Multiple sources have confirmed to ESPN that League of Legends developer Riot Games is in talks to hold the 2020 League of Legends World Championship in a single-city, bubble format while allowing the event to take place as other traditional sports leagues, such as the NBA, are doing.
The bubble system, which is designed to limit contact with outsiders to prevent the contraction and spread of the coronavirus, would bring the 24 qualified teams for the 2020 world championship to Shanghai, China, weeks prior to the beginning of the tournament, where they would all be quarantined in the same hotel. From there, the teams would compete from a centralized location for the duration of the tournament.
Riot's initial plan to hold a six-city event in China for the 10th year of the world championship has been nixed due to the current global pandemic. Regardless of whether the bubble system occurs or plans change, sources said China is expected to also receive the 2021 world championship to execute on the initial plans Riot had for 2020.
North America, which was slated to host the 2021 world championship, will have the hosting duties pushed back a year and is expected to be the setting for the 2022 edition of the competition, sources said.
The discussions are ongoing and occurring as the host country itself works to properly protect against the spread of COVID-19.
On Thursday, the Chinese government issued a cancellation of all international sporting events for 2020 due to the pandemic, but that ruling should not affect the League of Legends event, sources told ESPN.
China's announcement, reported by The Associated Press on Thursday, affects all sports events except for trials for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing and Zhangjiakou, but sources confirmed that League of Legends and esports in general do not fall under the sports designation for the country.
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The League of Legends World Championship is set to take place in China this fall, though dates for the event had not been provided because of ongoing worldwide struggles with containing COVID-19. The event final is scheduled to take place at Shanghai Stadium, with Riot Games representatives saying after worlds in 2019 that 2020 was supposed to be the biggest-ever for League of Legends, combining the scale of the game's popularity in China with the 10-year anniversary of League's world championship.
In 2017, the world championship brought 45,000 fans to Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, with scalpers outside the venue selling tickets for upward of $1,000, according to previous ESPN reporting. Shanghai Stadium seats 56,000 people, and Riot planned to use as much of that space as possible this year to break its attendance record.
Chinese teams have won the League of Legends World Championship for the past two years, with Invictus Gaming winning in 2018 in FunPlus Phoenix taking the title in 2019. The 2017 final in China featured South Korean squads Samsung Galaxy and SK Telecom T1, with Samsung Galaxy winning in a 3-0 sweep.
The novel coronavirus was first categorized in late 2019 in Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China. It has resulted in more than 4,600 deaths in the country, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and spread to more than 180 countries or regions.
The U.S. is the most widely affected country in the world with more than 3 million confirmed cases and nearly 133,000 deaths as of Thursday. Globally, more than 550,000 people have died as a result of COVID-19.
The pandemic had previously led to Riot Games canceling the Mid-Season Invitational, the other main international event on the League of Legends calendar, and making changes to the seeding for the world championship.
"We are totally committed to delivering the biggest spectacle we've ever produced in China to celebrate our sport's 10-year anniversary," Riot said in a statement regarding that April announcement. "While we must remain nimble with our plans, we are eager to celebrate everything that we love about League of Legends with a memorable Worlds 2020."