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Stirring Up eSports Drama: The 2015 League of Legends World Championship

Let’s put the pitchforks down and enjoy the game.

Something strange is happening at the League of Legends World Championship. The international tournament, featuring the best LoL teams from around the world, is surprising everyone, and we’re only in the midst of the group stage. Despite overwhelming expectations, we are seeing upset after upset across the board. Teams like Origen, CLG, and Cloud 9, none of whom were expected to lead the pack at this point, have made tremendous showings. The underdog victories, especially against their traditionally dominant Chinese and Korean opponents, is making Worlds one of the most exciting championships to date. It is also making for one amazing spectacle of eSports drama.

So what is the latest hubbub all about? Right now, the group of analysts that comment on these tournament matches are under attack for (in a way) not predicting the outcome of these matches better. Jakob Mebdi, more commonly known at YamatoCannon, received a particular hefty amount of negative feedback when he stated he believed the North American team Cloud 9 would lose all six games during the group stage. So far, Cloud 9 has gone undefeated in three games against the likes of AHQ and Fnatic, teams that have consistently led their region in victories.

Yamato is coming to the analyst desk with plenty of expert knowledge about the game. He brings a hefty amount of player experience himself, having played high level League of Legends, Warcraft, and Starcraft. Yamato also currently coaches Team ROCCAT, a European League of Legends team. His prediction about Cloud 9, while admittedly brazen, was not entirely unfounded. Cloud 9 had a rough season, finishing seventh out of ten with a disappointing score of 7-12. Their mere presence at the World Championship is due to an anomalous (and frankly stunning) series of grueling matches, allowing them to survive through the playoff gauntlet. Yamato was certainly not alone in his assessment of Cloud 9 going into the group stage of Worlds.

Cloud 9 celebrating their unexpected win over Fnatic.

Even so, the League of Legends community blasted Yamato for what they deemed poor analysis, so much so that he issued an apology on youtube. In the video, Yamato identifies areas to improve his analysis. “I should have backed up the statement,” he says. He also describes his prediction as “not proper analysis,” explaining that it sounds like “NA hate.” I agree with his assessment that more specific insight would have provided better analysis It is far more interesting to hear why a team is struggling strategically than to hear a prediction about a match up. That being said, Yamato should never have apologized. In fact, no analyst should apologize as a result of doing their job.

This isn’t the first time an analyst has had to atone for public appraisals of players and teams. Just last month, shoutcaster and analyst Joshua “Jatt” Leesman issued an apology for tweeting: "Huni: 375 LP Masters in 115 games. Balls: D2 84 LP in 192 games. There's more to life than solo Q, but this is a worrying trend for C9." In this tweet, Jatt is sharing information about one of Cloud 9’s players who was struggling in solo queue while bootcamping in Korea. He also admits that solo games are not the best measurement of success in a team-based sport. Even so, given Cloud 9’s previous season record, you can see why Jatt might think this information pertinent to those interested in Cloud 9’s prospective chances at Worlds. Regardless, the reaction was immediate and fiery. I encourage you to read the thread of replies (or not if you’re sensitive to internet hostility), some of which come from professional players, coaches, and personalities. Jatt’s apology was an admission to the argument he overstepped his bounds in commenting on a player’s solo queue record outside of tournament play.

In both cases, I am less interested in the analysis or quality of the analysis as I am the community’s reaction to this debacle. For better or worse, Esports is still deeply personality driven. The criticisms that Jatt and Yamato deliver are taken personally by fans and players, who see these comments as unnecessarily antagonistic. The professional divide between analysts and players/fans is thin, so it becomes difficult to criticize teams and players without a very vocal army coming to their defense. Remember that many of these players have huge audiences from their Twitch streams alone. They have built personal relationships with their fans in a way that is very much different than traditional sports culture.

Good times at the analyst desk.

Much of this anxiety and antagonism may also be embedded in a larger video game fandom. Yamato’s concern that his statement came off as “NA hate” was made in a context in which “NA hate” is still a major concern for some eSports fans. There is a defensiveness in the League of Legends eSports community that feels a little too close to the “fanboy” stereotype, perhaps born of the larger video game culture that results in individuals identifying so closely with particular sub-cultures (and sub-sub-cultures).

Do football fans get angry when an ESPN analyst makes a bad prediction? Some do, absolutely. But for the most part, the realm of pre-game analysis is largely accepted as cloudy mess. Anyone familiar with Fantasy Football is depressingly familiar with inaccurate game predictions. There are even websites that analyze the analysts, which show that even the best Football commentators are only correct slightly more than fifty percent of the time. Some analysts fulfill more of an entertainment role anyway and leave the more insightful analysis to others. These folks are not asked to resign as a result of their color commentary.

When professionals in an industry apologize for doing their job (even if they are doing it poorly), they undermine the professionalization of eSports as a whole. In the past, I have lauded Riot Games for their commitment to community interaction and transparency. However, this is a case where apologizing for opinionated and even grandiose predictions, in a form of entertainment so heavily influenced by human error, is a mistake. It’s okay to be wrong (I know I am often enough). Now let’s put the pitchforks down and enjoy the game.

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