Seemingly desperate for something to discuss in the aftermath of day one of the Battle of The Atlantic the drama seemed to revolve around something fairly innocuous. As the newly formed Alliance – the eventual evolution of the team that now seems forever dubbed “The super team” – concluded their second stomp over a mostly hapless Team Dignitas the players, they decided to have some fun and draw out the victory. They danced by the open nexus waiting for the cooldown on their ultimates to finish and then launched a co-ordinated attack into the fountain to bag some extra kills, underlining the level of dominance in the game. It was smiles all round for the most part, both teams shook hands and that was that.
Except it wasn’t. For some reason segments of the community had interpreted the behaviour as being incredibly bad mannered, a lapse in a professionalism, a disgrace to the burgeoning title that has grown so much the creators no longer even think of it as an “e-sport”, simply a sport. Reddit threads appeared, the disgruntled took to Twitter and within a few hours two prominent members of the team had issued the following identical apology:
We would like to apologize to those who felt that we were disrespecting Dignitas, we didn't mean to do that, we were aiming to see if we could kill everyone at an instant when our ults were back off cooldown. We agree that the taunting/joking was excessive.
We really didn't mean to disrespect dignitas or the competition of the game and it won't happen again, sorry.”
This possibly ranks as the most ridiculously unnecessary apology I have ever seen since Tiger Woods felt it vital that he apologise to me and you and everyone for getting himself some strange. My feelings towards that are near identical; mostly unconcerned with the occasional pang of “good on you”.
If we place what happened in some broader context the complaints seem even more absurd. The whole competition was built around hyping up a rivalry between North America and Europe, which may or may not exist but certainly suits Riot’s purposes to have it appear so. The teams have been paired up to be of supposed equal levels to show which region is the strongest. The money is ultimately small potatoes to a League of Legends player, $1000 each for winning a game, with an additional $1000 for being part of the winning region. The main purpose of the tournament is to bait discussion about which region is better (a mostly irrelevant topic in the grand scheme of things) and to act as a nice introduction to the upcoming season. The players have used it, no doubt under careful instruction, to plug potential rivalries and create “grudge matches”, which is what e-sports wants right now… A steady stream of easy to follow narratives that add depth, context and emotion to what would otherwise be a bunch of people playing games. And even if all this is about as real as professional wrestling I am happy it exists. Things like this nexus dance are all part of the spirit in which this tournament was created. Those that have missed the point of this have taken to some form of hysterical moral grandstanding, demanding “better behaviour” from the professionals in their game.
Now, obviously I would love to rip on Alliance for a variety of reasons and use my paltry position as e-sports pundit and reporter to add some pressure to them. Principle among these reasons are the fact that it seems to me they shouldn’t really be competing at all given the Alex Garfield connection, which has been mostly side-stepped after Riot pointed to the loopholes he had to gracefully leap and tumble through to further consolidate his e-sports empire.
Yet there is nothing wrong with what they did and I was saddened to see them forced into a organisationally instructed apology following the pathetic furore that ensued following their fine performance. Pandering to this sort of assembled mob is a step in the wrong direction for a game that had increasingly become stagnant on the server, a step towards making the most enjoyable parts of it non-existent if this reaction is to become precedent. After all, what really is the problem in rubbing your opponent’s nose in a defeat, just a little bit, while celebrating your own excellence?
“Professionalism”. It is a word often used in e-sports and rarely understood. It is a catch all word for approval, the opposite of “unprofessional”, which is only used to chastise actions that seem unpalatable. All those hours of practice, the forced interactions with fans, the contractually obliged time spent streaming… All of that fades away in one moment of displaying real emotion or humanity. You cease to be a professional the moment you clash with someone’s sensibilities, which is near impossible to avoid unless you are utterly fake and banal. This isn’t what the word means but it is the tune that e-sports currently dances to.
