At least one major eSports league is determined to push forward with in-person finals despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Riot Games has announced that the League of Legends World Championship 2020 will take place in Shanghai between September 25th and October 31st, with the finals held at the new Pudong Soccer Stadium. The developer is promising safety measures, although there are a number of concerns about their effectiveness.
Riot believed that holding the entire tournament in Shanghai rather than multiple cities would “reduce travel” and help “control the show environment.” It also said that early stages would have no in-person audiences, and that an audience for the finals would depend on “local guidelines.” It didn’t say when fans could expect details on possible tickets and safety measures beyond sometime later in the summer.
The company is clearly following the practices of conventional sports that have relied on limited travel and virtual fans to minimize the risk of infections, but that also means it shares some of the same issues. While a single city reduces travel, it doesn’t eliminate travel — teams will have to fly across the planet to participate. There are also no mentions of whether or not teams will live in a “bubble,” how often they’ll be tested for COVID-19, or what happens if players get sick.
This is also assuming enough teams are willing to show up. There may not be much of a tournament if would-be participants decide it’s not worth risking their health to compete.
The company is committed to a return to normality in subsequent years, at least. It expects a full multi-city tour in China in 2021, and plans for North America to host the 2022 championship. It’s so far convinced that 2020 will be a blip — it’s just a question of how large that blip is.