Cass Marshall, Immortals’ staff writer, shares the details of her behind the scenes trip to Boston to watch the first Immortals NA LCS final.
In my three year career as an esports writer, there are a few moments that have stood out: getting my first check from Riot as a freelancer, being hired as the Immortals staff writer, and heading to Boston to watch the 2017 Summer NA LCS finals.
Up until now I had watched the team from afar from my Toronto home. I had talked to the players over Skype, but I hadn’t experienced getting to see them in action, in person, on stage. Boston, only an hour and a half flight away, was my chance to not only meet the team but hopefully see us take our first championship.
I arrived in Boston a couple of days before the finals. My hotel was a five minute walk away from the TD Garden, so I dropped off my stuff and set out to explore the city. Immediately I spotted the colors of jerseys: the blue of CLG, Immortals teal… and a sea of black and white from TSM fans. Every time I caught eye contact with someone else wearing the black and teal, we’d make eye contact and nod or grin, appreciating the sight of another fan. What can I say? I recognize good taste when I see it.
Later, as I arrived back at the hotel and approached the desk, I heard a familiar call from behind me in the lobby: TSM! TSM! TSM!. I glanced at the gaggle of TSM fans waiting near the doors, and they waved at me. I waved back and grinned. The TSM and IMT rivalry has always seemed like it’s lighthearted, all in good fun. Sure, TSM drew the chants and the screams, but what people really wanted to see was a good series.
On Saturday, before the Dignitas v Counter Logic Gaming match, I headed backstage to meet with the rest of the organization. Everywhere the team goes, the rest of Immortals follow to provide support and handle logistics.
As the team finished their break, they headed out of the catering room t line up for photos, smiling and waving at the long lines of fans. A murmur of excitement started, and then some cheers that quickly turned into that familiar chant:
TSM! TSM! TSM TSM! TSM! TSM!
I stood with Robert Yip, the team’s Sport Psychology and Performance Coach, watching the guys file in. They laughed and waved the TSM chants off – being the underdog is nothing new to them. Before long, they were standing shoulder to shoulder with fans as the Riot cameras clicked away. I have to admit, I was impressed at their resiliency—then again, the team’s stood up to worse before.
Saturday’s match between Counter Logic Gaming and Dignitas was quiet. Boston crowds are notoriously reserved, and the games hardly had a chance to build momentum. It was a quick 3-0 series, with CLG tearing through DIG. The TD Garden was half full, and the match was one sided, but it was still amazing to be there in person and have a chance to wander the venue floors.
The venue was like a little slice of heaven for for esports fans. The faces of the top four teams were displayed on every monitor, and the crowds of fans out in the halls were buzzing with excitement. There were stands set up where you could meet streamers or browse a selection of jerseys. One table had a selection of iconic League weapons laid out: you just had to choose one, strike a pose, and get captured in a 3D photo shoot.
On Saturday night, I headed out to a seafood restaurant with the entire team and staff. We laughed and caught up on things; it was my first time meeting the gang, and everyone is so ridiculously nice. It was awesome to be with the team, feel like part of the organization in a way I hadn’t before. Cody Sun and Stunt split a massive pan, sizzling hot, full of scallops and lobster. Olleh snagged a tail, then stared at it before admitting he had no idea how to crack it open. After a brief struggle with a pair of metal tong-like instruments, we managed to figure it out as a team effort. We talked about everything but the upcoming games themselves: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the players’ parents, the Immortals identity, Boston seafood…
Later that night, back at my hotel, I slept like a rock. I showed up at the Garden early enough to watch the EU games, but I couldn’t concentrate. I was too focused on what would come next, and decided to wander around and enjoy the venue before the final showdown started. The TD Garden was packed with fans, and when a group of fans wearing IMT jerseys saw me, they stopped and cheered.
I stopped to talk with them. They were all Immortals fans, and they had scrimped and saved in order to afford the gas and hotel in Boston.
