Tens of thousands of video game players and fans descended on New York this weekend for the semifinals of the League of Legends World Championship, a premier e-sports tournament hosted at Madison Square Garden.
TIME sent photographer Mark Kauzlarich to the event, and to spend time with one of the top teams, Europe’s H2k-Gaming. (The name stands for “hard to kill.”) Kauzlarich embedded with the team as they prepared for the event, explored New York, and competed for the chance to continue to the finals and win $1 million in prize money. H2k was ultimately defeated by South Korean team Samsung Galaxy 3-0 in a best of five matchup.
“South Korea is dominant,” says Kauzlarich, who follows the competitive gaming world. “If H2k won it would have been the first time in many years that a Western team beat a Korean team in a best of five. South Korea has a long history with e-sports, lots of money and infrastructure, players who listen to their superiors and practice more. If you don’t play your part, there are thousands of good players who would step up and take your place.”
While virtually unknown outside of the competitive gaming community, the players are celebrities amongst fans of the game. More than 27 million people worldwide play League of Legends each day, making that a sizable universe. Both nights of the two-day tournament were sold out, with more than 30,000 total tickets sold.
“At 2:30 in the morning, in a nearly-empty Times Square, members of the team were stopped twice by fans who were walking by,” says Kauzlarich. “Dinner, at a Korean barbecue restaurant, was interrupted twice by fans asking for pictures.”
For my first person account at the League of Legends World Championships, click here.