It is eight forty-five in the morning in New York City. I am walking across the street from Madison Square Garden as a gust of wind blows through the buildings that extend so high that I cannot tell if they are actually brushing the surface of the clouds, or if it only appears to be that way. The light drizzling is redirected and it feels as if slivers of ice are piercing through the admittedly thin sweater that was thrown over my button-down. I complain, and my best friend, John, laughs at my shivering Floridian self as we approach a somewhat scattered group that we are assume are our coworkers for the weekend.

Awkward hellos and a round of handshakes are shared as I scramble to imprint names into my brain; they are being rapid-fired and I am sure that I will struggle to recall many of them later. Collectively, we are then guided through a dimly-lit corridor that showcases several pieces of art, both concept and final, before crossing the threshold of the Riftwalk. A silky voice floats up from a hidden speaker,

“Welcome to Summoner’s Rift.”

Before me is architecture that I have only seen from a birds-eye perspective, but is familiar no less. It is the sanctuary of the League of Legends Southern base, the very corner of the map that lingers just beyond the blue nexus, and it is one of four photo opportunities fans can participate in. Intricately designed props lie just to the side, opposite of where a handful of exquisite replicas glitter beneath the lighting that must have taken hours to set up. A pixie-like young woman working for the company in charge of technology, Sasha, jokes that the replicas are not to be used as props but, while subdued laughter bubbles through the group, I am already turning my attention to the bullet-time Baron Nashor photo op where a translucent fog pools at its base.

I am overwhelmed.

The next hour is spent in quiet conversation. I try to explain how League of Legends works to a girl who is clearly disinteresed. I recall experiences from past events to the photographer named George that roams throughout the Riftwalk who, in turn, shares some stories from his own career. As we wait for attendees to trickle through, I speak with a Riot Games employee about what we like and dislike about the current eSports scene; I learn that he was grateful for Reginald’s blatant and public opinions, as messy of a situation as it was, as it pushed Riot to move forward. One of the volume settings for a speaker just behind us malfunctions, and what was previous a soothing voice is now a thing of nightmares as “Welcome to Summoner’s Rift” threatens to blow out my ear drums and scramble my brain.

This happens four more times before the issue is resolved.

When it comes time for traffic to pick up, we diverge to approach our different stations for several more hours. I begin the routine that will get me through closing: Lift up a single hand with four fingers raised.

“Alright, you will get four different poses,” I declare a little too loudly, “The camera is down here.”

Some eyes follow my hand as it guides them to look down into the lens that lingers just inches from my hip; others continue to stare forward. I bring my hand up,

“One, two, three!” I press the smooth plastic button that triggers the camera through what can only be described as technology magic.

This is repeated three more times per person, or group.

At some point Peter, our team lead, walks up to me to inform me that the girl I had tried, to no avail, to explain League of Legends to had decided to walk off the job and I would be responsible to both direct the flow of traffic while taking pictures of what felt like thousands of people.

This is when I learn that I am very, very small.

Due to my own personal shortcomings, traffic bifurcates. Many sidle through the gap my body leaves when I have to turn away from newcomers to take a photo. Even as I straighten my back to stand as tall as possible, planting my hands on my hips and spreading my legs a little farther apart in a ridiculous attempt to widen my stance, there are those that look down on the short blonde with a just as short haircut and even softer features. They see someone that can be sweet-talked or ignored.

For a while, it works. One slips by, then two. Sometimes people refuse to even ask to be let through, and they all but physically nudge me to the side so they can closely inspect the before and after models of Gangplank.

This is when I teach myself how to assert myself. I put myself directly in front of a man that towers over me and point to my right with as much flourish as I can manage. I tell him that the correct path is in front of the first photo op towards a statue of Poppy, where it then loops around. He flashes a grin that would be charming in most other scenarios and tells me that he only wishes to step over to the Baron Nasher photo op. I keep my expression neutral but set my jaw as I reiterate the flow of traffic. An unfamiliar ring of authority rings in my voice, and he finally relents with an expression of dismay, but I know that this will be a scenario to be repeated a dozen more times before my shift ends.

This is when I learn how beautiful teamwork can be.

