should be aware of. That'll help you decide based on whether you want to root for an underdog or throw your lot in with a favored pick. 

LCS (North America):

  • Team SoloMid (TSM): Once-dominant team having a redemption arc.
  • FlyQuest: Environmentally conscious underdog famous for their initiative to plant trees and save the coral reef.
  • Team Liquid

LEC (Europe):

  • G2 Esports: Europe's top-ranked team and a titan in competitive LoL.
  • Fnatic: The other big player in Europe and equally as legendary as G2.
  • MAD Lions: Young, scrappy, and lovable underdogs.
  • Rogue

LPL (China):

  • Top Esports: Arguably the best team in LoL right now. Favored to win it all.
  • JD Gaming
  • Suning
  • LGD Gaming

LCK (South Korea):

  • Damwon Gaming: Korean powerhouse with arguably the best midlaner.
  • Gen.G Esports
  • DRX
Steven Messner
Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.