Las Vegas has been known throughout its history for its marquee headliners. The Rat Pack, Wayne Newton, and Penn and Teller all dominate the valley's history, the latter two still entertaining millions each year. Now the city can add Jimmy "MrBeast" Donaldson and Tyler "Ninja" Blevins to its list of headliners that brought the house down on the Las Vegas Strip.
This past weekend, Amazon Prime Gaming's Crown Channel hosted the Ultimate Crown tournament, pitting the "Ultimate Creator" against the "Ultimate Gamer." Taking place at one of the Las Vegas Strip's most iconic locations, the Luxor Las Vegas, fans from all over descended upon the HyperX Arena to see which team would reign supreme.
Las Vegas isn't a stranger to gaming events. Capcom has hosted its annual Street Fighter Capcom Cup here, while Amazon in 2019 brought an Apex Legends celebrity showcase to the same HyperX Arena. Until the pandemic took over the world, Icelandic developer CCP Games hosted an annual EVE Online gathering, EVE Vegas on the Strip, bringing MMORPG fans from around the world to the desert to plan wars, commiserate on ships lost and much more. The Evolution Championship Series, the fighting game community's annual premier event has taken place in Las Vegas for over a decade. Gaming events and Las Vegas are becoming as synonymous with each other as the city and cheap buffets (which, by the way, they aren't so cheap anymore).
This felt different, though. As one of the first real marquee gaming events to come out of the pandemic, seeing one of esports' top draws, Riot's League of Legends, emblazoned on the big screen in front of a crowd of raucous fans intent on seeing their favorite content creators duke it out for bragging rights (as well as a huge chunk of change for charity), as a local it was fantastic to feel the city alive again.
It's not like there haven't been events in Las Vegas since the pandemic restrictions started to ease. DICE took place earlier this year, while CES limped along as new variants of the virus kept people from feeling too comfortable to travel. This was different. The energy in the area was palpable, oozing from every fan as the teams on stage put on a show.
The Ultimate Crown event was a way to bring awareness to the upcoming Amazon Prime Days happening this week, and pop-up events in Los Angeles gave some players the chance to come out and witness MrBeast and Ninja battle it out in person. However, despite the marketing reasons why the HyperX Arena was on figurative fire Saturday night, fans across the arena roared with excitement as the teams took the stage.
Ninja, for his part, put together a team of League of Legends players, including one he described as a literal God of the game, Doublelift. Joining those two were Tyler1, Sapnap and Ludwig. MrBeast's team consisted of some recognizable content creators, including OTK's Mizkif, LCS vet Voyboy, Yassuo, and Emiru.
Many, myself included, figured the best of three event would go Ninja's way rather convincingly, given the League talent on his team. Yet as the players took their first clicks in Summoner's Rift, Beast's team came out swinging. The energy of the arena was perfectly transferred to the players on stage, feeding off of the crowd. Within the first 19 minutes of the first game a total of 24 kills had taken place, most by MrBeast's team.
It was a situation where it looked as though a combination of overconfidence by Ninja's squad as well as the team play of MrBeast took over the arena. When all was said and done, Beast's team dominated game one, stunning Ninja's team and their fans alike.
Game two didn't fare much better for the blue team, with MrBeast's squad proving once again that a team effort was more valiant than individual performances.
The skill, strategy and teamwork of Team @MrBeast may be what won them the #UltimateCrown belt, but the infighting on Team @Ninja is what lost it for the favorites @loltyler1 is LIVID at his team right now ?? pic.twitter.com/8WAE4i72eQ— Crown Channel (@crownchannel) July 10, 2022
The best of three series was over after game two, with Donaldson's team winning the series and a $150K to Donaldson's charity of choice: the Sarcoma foundation. A third match was called with each team betting $50K to the winner's charity.
Clearly upset with how they performed ("Ludwig is an absolute liability," according to Tyler1), Ninja's team brought the fire in game three, taking out MrBeast's squad with the ease we all expected to see in games one and two. This earned $50K towards Blevins' charity, the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit.
However, by the end of the night, regardless of who won or lost, the real winners were those who were in attendance. It reminded me of why in-person events are so great. Since the pandemic, there really haven't been many opportunities for fans to come together and get excited over something we all love: games. Many companies are still opting for digital showcases and online tournaments as travel restrictions are still in place for some countries.
Yet on a Saturday afternoon, gaming giants put on a show that would rival the Blue Man Group that would play at the Luxor later that evening. As someone who has grown up among the neon signs and glamor of Las Vegas, it's definitely something I can take for granted whenever the Strip feels alive. Yet during the pandemic when we could ride bikes down the normally congested Las Vegas Blvd and the city was shut down completely, it felt like this would never happen again.
Amazon's Ultimate Crown may not have been the first gaming event to come back to Las Vegas since Covid shut the city down in 2020, but it's the first one that really reminded me of why these events are so important. At the end of the day, people came to my city and were entertained, seeing some of today's biggest celebrities battle it out. League of Legends proved yet again why it is such a compelling game to watch, even if you only have the most cursory of League knowledge. And, most importantly, large amounts of money are going to go to those who need it the most.
It's an event that I hope Amazon puts on next year and ups the stakes. As a company worth as much as they are (and who profited the most when the world was locked down), let's see even more money get donated. Let's see even more headliners and more games take the stage. Make it a showcase where the winners are the charities, as well as the fans who come out to enjoy the spectacle.
For now, though, bring on EVO.