A Rioter by the tag Akimitsu begins to brainstorm with myself and a member from one of the other companies contracted by Riot. One of us suggests bringing in retractable belt dividers that will guide newcomers through, but another brings up the concern of it coming off as off-putting and hostile. Someone suggests arrows created from duct or electrical tape; we remind him that people frequently ignore the Do Not Touch signs in front of the weapon replicas so there was little faith held that people would follow arrows on the floor. More ideas are bounced around before we settle on a comprimise: We will use a belt divider to partially block off the area I am meant to be body-blocking while Akimitsu acts as a bouncer of sorts, and I fill the remaining space with my body in a way that still allows me to focus on taking photos.

A system is created that allows the rest of the day to run smoothly.

Saturday is significantly more hectic.

No longer am I surrounded by hues of blue and purple that are mitigated by flashes of red or green. We are two workers short so I am taken to Madison Square Garden, a glaring contrast of white and silver where I am scolded by security for attempting to use the line marked for staff only. I am staff but, with a lack of credentials marking me as such, I am stuck behind a family that wishes to argue their way into bringing their bottles of Dasani into the center before storming off angrily. A coworker jests about first world problems but whatever response I give is already forgotten as it passes through my lips.

It is a hostile beginning to a day that has already thrown me off-balance, as I am being taken away from the team and friends I have made at the Riftwalk. What was fun and full of smiles is now only a part of the past as I follow a coworker to an unfamiliar station of white tables that are tucked into a shadowed corner, feeling a dark, heavy knot settle into the pit of my stomach like an iron weight. No longer is there a cushiony system that has been proven to work. No longer can I rely on the small team I had familiarized myself with. Everything is different, and it is the biggest day of the event.

I am anxious.

A Rioter known as Zwill greets me. His grin is uplifting but there is a tension around his eyes that tells me that he is facing his own concerns that would later be revealed during a lull. It is explained that our duties primarily include making sure people use common sense while creating their cheer boards, meaning it is our job to make sure attendees don’t spam #FreeTyler1 or specify what parts of their bodies are out for Harambe. It sounds simple, so the knot loosens enough for me to join in on the amicable conversation that fills the air between us as we wait for the crowd to pour in.

At some point I am asked what I enjoy about attending these events as staff, and I am honest. I explain that I mostly wish to provide representation for the transgender community, and to let others know that they are not as alone as I know they feel they are. The next half hour is spent discussing how important it is to have both nameless people on the floor and icons on the stage to bring diversity to what sometimes seems to be a very cis white man’s scene. I am asked by Judith, another coworker, to explain what it means to be a transwoman or man and how different the transitioning processes can be. Someone questions about my sexuality, wondering if I consider myself to be a gay man, and I feel the heat flare in my cheeks as I shrug with an answer of unsureness. Zwill rescues me from my moment of discomfort by bringing the conversation back to the need for more representation.

I am more than a little grateful.

Much like the hype meme from Spongebob Squarepants, once two thirty p.m. rolls around there is a flood of people that make conversation difficult by this point. Fans as far as my eyes could see filled the lobby on Madison Square Garden, their incoherent chatter a dull roar that is consistent for the rest of the evening. Paper cuts begin to litter by palms as I have to take away signs which are inappropriate for a League of Legends Twitch stream, and as I distribute blank signs to those just walking up to the table. I carefully arrange an array of washable markers so that everyone can use the colors they wish to use.

To say that I am blown away by the creativity of the fans would be a gross understatement. There are those who scrawl ‘#H2KWIN’ across their boards, but just as many took their time with carefully creating color gradations and impressive designs you wouldn’t otherwise think were possible with generic markers. It is exciting to watch people bring humorous, if sometimes tasteless, ideas to life, ideas that they clearly formulated during their time spent waiting in a continuously growing line. There are some who come with no clue what to write, but there is no time to allow them to stand at the table and brainstorm.

A boy who looks to be about my age looks up, face cinched tight.

“I don’t know what to say,” he mutters with dismay.

He is wearing a Royal Never Give Up jersey, the only one I will see that weekend. In a flash of inspiration I flip the poster around so that it is facing my direction and pop the cap off of a black marker. In just a few moments I have written ‘Team SaltyMid’ through the use of the Team SoloMid’s Circular T logo and the Twitch salt emoji. I’m pretty proud of myself, but the kid is laughing even harder than I am and pulls the poster away to write ‘#RIPtheNAdream’ underneath what I have drawn. As a Team SoloMid fan it is a bittersweet moment, but our shared laughter is loud enough to carry over the nearly overwhelming sounds of the crowd and, together, we both scribble along the edges of the board while bantering.