I can tell you first hand of the soul crushing tedium of following other e-sports that think professionalism is the absence of personality, such as SC2, delivering interview answers in lobotomised monotone that all amount to “I want to make good game for the fans and do well for sponsor”. It’s a large part of my job to try and somehow spin this into something interesting, which of course it isn’t, but if you say that out loud.
What I will say is that the SC2 community are not as uniform in their worship of mundanity as the LoL community seem to be. The SC2 community are capable of appreciating a big personality. The LoL community will lap up some of the most atrociously corny and manufactured content pre-match and yet even amongst this they will find grounds to complain. Even prior to Alliance’s reaction there was a significant portion talking about Michael "Imaqtpie" Santana’s “trash talk” before the game when he had simply made a tongue in cheek comment about him being the stand out adc in NA while laughing. In that same hype video he also paid a similar compliment to Froggen being the stand out mid player in EU. The swine. This would be pointed to as the reason why Alliance felt compelled to “get revenge” through taunting.
This psychology seems to stem from the Tribunal system. The system might purport to have created a better environment for League of Legends players, yet really it seems to have done little to tackle any of the troublesome behaviours it wants to address. Most of it is moot anyway if you play on EU West, where the outcome of the game is largely dictated by who gets the invariable lagger or disconnected player. What the Tribunal system serves up is a welcome illusion – namely that you can “punish” someone who has hurt your feelings. This system has lead to a ridiculously childish, self-entitled and neurotic userbase who seem to often get all in a flap about not a lot of much.
This seems to be at the heart of the accusations levelled at Alliance, that they were somehow bad mannered or encouraging “toxicity” through their actions. It is a shame that the term for which it was intended has become stretched so far that one end of it can no longer see the start, which was indeed a fine ideal. What else can you say about a community that believes in things such as a mandatory report and ban for typing “gg easy” at the end of a match. It isn’t the person who utters such words that lack the sportsmanship – rather it is the raging, snarling refusal to accept the defeat, the demand for a penalty of sorts for pointing out that it was indeed a walkover, rather than simply accept that he was right and look at one’s own failings. Whatever you say about gloating, these bitter actions and assertions of what is “good behaviour” do not fit into the sportsmanship equation.
I don’t think Riot should be protecting the average player’s feelings. I don’t think teams should factor in not hurting the feelings of the opposition. I want defeats to hurt and I want victorious parties to be jubilant. I want them to put the show in show-matches. In an ideal world Team Dignitas will face Alliance again, in whatever manufactured capacity, and the game will have an extra element of spice and competitiveness it didn’t before. This is what I want from my sports.
The idea that Team Dignitas are somehow “victims” as well is unfathomable. The only person who seemed glum was William “Scarra” Li and I’d probably wager that was more to do with the nature of the defeat and the fact they’d just surrendered their one shot at some spending money more than the scene of a jubilant Alliance spamming dance around the nexus. As professional competitors I’m sure they have handed out stompings and have probably taken their time picking apart an opponent, looking for more kills or objectives where perhaps it was needless. Bragging rights are important to any player in any sport… It is how they measure success among their peers, the high level talk that the average fan isn’t privy to.
In my time I’ve seen this sort of thing go too far. I’ve seen the embarrassing outbursts of UK Counter-Strike: Source players offering each other to settle their differences in a car. I’ve seen acts bereft of class like the old Na’Vi line-up kick an opponents PC to the point of power outage “by accident” to win a round. I’ve watched aghast at the embarrassing constant sledging of CoD console players that looks like a deleted scene from 12 Monkeys. All of these things are repellent to even me, someone who genuinely believes trash talking, taunting and mind-games belong in every sport. Yet as wrong as all these things are stem from another one of e-sports overused words – passion.
That is what Alliance were doing. Their actions weren’t born of malice, they were born of joy. The unbridled joy of winning their first game as a new team under such scrutiny against respectable opposition who had talked up their own chances of victory. It was their first “competitive” win, watched by over quarter of a million people. Let them have a dance, let them have some fun, let them savour the moment. Just don’t demand sterility so readily. You might just help kill off the sport you profess to love so much.