It’s 1 a.m. and raining on a chilly Paris night as Alejandro “anonimotum” Gomis and I walk back to our hotel.
The 41-degree weather doesn’t faze us much, though. On this night, following the KCX Showmatch between Karmine Corp and KOI, we’re riding on the kind of buzz that only a packed esports arena can bring. The passion of a crowd in real life was amazing, and I realized how emotionally invested fans can be, Karmine Corp ultras specifically. It goes beyond what you can see on social media. However, I didn’t know yet that I was about to learn a more important lesson about esports communities that night.
After a long walk, we arrive at our hotel. I finally get rid of my jacket, empty my pockets and start charging my phone as we get ready to eat the tacos we ordered. At that moment, we realize we don’t have anything to drink. The food is warm and we are both very hungry, so I decide to run across the street to buy two drinks at a kebab shop.
As I walk back to the hotel with two cokes in hand, I try to open the locked door, only to find I’d left my key in the hotel room. I attempt to call Alejandro, but I don’t have my phone either. It dawns on me that I’m now locked outside without a jacket in the cold.
“GG,” I think to myself.
I try to yell in hopes that Alejandro will hear me, but our room is on the opposite side of the building, so it doesn’t help.
Without a phone I can’t contact anyone, and I can’t even ask strangers on the street to call Alejandro since I haven’t memorized his phone number. However, I know Alejandro was talking to his sources on Twitter before I left the room, so perhaps I could reach him there.
I decide to try to find someone who could send him a message. I see a few drunk people standing outside of a bar and ask if they have Twitter, but they don’t, so they’re no help.
Unexpected Twitter connections
After some time I spot a group of five guys around my age and try again. They seem much more willing to help and one of them accepts as he opens Twitter on his phone. But the moment he asks how to spell Alejandro’s Twitter tag, I notice he follows several League of Legends personalities on Twitter.
With a bit of hope, I tell them, “I am Wooloo.”
As soon as I say it, their expressions change. They recognize me, though most of them know me as a sheep on Twitter. And as they begin to smile, the rainy night starts to feel a little less cold.
One of the fans, 23-year-old Stephane, is from Lyon. He has a degree in economics and social science, which he then completed with a license in geography. Stephane works in a convenience store and has been supporting Karmine Corp since before they joined the Ligue Française de League of Legends.
His interest with the organization comes from his familiarity with Karmine Corp CEO Kamel “Kameto” Kebir and one of the other owners, Amine “Prime” Mekri. He even met Kameto at Lyon e-Sport 2019 and has been following Prime since his “PrimeTimeFut” days.
Those two celebrities, hugely popular in the French gaming and esports community, are part of the reason why Karmine Corp has such a big fanbase. It’s similar to how KC’s opponents from the showmatch, KOI, also managed to garner so many fans thanks to Ibai “Ibai” Llanos Garatea and Gerard Piqué’s involvement.
Stephane said he thought the KCX Showmatch was an incredible moment that was different from any other event he’d been to. The respect for both teams among the crowd, he said, stood out. For each objective or kill KOI earned, even the home crowd applauded. The fans, Stephane said, even clapped when KOI won the second game of the series against Karmine Corp.
KOI bounces back in game 2 but the French crowd applauds the Spanish team pic.twitter.com/WNuznDrjsj
— LEC Wooloo (@LEC_Wooloo) January 8, 2022
At first, Stephane didn’t even have tickets to attend the event, but Karmine Corp’s fan association, “Le Blue Wall,” helped him out. The group helps organize events, trips and viewing parties in several cities, and when someone couldn’t attend the event due to COVID-19, they helped get their ticket to Stephane. That sort of dedication to their fellow fans is why he got involved with them in the first place.
“I decided to join the association because they share my values,” Stephane said, “and it’s how I met several friends.”
Some of those friends met him that night in Paris and, through a bit of luck, found me locked outside my hotel in the dead of night.
New friends from a bit of luck and LoL esports
There are five of them. All of them, including Stephane, are KC Ultras, or superfans for the uninitiated, and they’d spent their evening watching Karmine Corp and KOI’s raucous exhibition match. One of them even said he saw me at the event and that he recognized my voice from a stream.
One by one, they ask if they can take a picture with me, and of course I accept. It’s the first time I’ve shared a photo with fans like me who know who I am. After years of being anonymous, I’m connecting with and relying on strangers who still feel familiar, thanks to the bond we share through League of Legends esports.
I met a lot of followers and even personalities I knew online beforehand at KCX, but meeting some outside the event is a totally new experience. These five, fresh off a post-match trip to Burger King, decided to stick around for a bit and help out instead of heading to a bar to meet some other Karmine Corp supporters.
The fan who had Twitter on his phone, Marc, sends a message to Alejandro letting him know I’m locked out. Then, we take some more pictures and talk about the night ahead of us.
Marc, 25, began his interest in competitive gaming when he was 12 year old with the Halo franchise. He used to watch the Major League Gaming events and marveled at how people could become professional players.