In that moment, we are more than just the jerseys we wear on our backs.

We are League of Legends fans.

Our eyes lock once more as he backs away from the table. Our smiles are identical. We will never see one another again and, if we do, we will not recognize each other but, in those smiles, we recognize our shared moment together.

Another attendee is confused as to what to write. I use one of the free temporary tattoos as reference to draw the Samsung Galaxy logo, then carefully write out the Hangul for “Pai ting.” On others, it is “Dae han min guk” – a popular chant to show your support for South Korea on an international stage.

I later realize that my reference material for the SSG logo was backwards.

A dozen paper cuts and just as many marker stains later, the belt divider is drawn to signify that the cheer board station is closed. Exhausted and sore, we are commended for our hard work. We go out as a group for Korean fried chicken, where a coworker learns the hard way that Koreans take their spice seriously. He sputters and reaches for his water while we snicker, passing over one of the dishes with pickled radishes that would help ease the lingering burn. I try leechee soju for the first time to discover that it is dangerously delicious. In good company and high spirits that come from a long day of hard work with friendly chemistry, we share stories of other events we have worked. We gush about Gilmore Girls. We beam and laugh hard enough to risk the cleanliness of our underwear when one of us reenact some of our favorite moments on the job.

Another brisk wind not unlike the one that passed through upon our meeting marks the end of our adventure together. Unlike our meeting, however, we are not strangers making awkward small talk.

We are friends.

It is one fifty-five in the afternoon in Los Angeles. The air is warm and balmy as I send out final text messages before shutting down my phone; I had been experiencing troubles with charging it and needed to ensure it was alive when I had to order an Uber back to where I was staying. There is a group of individuals dressed in all-black business casual wear that sends the silent message that we are together, through we have yet to introduce ourselves when Peter approaches. He takes attendance and remembers that I go by Sian, and not the legal name used on the agency list.

I am elated.

The process is the same as before so I pay little attention to the tour as we are guided as a group through the Riftwalk. Sasha recognizes me and we hang back just a tad for idle conversation; she is wearing orange and pink mirrored sunglasses and I want a pair of my own. The Riftwalk is set up in a significantly more convenient fashion: It is a tunnel-like tent that does not allow for any confusion of traffic flow, and belt dividers are organized in a snake-like pattern to prevent bottle-necking. I smile, knowing that I was the one that suggested a setup like that.

We are taken back over to the first aid tent where we are given time to get to know one another before we are assigned our stations. I learn that one of the other contracted staff members, Michael, is working on a script for an eSports-themed production; he asks that I bring my experience to the table to assist with creating a character he has been having trouble with. Alex, someone I have worked at a previous event with, takes a moment to catch up before Peter returns with our stations. Unlike the Semifinals, I am not to work in the Riftwalk or the cheer board section. Alex, Neary and I are directed to the Marriott where we are expected to handle registration for VIPs and those who have tickets to the viewing party.

“They all have played at least three games in the last day,” Peter declares, gesturing at our small ragtag team. I stare in shock – I haven’t played League of Legends in at least five weeks due to work. I immediately begin to panic, wondering if they would grill us on our knowledge.

“Sweet, come on in,” is Fat Daniel’s only response, waving us over to the table where an indiscernible number of bright orange wristbands are strewn across the table. There is no quiz, and there are no questions regarding our knowledge on the current meta.

More introductions ensue and it is only a matter of minutes before my panic is replaced by an excited buzzing that spreads to my toes. I am standing in a tightly-packed room with people who are not just League of Legends fans, but work to create one of my favorite scenes in the eSports world. These are the individuals responsible for fueling the passion that drives an entire community. I feel like a peasant among kings – kings that are slouched in hotel chairs and sipping on water like any other normal human being, completely unaware of the blonde boy tucked away in a corner as he fawns in quietude.

Alex asks about the application process for Riot Games, as he will be seeking out career opportunities once he graduates college. It is slow, given that it is a Friday before six p.m., so Fat Daniel and Joe (I admit, regretfully, that his tag escapes me) take the time to educate him on what is a surprisingly arduous application process. Shy, I only listen in silence while arranging the wristbands into a neat grid-like pattern; I almost feel unworthy to ask any questions, given my lack of proper training and education in any particular field.

