SEOUL, South Korea -- Thirteen minutes into the fifth game of the League of Legends World Championship at the brand new League Champions Korea Arena at LoL Park, Cloud9 jungler Robert "Blaber" Huang decided to start Rift Herald. He was immediately spotted by the members of DetonatioN FocusMe, who rotated up for a fight.
Soon, the favorite team C9 was engaged in a near-disastrous battle, and one of the most beloved voices in South Korean casting, OGN's Jeon Yong-jun, known as "Caster Jun," was beside himself.
"DFM, DFM, DFM!" Jun and his casting partners Kim Dong-jun and Lee "CloudTemplar" Hyun-woo screamed, invoking the nickname of DetonatioN FocusMe. If the C9 members had somehow been able to hear the South Korean caster's chant through their headphones, they may have mistaken it for the well-known "TSM" rallying cries that echo through the North American LCS Arena back at the team's home in Los Angeles. All day, the casters were highly entertained by the matches, and brought an infectious energy, even if you couldn't understand a single word of Korean.
As soon as Caster Jun walked out onto the stage to open the LCK Arena for its first official event, a new era had begun in a new home, even though his fate is uncertain. Starting next year, Riot Korea will broadcast the LCK rather than endemic South Korean broadcast companies OGN and SPOTV, and Caster Jun's future in the League of Legends has yet to be announced. For now, though, he's the passionate voice echoing throughout the debut of Riot's PC bang and LCK Arena at LoL Park, and kicking off worlds in classic fashion.
Although most see the League of Legends World Championship play-in stage as a test run for the main event in Busan next week, there was still a bit on the line for Riot Games on the opening day of play-ins. They wanted to show off their new arena while also ensuring a smooth broadcast day from the new venue.
As a North American whose first language is English, and whose Korean is awful, it's difficult to get a true sense of how the South Korean public feels about the upcoming broadcast swap for their native broadcast. But if the first day of games at the new LoL Park venue was any indication, fans are enthusiastic about the new space, which is easily accessible by subway via Jonggak Station and in a central area of the city. Some fans arrived three hours early simply to tour the area and visit the merchandise store, where the current iteration of Riot Games' worlds jacket was selling well.
There's a lot to like about LoL Park whether you're a player or an attendee. It's a nice place to simply relax, maybe sit down and do some work, or play a few matches yourself. Amenities include a café, well-equipped PC bang, comfortable player green rooms that visiting players couldn't stop raving about and heated toilet seats in the bathrooms.
Even with all of its splendor of a relatively successful opening day, the shadow of what the LCK will look like next year was still in the back of my mind as I toured LoL Park. Small details -- like the neatly rolled thundersticks placed in the cupholder of every seat -- reminded me of a prior LCK experience with either OGN or SPOTV. With no broadcast announcements as of yet and likely none on the horizon until after worlds ends, I can't help but wonder what an esports event in South Korea would be like without Caster Jun and his unique, electrifying presence. Even at the LoL Run 5k event two days prior, Caster Jun was the star of the show from the moment he arrived, and bested the other casters' times in the race itself.
Before the opening-day matches began, Caster Jun graced us with his presence several times -- his introduction practice was broadcast in the media room. At one point an editor looked up and said, "Oh. The Korean hype man." as he's known in the West since his introductory rallying cries the last time worlds came to Seoul in 2014. Each iteration since has been slightly different, with varying flourishes, sharp heel turns in shiny dress shoes, or sweeping through the main entrance doors, despite the fact they were opened for him.
Whatever the future holds for the LCK broadcast, I thought in that moment, I really hope Caster Jun is a part of it.