A Reality Check For Nientonsoh & CLG's Brighter Future
The LCS adventure is adjourned for another; someone else finding the mix of dedication required and continual criticism from all sides outweighs the long term financial reimbursement for tolerating it. Zach “Nien” Malhas was at one point a successful gamble, not only brought in from a relegated team but also placed into an unfamiliar position with surprisingly worthwhile results. Those memories are mostly all but faded now and Malhas’s status as surprise asset had been replaced by the sense he was a growing liability. And, for the most part, he was.
Sports is brutally cruel like that. It exists simultaneously in the past and present, thanks to the long history on which they are founded and the performances on which people are currently judged. Despite this it is always fully focused on the future. There is no room for sentimentality, no room to even enjoy the moment of victory; there is always another challenge on the horizon. Ultimately no matter how you might want someone to be better than they are, even if the past points to evidence of them being able to attain it, there isn’t time to wait. That hesitation costs teams championships, costs players their livelihood and slowly but surely erodes the pack mentality. It is also always abundantly clear when something isn’t working. Results never lie.
That said, it is easy for fans to forget the unique pressures that are placed on the people we elevate to the lofty status of stars. Players that have “it” don’t become bad overnight. It’s easy to forget that players participate in an environment of constant flux, the so-called “meta-game” constantly changing, the respective strengths of champions fluctuating based on the whims and whines from the solo-queue wilderness. Not only does it take a significant amount of time to stay on top of all these changes, it also constantly means a competitor is lurching in and out of his comfort zone. One minute it all makes sense, the next you’re being told to do things you’ve never done before… If it doesn’t click there are no answers beyond “practice more” and your failures will be wrought large, broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people all quick to criticise.
Sometimes it is about not changing at all. When not moving forward it isn’t uncommon to see everyone else accelerating off into the distance of a higher level of play. Having once played the part of beacon for everyone that preceded them, they now find themselves looking at the gleaming new generation of stars from quite some distance behind. This is the nature of all sports and something every spectator should be thankful for. That gratitude will never be articulated until long after the player’s retirement though. Here and now the fans will only focus on the failures because that is all that matters in the short term.
That reality is part of the pact all high level competitors agree to when they seize the opportunity to play at the highest level. Nothing lasts forever and only a select few will be spared the wrath of the crowd when things aren’t going according to plan. You will find yourself at some point hating the attention and in a roundabout way you deserve it. You are there to compete at a pre-agreed standard in exchange for money and reverence. You are welcome to go above and beyond, understanding that doing so will increase expectation to repeat, but you must never sink below that imaginary benchmark. Do that and all the positives can quickly evaporate. If that seems fickle then you don’t understand the nature of the business. Nothing outside of winning, as much as you are expected to, matters.
While some might lament the decision, CLG fans should not. CLG’s problem in the past has been retaining dead weight out of sentimentality rather than simply jettisoning it to ensure growth and success. For a long time they have been relevant through popularity as opposed to performances and it is a step towards rectifying that to remove someone in such an expedient fashion. Some may argue that they had a break between splits to resolve things. It is hard to see what really could have been “fixed”. Once a player is at the stage of believing they don’t belong in a starting line-up then all the false positivity in the world isn’t going to help. They need to be replaced.
It’d be hard to disagree with that self-assessment if someone were to collate a highlight reel from some of the recent games. The in-game deficiencies were undoubtedly underlined in their play-off match against long-standing rivals TSM. Marcus "Dyrus" Hill absolutely dominated the top lane and helped turn round the deficit after CLG had taken the first map. With CLG having finished third, TSM only one place above them, these are the margins that either prevent or lead to success.
It hadn’t helped that the player and his colleague Austin "LiNk" Shin had both been pictures of frustration in the champion select going into the deciding game. Malhas looked broken before anything had even happened. Not everything in competition is about confidence. There are many true greats who say it was fear of failure that drove them on to achieve. Here, it looked more like a fear of the backlash, a fear of blame, having to face down the community one more time in what would, ultimately, prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Pressure comes with this job and it will, always, at some point get the better of you. The true measure of anybody, in any field, is how you handle a crisis. That facility had clearly deserted Nien.
It is a bad sign when your bitter rivals and the team you are looking to leapfrog come out in support of you. TSM players made a lot of excuses on his behalf to try and defuse the potentially explosive backlash. Maybe their statements regarding their focus on him were all true. Regardless, the best players adapt and eventually overcome. They also accept no excuses, however well-intentioned, to be made for them. That is the case even if they are accurate. When it comes to sports context is ephemeral.
CLG handled the removal the right way, of that there can be no doubt. For starters, making it look like it was all the player’s choice, when it is fair to presume the team must have had some concerns, was an act of class. That alone deflected lots of incoming criticism, some of the all too easily manipulated fans suddenly regretting their criticisms. Giving the player the platform to express his views was also a nice, completely unnecessary touch. It is a shame that he used this last address to speak of the “community’s intense criticism of his play and general attacks towards him”. It is a phrasing that taints any nobility in the action of standing down, turning it from a gesture designed to help the team into an act of self-interest, one that partially lays the blame for his performances at the feet of others.
Some sympathy then maybe, but not too much. It is a move that benefits all parties in the long run. There are a few things that a competitor can lose along the way to dull their edge. The will to win is perhaps the most important of these but also of vital importance is the awareness of the price for failure. No-one’s future is guaranteed and the work you put in to even arrive at the promised land is only the beginning. Staying there is the hard part. There will be pressure, there will be expectation and there will be hatred. Those negatives are laced with ingredients that can all be synthesised into success with the right kind of mindset.
The future for Malhas is uncertain. He says he will return but the second climb to the top is always invariably harder than the first. That is the penance you pay for letting it slide and everyone will make sure you remember each mistake on the way back. For CLG though the future could well be much improved. Although not quite ruthless, they have shown that third place and operating behind the TSM and Cloud 9 hegemony in LCS is not to their tastes any more. In this case CLG’s loss will eventually be CLG’s gain.