Joe catches my eye and pulls me into another conversation, one I am much more comfortable with. He asks about my experience in eSports, including experience outside of League of Legends, and I explain that I write as much as I can with my current workload. We poke fun at Alex’s messy pile of wristbands, which looks almost like a scattered haystack in comparison to my own, and it is not long before I no longer feel like an outsider treading on hallowed ground. Similarly to the moment with the boy at Madison Square Garden, we are more than what we are wearing on our backs. We are not Riot and contracted brand ambassadors.

We are passionate about League of Legends.

It becomes easier to smile and laugh and crack jokes as the day wears on. Someone teases me for my inability to fasten a wristband around an attendee’s wrist, which only causes my fingers to fumble even further. Eventually, with a calming breath, I snap the plastic lock in place and motion towards the three iPads lined up along the wall.

“You will want to register your wristband, which you can either do by accessing one of the kiosks along the wall or by going to on your own time,” I explain in a tone that, while not bored, tells a story of how I had been repeating this spiel for hours. I continue to explain how the Riftwalk’s scanners will work in tandem with the registered wristband to send attendees information and the pictures from their photo ops; I am sure to emphasize on how blown away I am by the Baron Nashor setup.

At some point towards the end of the night Peter comes up to scold us for not taking our breaks and, as a result, Alex and I are forced onto hour-long breaks to make up for our lack of thirties and fifteens. We are told that Riot Games has provided food for staff outside of the Riftwalk, so we make our way downstairs and across the courtyard to the staff entrance. It is an awkward placement that has us carefully navigating around dozens of wires that squirm along the concrete and around the plant fixtures but, after some clumsy first moments, we quickly make our way through to the Riftwalk and find our way towards the very back of our part of the venue.

I am blown away.

Past events with catering usually had the typical kind of backstage food you see in movies: Sandwich platters, water coolers filled with mostly-melted ice that have soda cans and bottles of water floating around, some various bags of chips, and maybe some questionably waxy-looking food. It is understandable – there are several people to feed and it can become very expensive to worry much on quality.

Riot apparently had no such concerns, as we are greeted with the sight and smell of what is very easily the best food I have ever had. Different types of salad are placed to the left of mashed potatoes, which are just to the left of roasted zucchini and carrots. An obnoxiously huge fan of donuts, the cutely decorated Halloween donuts do not fail to catch my eye.

I am suddenly ravenous, but I take heed and only scoop up what I know my rather small stomach can handle; it would be nothing short of a shame to waste anything or take too much. We are directed towards the AV tent for reasons left unsaid, where blue lights and a disco ball clash with the sportsball game playing on one of the several monitors. Alex and I sit quietly together to eat our dinners, and I cannot help but feel like an outcast in that moment – uninvited, even. I am quick to scarf down my food to rush out of the almost oppressive atmosphere of the AV tent; I wish to reunite with the people that have made me felt welcomed and appreciated.

Zwill is lingering around a bush as I walk by with the donut I am tearing apart with my fingers to avoid getting any chocolate filling on my carefully made up face. We fist-bump and take a moment from our busy evening to say our hellos. While we catch up I offer some of my donut, as there were very few left, though he declines. I ask if the issue he faced from the semis had resolved itself, and he cheerfully (Or, rather, his response is first and foremost one of undisguised relief) confirms that everything had been fixed. The corners of his eyes crinkle with a jovial smile.

When we part ways, I try to not make it obvious that my break was technically over five minutes ago.

At the end of our shift, Fat Daniel tells Peter that he wants to work with the same team as today. He commends us on our work.

I am proud.

The following day begins much sooner, at nine o’clock sharp. I am wearing another button down with a sweater over it – a decision I come to regret within the next hour. We each carry a two-dozen package of Arrowhead water bottles across LA Live to the AV tent. Even though it is still mid-morning, the sun is already beating down on my black-clad figure and I struggle with forcing my muscles, which are only accustomed to computer work, to keep the bottles level on my shoulder.

Because it is still too early to open registration, Alex and I are tasked with handing out free jelly bracelets to those waiting in line. Some are black. Some are green with a reversible purple side. Some say ‘ok’ or ‘worth’ while others read ‘I ♥ Teemo.’ I skip and run and twirl beneath the unrelenting sun, racing back and forth along the line and cheering with fans to get them excited for the opening of the Riftwalk. Once I have given out fistfuls of bracelets I throw my wrist up into the air with flourish and pause in my bouncing around to ask if everyone has already registered their wristbands. When some respond with “No” I make sure to stop for a brief PSA that reminds them where to register and why it is important to get it done (Mostly, it’s to get your pictures from the photo ops).

