When Riot Games announced that the 2020 League of Legends World Championship would take place despite a global pandemic, the announcement was met with excitement but also curiosity regarding what the event would look like.
"Our on-going planning included -- and still includes -- closely monitoring the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic, regular coordination with our team in Riot China and an external risk advisory organization (among others), and using the guidance from the CDC, World Health Organization and local and federal governments to prioritize safety," Riot's global director of esports operations Tom Martell said.
Worlds, which was originally set to take place across several cities in China, was reduced to two venues in Shanghai: the Shanghai Media Tech Studio for most of the tournament, which began Friday, and the new Pudong Football Stadium for the finals on Oct. 31.
Unlike the strict bubble environment of the NBA, which included six individual phases to ensure the season resumed safely with players confined to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Riot's Shanghai bubble environment isn't as restricted. Instead, players first undergo a period of mandatory self-isolation upon entering the country and then their movement throughout the city is limited.
"I haven't really been able to go out much, but I was positively surprised by how they're just handling COVID here," Team Liquid mid laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen said. "It's very professional, a lot of medics around, and just the way when we got into the country with security and medics everywhere, with the testing, etc. They seem to be doing really well with COVID here at least, so that was something I was pleasantly surprised by."
Players from around the world were placed in a hotel to quarantine upon their arrival in China and underwent a 14-day mandatory isolation period. After that, players were allowed to rejoin their teams and moved to the event's official hotel for the remainder of worlds as long they hadn't contracted COVID-19. Thus far, no player or staff member has contracted the virus.
Players from China's LoL Pro League teams, who have been relatively isolated at their respective gaming houses since returning to competition in Shanghai in the spring, have also joined players from around the world at the event's hotel.
Quarantine procedures ticked up amid a scare early on in the preparation period ahead of worlds, but with no cases reported, the event has gone forward as planned so far.
"[Riot] met us in the lobby at the first day, and we signed a bunch of stuff before going to our individual rooms," SuperMassive's content manager Tunç Demirçelik said. "We had to stay there for 14 days. We had to take our temperatures twice everyday -- one at morning and one at noon. At first we were doing it by ourselves, but at the third day they informed us that there were two COVID cases in our flight, so from then on, doctors came to our room every day and checked our temperatures themselves."
Throughout the quarantine period, players' main complaints were about the food and internet connection.
"I just sat in my room, played a lot of League of Legends. That was it," Jensen said. "It wasn't really anything special. I didn't like the food too much, but besides that, it was OK. It's a quarantine. We're just there. We had our computers, so we played a lot of League of Legends but not really any interesting stories."
"I liked it, but other teammates, they didn't like it that much," SuperMassive coach Lee "GBM" Chang-seok said. "I liked the food. I liked the rooms. They gave us basically everything that I need. We have eight people here, and six of them, they lost so much weight. I think you can guess why."
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The quarantine period was particularly rough for cigarette smokers, sources told ESPN.
"They were in withdrawal for the first five days," one team staff member said. "We couldn't even open the windows because they said there are a lot of bugs around the hotel."
However, it wasn't doom and gloom for everyone. Some players embraced quarantine. While in self-isolation, they were still able to practice by playing solo queue and go about their day relatively similar to how they would if they weren't in quarantine.
"I enjoyed quarantine," Unicorns of Love mid laner Lev "Nomanz" Yakshin said. "It was probably the best time in my year. It was really good for our team. We relaxed. Every day during bootcamp I would see my teammates' faces. So it was really good to chill [away] from them, just play scrims and be on my own and play solo queue."
"It pretty much is what it is," Legacy Esports jungler Leo "Babip" Romer said. "It kind of went past pretty quickly, but then again, while I was there I was like, 'Ugh how many days left?' After I was like, 'Ah that wasn't too bad.' It's not much different to what we actually do anyway, so just playing all day, no human interaction, there's not much difference. It wasn't bad at all."
The lack of social interaction did take its toll on some players. For these players, there was a dramatic difference between being housed with teammates post-quarantine and living in complete isolation for 14 days.
"Quarantine for me was kind of boring because I enjoy too much being with the guys here. I tend to joke a lot with them and I feel pretty lonely," Rainbow7 jungler Brandon Joel "Josedeodo" Villegas said. "When I'm alone I tend to be like thinking or doing things I'm not used to because I'm not used to being a lonely person. I just wanted it to end so we could be together again."
MAD Lions bot laner Matyáš "Carzzy" Orság echoed this sentiment.
"Right now I'm used to it, but in the beginning it was pretty hard because I hate being alone, and being alone in a room for 14 days was really hard for me," Carzzy said.
The European teams, including MAD Lions, took advantage of the recent popularity of the multiplayer game Among Us to play together online and socialize despite being separated.
"We had some fun playing Among Us with some G2 members, Rogue members, Fnatic members, just EU crew I guess," MAD Lions support Norman "Kaiser" Kaiser said. "That was really fun. With our staff members back in EU too in Madrid. Of course, they had to deal with some time zone issues and stuff like that, waking up at like 5 a.m. to play Among Us with us, that was kind of weird, but it was really fun."