GUANGZHOU, China -- I don't speak their language, but the three syllables of "R-N-G" are all I need to say to get my message across to the people I'm walking beside on my way to the Guangzhou Gymnasium for the third quarterfinal of the League of Legends World Championship.
It's the day the home fans have been waiting for: Royal Never Give Up, led by Chinese esports icon Jian "Uzi" Zi-hao, is playing after topping the so-called Group of Death in the opening round of the tournament. Today, the goal is to beat Fnatic; from there, it's to get to the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing for a magical moment -- an all-Chinese team fighting for the world title.
Outside the venue, vendors crowd the busy streets and groups of women hand out RNG temporary tattoos for the upcoming games. The names "Uzi" and "Xiaohu" are thrown about as the swarm of fans heads toward the entrance. Scalpers are pacing around the front of the gymnasium, too, with a stack of tickets for anyone with enough money to buy one. The prices varied on the time and section of the arena -- some of the cheapest tickets going for around $100 for stadium seating, and the better ones, situated on the floor, going for over $300. Some fans of the League of Legends Pro League and RNG couldn't even get tickets when they went on sale online, as scalpers swept up the brunt of the tickets before the real fans had a chance. Now, minutes before show time, they're attempting to cash in, flaunting the pieces of paper around like they had just hit big on the lottery.
The venue is buzzing. Although RNG's opponent, Fnatic, is popular in China -- most notably the team's ace, Martin "Rekkles" Larsson -- there is no split in the crowd. A few supporters of the European team are here and there, but for almost everyone in the gymnasium, the all-Chinese team -- possibly the best chance the country has ever had at lifting the Summoner's Cup -- is the focus.
When the opening video for the match begins, a teaser of the players talking about the upcoming best-of-five series, the crowd can't contain itself. When Uzi's face appears on the screen, two women behind me shriek in delight; their favorite player is about to take the stage.
For the next hour, every positive move made by RNG was met with a cheer from the fans. Uzi damaged Rekkles even by a single hit point? Cheers. A kill? Cheers. Uzi got another kill? The fans start to chant his name. Anytime Fnatic would grab an edge, the fans would fall silent for a moment before urging RNG to take control back in the game, crying for it to take the next step toward a world title.
The fans were gifted with a performance worth cheering for. Although Fnatic took the third set, RNG held itself in check and came back in the fourth game to take the series by a score of 3-1. Uzi, the fan favorite, matched the Worlds record for kills in a single game with 19 in Game 3 and also set the record for creep score at the tournament. Following the win, he told the crowd he'd done so while suffering from a fever. Uzi gave up his body and pushed it to the limit for the fans, and the fans, hanging on his every breath, responded with complete appreciation.
"There's definitely a lot of pressure on us," RNG's jungler Liu "mlxg" Shi-yu told me after the match. "But, at the same time, the crowd cheering for us really motivates us to play better, and I feel their cheering actually makes us stronger."
If RNG continues to win, those fans will find a way to get even louder.