“We came all the way from New York.” one of them, a guy named Josh, said, holding up his hand to show the IMT bracelet on his wrist. “We want to see the team win so bad.”
“You think they can?” A slim girl a few paces back in a Teemo hat asked skeptically.
“I believe in IMT.” he shot back, and he and his friends started chanting IMT! IMT! IMT! as we exchanged high fives and fist bumps.
They had been watching the NA LCS for years, and started following Immortals after the first roster was assembled. Josh and his friends had been a big fan of the initial 17-1 run, but they stuck around because they liked the organization and trusted in Noah Whinston, our CEO and co-founder.
“I’m tired of the same old C9 and TSM and C9 and TSM.” Josh said, shrugging.
“And Counter Logic Gaming, I guess.” His friend added.
“Sure. I want to see new blood, you know? I want everything to change.” Josh spread his arms out.
An Immortals win would certainly break that wheel and create a new dynasty in North America.
Every time I stopped to talk to an Immortals fan, I got an awesome story. Some people had travelled from the other side of the States or even internationally. Even when they didn’t expect Immortals would defeat TSM, they felt like they had to be here.
“I just want a good series.” one girl confided in me, holding up her sign with “Marry me Flame” scrawled across it. “I don’t care if we lose, I just don’t want anyone to laugh at us.”
“They won’t.” I said, and I was confident. After dinner with the team the night before, where everyone had been calm and cool headed, I had faith . If they were suffering from a case of nerves, they didn’t show it. “We’ll put up a series.”
As Immortals took the stage, lining up to be announced one by one to the crowd, I felt my heart skip a beat. I have been part of the organization for nearly a year, and watching the team develop from our disappointing Spring finish to here was an experience that made every second of travel completely worth it.
After game one, where TSM took a convincing win, everyone in the press pit glanced at each other. They were expecting the beginning of a 3-0 stomp, where TSM would take that momentum and run with it. We swung things around in game two, tying up the series in a brawl of a game. “We have a series on our hands!” the caster desk shouted. Excitement started to mount in the crowd.
The next two games were painful to watch, but Immortals never gave up. In game three, the team took a fight near the Elder Dragon that TSM managed to win and capitalize on, and in game four they managed to survive a 10k gold lead thanks to Biofrost’s Rakan play. As I watched our lead slip away, my heart pounded and my stomach churned. I wanted us to win so badly, but TSM relentlessly marched forward.
After they seized the lead, they won fight after fight, and managed to take the series. I held out hope until the very end, when the nexus dropped and the pyrotechnics display started down below. In some ways, the win didn’t mean a lot – both teams are still going to Worlds. On the other hand, I desperately wanted to see Immortals triumph. I wanted a new champion’s banner to be hung in the LCS studios. On a personal level, I wanted to see our team take it all.
In the press conference after the game, TSM were casual. “We’re just here to pick up the trophy.” Doublelift said. “I think DIG and IMT actually had a real shot at winning… but after this, I dunno, it’s pretty devastating for both of them this split. It’s gonna be a while.”
I’m not so sure that Doublelift is right. This weekend, I was amazed at the energy of the entire Immortals team.
As I left the venue, I found myself wandering and talking with friends. Eventually, I was deep in Boston’s downtown, surrounded by museums, bars and clubs. The reality of the loss sunk in, and I sighed. As I started to punch in my information to call an Uber back to the hotel, a car raced by. Someone leaned out the back window in a blur of black and teal, howling “IMMORTALS!” I waved back, hollering at the rapidly retreating cab.
Of course I’m disappointed in the finals, but the experience rejuvenated my faith in the team and my love of the game. Leaving my home city to come watch the games was worth it, even though we didn’t triumph in the end . There was so much joy in finding other Immortals fans, and getting to connect with the organization on a more personal level. In a very real sense, being among so many fellow fans in an arena dedicated to celebrating our passion was like coming home. Despite the loss, those fans aren’t going to abandon the faith. We’re looking forward to Worlds, where we know our boys are going to fight hard to advance.