Taipei, TAIWAN -- Rasmus "Caps" Winther, 19, had just eliminated the best League of Legends player of all time in the Mid-Season Invitational semifinals at the Heping Basketball Gymnasium in Taiwan. The first person to rush toward the stage when G2 Esports secured their spot in the final wore a custom-made G2 Esports jersey with the name "Caps Dad" on the back.
Michael Winther pumped his fists in joy to see his child get one step closer to his dream. Fans flocked to the eldest Winther as the appointed cheer master for his son's team. Whenever Michael began a chant, the rest followed suit, serenading his son, who's on the verge of becoming one of the world's most recognizable video game players.
Caps and the European champions G2 dispatched three-time world champion Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok in a five-game instant classic to advance to the grand final. It will be the second straight international tournament final Caps will compete in, having made it to the finals at last year's world championship with Fnatic, losing in a sweep to China's Invictus Gaming. This offseason, he switched sides, leaving the club he made his debut with to join its most heated rival in G2, searching for an international crown.
"All our four kids have been in sports like swimming, handball, football and played video games as long they did their school work, etc.," Michael Winther said. "[Caps' older brother] studied at university and entered Dota 2 weekly tournaments. Then, he moved to a place of his own and later made live streams with his friends and made his own [esports] teams."
Christopher Borregaard "Ryze" Winther began playing professionally in Dota in 2012. Although his family was supportive, they didn't start to truly understand the scope of esports until they saw their Danish son travel to countries such as Taiwan and Ukraine.
Around this time, they saw the potential in Caps as they traveled with their younger son to events on semi-pro League of Legends teams across Europe. He was too young to go pro or join a team, so Michael got to see his son's growth as a player begin from home. Instead of pushing him into schooling or keeping him from traveling, he entrusted in his son and took every step along the way with him. At 17, he joined Fnatic for the start of the 2017 season.
"He goes to watch all of our games," said Caps in his postmatch news conference after the semifinals. "Every time there is an important game, like an international match or a [domestic] final, he's always there. And he'll follow all our regular games, so it means a lot to me. I also know a lot of my other family is watching at home, and it just helps me out, right, especially this semifinal. We were down in the series [on the brink of elimination], but the crowd cheered for us. I know my dad does a lot to try to get the crowd to cheer for G2, so it definitely means a lot and it helped us turn around the series."
In the second game of the series, with the South Koreans of SKT up 1-0 after a blowout opening game, father cheered on son to get back into the match. In the middle of the floor seating, decked out in G2 colors and a team flag on his lap, Michael kept his eyes glued to the big screens, erupting with the complimentary cheer sticks whenever G2 found themselves getting back into the game.
When Caps tied the series at one game apiece by closing out the second game with a pentakill, killing off all five SKT members by himself on the shuriken-wielding champion Akali, Michael was the first person to leap from his seat and rush to the front of the barricade to celebrate his son's accomplishment. Anytime the production cameras cut to him to put him on the big screen, he would wave the G2 Esports flag to the delight of the crowd, erupting in massive cheers almost as loud as those for the players.
Outside and around the venue, the father might be more popular than the son. By himself most of the time, Michael enjoys exploring and taking photos with all the cosplayers who inhabit the gymnasium, immersing himself in the world to which his son has dedicated his life. At one particular intermission, he asked a cosplayer dressed as one of the many female champions in the game for a picture but didn't notice the group of people already forming behind him, wanting to take a photo with him instead of the cosplayer.
"My mission here is to filter the digital [hate like on] Reddit and talk to the nicer [people]," Michael said. "As when you meet [them] in real life, most fans are so friendly."
Throughout his learning about the world of League of Legends, the eldest Winther also learned about the legend known as "Faker." He never imagined that his son would ever compete against a player known as "God" and "The Unkillable King," just like the father of a youth soccer player would never think his son would be on the same field as Lionel Messi. Yet around the time Caps debuted professionally, he was tagged with the nickname "Baby Faker" to emphasize his enormous potential.
Only a few years later, there was Caps, considered one of the best players in the game, facing off with the legendary Faker in front of thousands.
In the fifth and final game of the series, G2 pulled out to an early lead before squandering a portion of their advantage to the dismay of Michael and the rest of the small but loud G2 contingent in the crowd.
"My heart and body wanted to help ... feeling anytime a change could happen. ... and then G2 wins!" said Michael, reliving the stressful final moments of the game that brought his son to another grand final. "Caps has strived and worked very hard for a new era. ... [It's] possible to believe."
The story for Caps isn't over, yet. Faker might be defeated (for now, anyway) yet the final still awaits. Team Liquid stands in G2's way to become the first Western champion of a major international event since the inaugural League of Legends World Championship in 2011. Since then, the scene has been dominated by South Korea and more recently China, with even Taiwan winning a world title in 2012, as North America and Europe have watched silently in the background.
"Tomorrow, we're going to give it our all," Caps said . "I think last time, we -- well, I at least -- disrespected TL a lot, and I thought, 'Well, it's just NA,' and tomorrow I'll respect them a tiny bit more, and maybe we'll win."
A win for Caps would cement his status as Europe's ace and put his name into consideration for the best player on the planet today. Five years ago, his father watched him at their house, not understanding the game his son had fallen in love with. Now, together -- Caps on the finals stage and his father standing in the crowd, flag in hand and the pair in matching uniforms -- they're taking on the world together.