Concerns Surround the Bubble at LoL Worlds 2020

The League of Legends World Championship (Worlds) 2020 will be taking place starting on September 21 and concluding October 31 in Shanghai, China. Global events have had a significant effect on the global LoL Esports scene. Across the world, leagues transitioned to online play or spectator-less stage play for their seasons and playoffs. The pandemic had also resulted in the cancellation of the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) earlier this year.

Despite this, Riot Games announced that they would continue with their plans for Worlds 2020, albeit altered to accommodate the current crisis. Worlds will take place solely in the city of Shanghai. Reportedly, Riot intends to use a bubble system like the one used by the NBA to protect the teams, talent, and staff working Worlds as much as possible. We already covered the positives and negatives of the Bubble system at length in our previous article.

What we do need to discuss is: What happens if the Worlds 2020 Bubble fails.

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What are some Issues that Riot must overcome with its Bubble?

In their announcement, Riot stated:

“Hosting the event in a single city will reduce travel throughout the tournament and give us the ability to more closely control the show environment. We continue to use the guidance from various health organizations and local and national authorities to prioritize safety for our players, fans, and everyone involved with bringing Worlds 2020 to life.”

First up, Riot must first ensure that teams can get to Shanghai. With 24 teams attending, there is at least 120 players alone traveling from countries across the world. With substitutes, coaches, managers, content crew, and other staff members attending, there could easily be a few hundred people who must fly internationally during the pandemic.

Furthermore, about 70 countries have had their international travel bans lifted for entry into China. The USA and many others do not find themselves on this list. While Riot and Tencent specifically might have the leverage to cause exceptions to the rule, there is a high likelihood that if the exceptions are made they will be made for the players and coaches at best and not for the entire entourage that would travel with teams if this was a normal Worlds Championship.

Additionally, everyone will need to go to different quarantine locations after arriving. This shouldn’t be challenging considering Shanghai has already had the 14-day mandatory quarantine in place with government designated locations for taking it. But the locations nor the quarantine “hotels” are viably equipped to handle teams who are likely willing to spend their time scrimming and practicing before the bubble is established.

Riot has yet to announce where the play-ins stage, group stage, and knockout stage of Worlds 2020 will take place in Shanghai. Whatever the locations, Riot must take precautions that the teams can safely reach and play at the venues in competitive conditions. This is especially true for the finals, which will take place at the new Pudong Soccer Stadium. Worlds will be the inaugural event for the venue, which is the new home of the Shanghai SIPG F.C.

Testing the new stadium with this event during these times is already a problematic proposition.

Riot announced that (local guidelines permitting) they intend to allow a live audience at the stadium for the Worlds finals. This seems like a dangerous risk to take given the circumstances. China is relatively stable in covid terms, but this fragile stability is questioned daily as more and more foreigners are returning to China daily since mid-August. By the time Worlds roll around, there might once again be a sharp spike in cases prompting a quick response by local authorities.

As for broadcast talent, many international hosts and commentators will likely operate remotely from a different location. From Worlds 2018, Riot has had the on-screen talent broadcast remotely for the earlier stages. This often requires the talent to work at suboptimal hours. With the difficulties in international travel due to the pandemic, it is unknown if Riot will be able to bring in talent from across the world for Worlds, or if a single region (such as North America’s LCS or Europe’s LEC) will have to provide the on-screen talent for the entire event.

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What are Potential Flaws of the Bubble?

Challenges aside, even if operated to the best of their ability, Riot cannot guarantee that the bubble system will ensure the teams’ and staff’s safety.

There are still many unknown variables surrounding the pandemic, especially with an event of this size (even downscaled). While the bubble will limit outside contact as much as possible, there is no certainty that everyone within the bubble is safe from infection.

If by any chance the bubble fails, or even worse the bubble implodes from within, the damage done could be incalculable. .

First and foremost, lives would be at risk. It would also be harmful to the reputations of Riot Games, Riot’s owner Tencent, and Worlds’ host China. It would also be a massive blow to the budding esports industry to become culpable. Accountability would fall squarely on Riot’s shoulders for proceeding with Worlds 2020. Similar events like The International 2020 have been postponed “indefinitely” for this specific reason. Valve Corporation likely doesn’t want to “bloody” their hands risking an industry breaking event gamble.

However, if Worlds 2020 definitely has to occur, then a bubble system is absolutely the bare minimum that Riot should utilize to guarantee health and safety. All of the plans and preparations might be in vain if only one player or staff is infected causing the cascading domino effect that can ruin everything.

If Worlds 2020 passes without serious issues, then it would be very fortunate for all involved.

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