Last night, Stanford came out on top in its “Big Game” against California rivals Berkeley. They finished two touchdowns ahead of the Golden Bears at 45-31. But that wasn’t the only game Berkeley lost to Stanford last night. Before kick-off at Memorial Stadium, the two schools’ collegiate League of Legends teams met in Oakland at the Oracle Center as part of Intel’s Extreme Masters XI competitive gaming tournament.
If the gridiron showdown between the two middling teams was a bit lackluster for anyone who didn’t care about which team would walk home with the rivalry’s storied ax, the competitive gaming variant from earlier in the day was anything but. Wedged between professional LoL matches with $100,000 in prize money at stake, Stanford and Berkeley were supposed to be a bit of exhibition entertainment in-between the main events. In the end, however, the best-of-one series turned out better than anyone could have hoped.
Color commentator Indiana “Froskurinn” Black said before the game got started, “I honestly wish the LPL drafted as well as these two teams drafted for this game.” Stanford and Berkeley were betting on a long, drawn out slugfest with the heroes they chose, choosing to prioritize mid and late game combination plays over early game momentum through single-target pick-offs.
Stanford had taken the lead earlier, drawing first blood and punishing Berkeley in each of the three combat lanes. But the team’s lead in gold and kills was decimated after Berkeley clawed its way back into a team fight in the 20th minute. Despite Stanford’s early success, everything was tied up within seconds.
Twenty minute later, Stanford did almost the same exact thing to Berkeley, nearly tying the game up at 21-21 with only a marginal difference in gold. It’s not just that the game kept going back and forth like this that made it so interesting to watch, but how things kept rubber-banding. Because of the eclectic, team-fight oriented drafts of both schools, each was in a position to reclaim momentum if they were able to pull off a well-timed play—something that seemed to happen time and time again.
I could load this post up with an endless number of other GIFs, each more action-packed and incomprehensible than the last, but the third and final one above really highlights what made the game between Stanford and Berkeley such a delight to spectate.
Berkeley pounce on Stanford after the slightest overreach by the latter, racking up several kills and routing the opposing team. You can see by the end that the Golden Bears are on there way to Stanford’s base ready to lay siege to it and hopefully end the game while the latter is waiting for its players to revive. And that’s exactly what they do, except that Stanford is able to rally just in the nick of time before Berkeley can completely break the enemy base.
In a matter of seconds, Berkeley finds themselves in the exact situation they’d put Stanford in only a minute ago, leaving them open to a counterattack that would eventually cost them the game. It’s the equivalent of if Berkeley had been able to come back in yesterday’s college football game by scoring a late touchdown and then returning an onside kick to score another and tie things up. And it’s also more or less what happened in one of the best matches of the League of Legends World Championship last month, in which underdogs Samsung Galaxy came from behind to win a 72 minute match in the finals against the eventual champions, SK Telecom T1.
The Stanford, Berkeley game never got quite that lopsided, but both games had the benefit of a tough-fought back-and-forth that left fans breathless and enthralled. No one expected much going into the match due to rankings of some of the players, ranging from platinum to diamond. In other words, this was not top-tier talent so why should anyone expect a top-tier match? What both Stanford and Berkeley demonstrated, however, is that skill and talent alone aren’t what make competitive sporting events compelling. You can watch the match in its entirety below.