He discovered League of Legends through a friend in 2011 and has followed the game ever since. Over the years, he has traveled to many esports events in Europe, including the League of Legends World Championship in 2015 and 2019. He never had a true attachment to a French esports organization, though, until he found Karmine Corp.
“It’s been a while since I wanted to join a fan community since it didn’t exist in French esports, other than the Golden Hornets, who I didn’t like enough in order to join them,” Marc said.
Le Blue Wall was a revelation for Marc as he found an association of people that supported him. They are a group of passionate fans he can travel with and share amazing moments with, he said. Within Le Blue Wall, Marc is one of the musicians responsible for creating the chants fans sing at events. Marc has done nine years of percussion in a music school and is now one of the drummers for the KC Ultras.
Since joining the organization, he has maintained a goal of traveling to every Karmine Corp event, no matter the distance, in order to support his team and spend time with his friends. Marc said that the more he gets to know his association, the more amazing people he meets. For him, Le Blue Wall has almost been like a second family, and that was on full display at the showmatch.
“The atmosphere we managed to create was amazing,” Marc said, “but this is just the beginning.”
Since we don’t get a reply from Alejandro right away, the Ultras all decide to come with me in front of the hotel.
Marc explains he is a very early follower of mine and knows I work at Upcomer alongside “The Esports Writer,” Tyler Erzberger. I notice how much he knows about the League of Legends esports scene; he reminds me of the kind of fan I was before becoming a professional journalist myself.
On my right side is Victor, the person who recognized my voice from my roster reporting streams. He’s quiet, like me, but kind. Despite being just 18 years old, he too has a story that spans nearly a decade in esports.
Victor, a Nantes native, discovered esports in 2013 with Vitality’s Call of Duty team. His interest spread to other esports, but he only started watching League of Legends thanks to Karmine Corp, back when they still played in LFL Second Division.
Victor knew about Kameto before being a KC Ultra as well, but the reason he became a fan is different.
“Karmine Corp is a unique esports team that has one of the biggest fan bases in France and Europe,” Victor said. “I would do anything for Karmine Corp, and I already own four of their jerseys.”
The KCX Showmatch was his first esports event and, he said, the best day of his life. The exhibition made him want more. Hopefully, like the friends he walked through Paris with that night, he’ll get to see a world championship some day.
We continue talking in the cold about a lot of things, while they explain to me how big the Karmine Corp fanbase is. They also ask me how I started my career, first as a Twitter personality, now as a journalist.
After more than half an hour of waiting, we try to reach out to Discord accounts of friends that Alejandro and I have in common. The chill is finally getting to me, so another Ultra, Theo, hands me his jacket.
The gesture is enough to make me forget that I’m outside in the middle of the night without a place to sleep, at least for a moment. I’m just enjoying being with them.
Theo is a veteran of esports events and, like several Karmine Corp fans, he also went to Barcelona for the first leg of the KC vs. KOI showmatch. The key to being an Ultra, he said, is always keeping the cheers going. You can’t spend a minute without making some noise.
“We start doing things that are more and more serious, such as the songs and the drums,” Theo said. “This is just the beginning. We plan to do many more things that we haven’t put into practice yet.”
The best part of the night for him was the obvious one: Karmine Corp winning on their home turf. All the fans were ecstatic, he said, and clapping hands with the pros was a memorable experience.
The 22-year-old fan comes from Montrouge. He hasn’t been a Karmine Corp fan for long, but he watched the team’s first year in the LFL. He has been impressed by their journey but he was hesitant about joining the community, he said. It’s been two months that he’s a fan now. The reason he joined is because, during the offseason, he didn’t really like that other LFL teams such as Misfits Premier didn’t have French players.
When Theo saw that Karmine Corp had French players, he decided to support them, because not only are they successful but they also have an identity.
Theo said he hopes the showmatch is a sign of bigger things to come. Some day, hopefully soon, he expects to see stadiums completely filled with fans for Karmine Corp games. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a blocker, but when those fans who haven’t been able to make it finally get their chance to watch KCorp in person, he’ll be there with the Ultras, too, shouting at every moment and sharing high-fives again.
Finally, we manage to find the phone number of someone that works at the hotel. It’s a big sigh of relief as I hear him answer the phone call. He explains to me that there is a secret button hidden under the window that can open the door. For a few minutes, we struggle to find it but, as one of us sees it and presses the button, the doors open automatically.
We save the sheep pic.twitter.com/9spP4AILh1
— Srećna (@stephsch69) January 9, 2022
I realize that so many fans want to join this community because it’s a place where you meet friends. You can travel with them and live moments full of emotions. You all share the same passion about a team and the esports competition you play in. It’s also a question of solidarity and the bonds you create.
It’s a place where you can fit in regardless of who you are. All these people have different backgrounds and come from different cities, but they all share something in common: passion for their team. With the identity they’re building, Karmine Corp ultras are setting an example in that regard.
I thank the five fans as I get back inside and close the door. I nearly tear up, and bursting with gratitude, I finally settle down to sleep.