The next two hours are spent in a similar manner. I run up and down the lines with my bucket of treasures, stopping now and then to chat with the attendees. One of them is wearing a Team SoloMid sweater with faded Dyrus lettering across the back, so I give him a little bit of extra swag and we take a minute to discuss Dyrus’s recent endeavors into working as an analyst since his retirement – namely, how it seems that he has a lack of enthusiasm towards being on the segment desk.

“He needs his own shoutcaster,” the sweater-wearing fan jests.

By the time I am pulled away to return to the registration area, I have sweated away a fair amount of my makeup and I am out of breath. The muscles in my thighs quiver from the sudden burst of prolonged activity.

I am wearing nothing but smiles for the rest of the day.

Fat Daniel and Joe look genuinely pleased to see us as we step through the door. I promise to Peter that I will make sure everyone takes their breaks as he leaves, and Alex and I get to work. We fold more blue ponchos with the World Championship 2016 logo stamped on the front than we can count. We were informed the day before that a previous Riot-organized event saw rain, so they made these ponchos just in case. Of course, this is Los Angeles so the only rain seen that weekend was a light drizzling that lasted all of fifteen minutes – we had to devise a plan that would make people take them.

We decide to slip the ponchos into the gift bags that are given out to those who have registered for the outdoor viewing party. Fat Daniel, who had been the one most eager to hand out as many of the ponchos as possible, cracks a toothy grin while nodding in approval. Later, Peter will laugh when we describe the decision-making process as a sneaky maneuver, rather than a matter of practicality as it actually was.

Another system is created. While Joe and Alex fold up the remaining ponchos, I step up onto a chair and start pulling the bags off of the shelves to fill the remaining space with the blue plastic garment. It is an unending process – for every bag I fill, one is given away to a guest. I struggle to keep up with the demand but, thankfully, we never run completely empty.

Traffic eventually slows to a crawl with the start of the tournament, so we take a stack of ponchos and grab an extra iPad to load up LoL Esports, leaning it against the pile as a makeshift stand. Fat Daniel shows me the new viewer stream, which is a second version of the tournament with casters that more carefully explain the play-by-plays in a way that is friendlier to those who are new to both League of Legends and eSports. I mention that it would actually be helpful to have something similar on the main stream – to have information pop-ups and player tidbits displayed on the screen – as few are actually aware of this alternate stream existing and it would be exceptionally helpful even to those who know the game but are still fresh to the competitive side of things. He takes the suggestion in stride, and points out the stage’s outstanding floor display.

I point out, with good intentions, that it is very similar to what Valve does with the stage during The International. Fat Daniel makes something of a self-deprecating joke and I wonder if I injured his pride with a thoughtless observation.

Together, in an empty room, the five of us gather around that small iPad to watch SK Telecom T1 fight for their reign as champions against Samsung Galaxy. We are no longer worker bees buzzing with activity to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible, working tirelessly to keep the attendees satisfied. No more are we thinking about our future employment.

As we are seated in a tight semi-circle, we are cheering and clapping and teetering on the edges of our seats with our light-up thunder sticks.

We are fervent.

We are fans.

Working with Riot Games for the League of Legends World Championship has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was given the opportunity to not only meet the people that work behind the scenes to bring these events to life but, for the first time, I was able become a part of it. Even if my part was small, I was still a part of an industry that has had me captivated for years. My gratitude is unending.

Thank you to everyone who made these last few weekends as memorable as they were.

Thank you to the fans that spared their attention to have conversation while you waited in line, or made posters.

Thank you to the other contracted workers for being the skills and labor that brought Worlds to life.

Thank you to the Rioters who made us feel welcomed and appreciated at your event.

This truly was an unforgettable experience.

About The Author

Sr. Esports Writer

Connor is a self-proclaimed Star Wars historian, Fatal Frame enthusiast and crazy cat lady that's fascinated by the Kpop mashups on YouTube. Professional gaming is something that's fascinated him ever since he was a wee lad, especially when it came to fighting games, so now he rambles on about it in the form of articles that use way too many commas.