As a fan of competitive League of Legends since the birth of the NA LCS, what keeps me coming back season after season is the humanity of the team-based esport. When I think of my favorite moments in professional League of Legends, I do not think of the highlight plays, the flash predicting hooks nor the beautiful kiting mechanics of a skilled AD. It’s true these moments are fantastic. They are a form of high-brow art to a League of Legends fan, but even the skill of Zed v Zed play pales in emotional power to the stories these plays create.
Take a step back from the individual plays of the game, and ask yourself why you are a fan of whatever team you just bought a summoner icon for. Why do you love TSM or CLG? Why are you willing to argue with anonymous individuals online for hours over Dignitas or Cloud 9? Where do these arguments go?
It’s all about the story
For me, and for what I imagine to be the majority of the community, these arguments always end up with the discussion of the individual players. Not just that, this line of discourse tends to transcend how each player performs in game, and stretch into the personal lives of each player. Part of this is fueled by the amazing documentary crew Riot has on staff, with the production of the Drive series and Legends Rising. The ability to peer into the life of a professional esports athlete, a job most of us have fantasized about at one point, fuels the vicarious desire for our team and our favorite player to achieve victory against all odds.
It’s the story that brings us here. And it’s the constantly changing narrative that keeps us here. Think about the community’s favorite matchup, CLG v TSM. Regardless of the current standings of both of these teams, everyone knows this is the most viewed match of the season. Despite both of these teams being consistently high ranked, what brings fans to the CLG v TSM stream, is the narrative behind it. Fueled by zany characters like Reginald, paired with comic relief such as ludicrous bets, and topped off by the traditional interview trash talk; how can you not be entertained?
It’s like the scripted drama before a wrestling match, except it’s not scripted (entirely) and as a gamer, it is entirely relatable. Aphromoo, Doublelift, Bjergsen, Xmithie, Froggen, the list goes on. It’s not the silhouette of a horse nor the imagery of a minimalist helmet, that makes me a fan of Team Liquid or Immortals respectively. It’s the player who I may have been following on twitter or reading about consistently for almost five years.
Dyrus cries and we grow up
Take Delta Fox, North American Challenger Series Team. No one expected them to be a dominant force in the NACS, but they are without a doubt the most beloved team in NA. Why’s that? Because of their stories. One of my most memorable League of Legends moments was Dyrus’ retirement. For me, this single moment had more impact than any baron steal. Dyrus, someone who rarely shows emotion, was overcome by the changes. He felt as though his time in the professional League of Legends scene had come to an end, maybe this was due to his perceived relative skill, or some other issue entirely. The reason itself does not matter, so much as the visible distress he was under during the interview. In the face of a changing world, Dyrus undoubtedly felt lost, and chose to step down from competitive play. This was hard to watch. It was a reality check for the entire community.
The world was changing, and esports with it. What started as a group of friends creating a team in a game they all loved to play began to change. The gritty side of esports, the working gears of the revenue grinding industry has reared its ugly face. International success, domestic gains, investor returns, branding, advertising, sponsorships. These fuel the esports industry, and without them, we could never have a competitive League of Legends scene; so at the end of the day, we must be thankful, but it’s still hard to see. Perhaps this is why the community is so riveted by Delta Fox. Delta Fox marks a return of not just Dyrus, but those players we grew to know so intimately. I mean, I know the name of Imaqtpie’s cat, but I couldn’t tell you the name of my best friend’s cat to save my life. Delta Fox is a nostalgic trip into the the ‘good ol’ days’ of League of Legends when an ‘Insec’ was not a play that any Diamond player could pull off. But at the same time, Delta Fox is also a marketing campaign, which begs my next question.
Maybe the professional esports scene never changed? Maybe I just grew up. I mean, a lot has happened over these past couple of years. I’ve seen my parents grow old and distant, my hometown go from green to brown in a drought that I can no longer pinpoint the start of. I’ve seen my first love find someone else. And I’ve seen Dyrus cry.
These things have all shaped me, they’ve shaped who I am.
Every moment has the power to mold one’s identity, whether it is something as large as the death of a grandparent or as seemingly distant as a short documentary on a professional gamer. These stories become intertwined with our own; they bind together to shape our identity, influencing our interactions with others, in turn shaping them.
Team Liquid and the underdog archetype
When Riot Games released an episode of Drive on TL Matt, I became a fan. TL Matt is the classic underdog story. Going from challenger series to LCS in three days, TL Matt’s underdog narrative explodes out of the handicaps that plagued his pre-pro days. High ping, low frames, constant crashing and obstructive parents all weighed against him. But despite the odds, the underdog support player made it to LA and is still competing for Team Liquid.
It was this story that originally led me to follow TL more closely. TL Matt was a new face to the scene and he reincarnated the narratives that had originally led me to become a competitive League of Legends fan. Matt was a nobody who surged onto the stage, not through an elaborate exchange of contracts, but instead through a search for fresh talent and a bright outlook on the future. This is a story I want to follow, and I am happy that it is still going despite its ups and downs revealed in TL’s “Breaking Point”, and several substitutions made in the support role. Those substitutions bring me to the next Team Liquid narrative.
Team Liquid and the madman archetype
We have all heard the story of the man who tries to become the most powerful individual in the world. Maybe we have seen Breaking Bad (Walter White), Code Geass (Lelouch), Death Note (Light Yagami) or even Star Wars (Anakin Skywalker), we are all familiar with the archetypal protagonist who stops at nothing to accomplish everything. In doing so, this protagonist loses their humanity and their reason. They may even accomplish their goals, but at what cost.
Enter Team Liquid’s Co-founder, Steve Arhancet. Steve Arhancet has been with Team Liquid since their ignition in 2015. We know him most recently from the “Paid by Steve” meme, a meme that comments upon Steve’s tendency to substitute his players and constantly “buy” up the latest and greatest for each role. With 27 roster changes in less than two years, Team Liquid’s Steve Arhancet lusts after fame and fortune. This is nothing new, I mean who can forget this.
Steve is the only true person TL fans can call consistent, yet we know little to nothing about him aside from his drive to develop the best NALCS team at any cost. What costs has he created? Well for one, the fan base of TL is relatively low compared to other Vanguard teams. Just last week we witnessed the one TL fan in the crowd waving a “Paid by Steve” sign and cheering TL on. As the only consistent image of TL, it is Steve who must take the reigns on his own public narrative.
Currently, Steve occupies the Mad Genius Archetype. He is desperately trying to string together a top tier team while leaving a trail of destruction and burnout in his path. But this cannot be true. As one of the last remaining TL fans, we just don’t have anything else to believe. So who are you Steve? What drives you to the point of creating an almost two-hour movie called “Breaking Point” that highlighted the destruction of your own team. It can’t just be money. It can’t just be fame. the story is important. It’s what made things like “Breaking Point” and Delta Fox so intriguing, and it is what will bring TL fans back.
So you acquired Inori, and lost Link. Tell me why I should care. Tell me you will stop replacing your team members faster than tires on a Bugatti Veyron because I’m tired of the short stories your roster creates. It’s time for a novel.
Featured image courtesy of teamliquidpro.com