As SK Telecom T1 prep to fight for their third straight and fourth ever world championship title, the question comes up yet again: is such a dominant powerhouse in the game helpful or detrimental to League of Legends’ success and fanbase? Jonas and Corey spell out their cases for both sides of the issue.
Jonas: The Case for Dynasties
Dynasties in sports and esports alike establish a precedent for which opposing teams can strive. For every championship SK Telecom T1 win, the hunger for their competitors to take the throne grows.
Everyone wants their favorite team to win, so it makes sense that one would be frustrated when their team’s rival wins split after split. I know from experience as a Team SoloMid fan who lives with a bunch of Counter Logic Gaming and Cloud9 fans. For every split TSM does well domestically, I hope teams like CLG and Cloud9 get better and challenge TSM for the title because that added competition will make TSM better.
When Jensen joined Cloud9 a lot of people said he would take Bjergsen’s title for the best mid laner in North America. I welcomed the challenge because he would push Bjergsen to be better, and he did.
In a similar vein, KT Rolster was designed this year to take down SKT. Even though KT Rolster fell short, losing to SKT 3-1 in the playoffs, they put up a fight and made SKT work for the win.
Longzhu stepping up this year and taking the LCK title from SKT was huge. They were able to take down a dynasty domestically, and it drove SKT to perform well at worlds. SKT have been the best team in League of Legends for a long time, and they are looking prove that again this weekend.
Having the same team win over and over can be boring to a spectator because predictions and expectations become stagnant, but from a competitive standpoint, it makes teams stronger. This statement is only true if the other teams want to be the best instead of settling for a lower place, but the League scene doesn’t seem to have a lot of teams with that defeatist mentality.
Imagine being in the NBA during the 1990s when Michael Jordan was on the Chicago Bulls. The team under Jordan won six NBA titles. I highly doubt the other teams in the NBA gave up because the Bulls were great and Jordan was seemingly unstoppable.
This is just like SKT under Faker. Faker is the undisputed best player in League of Legends history and has won three World Championships with SKT in four years, and they didn’t go to Worlds the year they didn’t win. Yet we have teams like ROX tigers, Samsung Galaxy and Royal Never Give Up that have challenged them and put up good fights. All of these teams have taken SKT to five games at worlds in the last two years, and falling short gives them more drive to succeed the next time.
Even from a spectator perspective, dynasties have their merits. We get to enjoy the best teams in their regions in the world play over and over. They always make it to the playoffs because they’re better than everyone else.
I don’t just love watching TSM in NA because I love the players and have followed the organization since Season 1. It’s also because they play really well in NA. Even though they drop the ball internationally, they are a domestic dynasty that performs well year after year in their region.
In the Korean scene I am a Samsung fan all the way, but even though it’s been awhile since they’ve been the best, they are still a top team trying to take down the reigning champions. I love watching the LCK due to its highly competitive nature, and this split Longzhu, SKT, Samsung and KT Rolster were leaps and bounds above the competition and made the playoffs a blast to watch. Longzhu came out and top and showed dynastic teams aren’t infallible, but SKT came back at Worlds to show the world they’re as good as they always have been.
Dynasties aren’t boring. They increase the competitiveness of the league and give other teams a target to take down. If SKT win Worlds again this year, I’ll settle for another set of their skins if it means the best team won and the teams I love and support have even more motivation and drive to take them down.
Corey: The Case for Variety
Imagine this: You’ve begun watching a TV series, and it’s quickly become your favorite show. You’ve still got multiple seasons to go through, and you’re excited to binge-watch it all. You’ve gotten so into it that you start researching it on the web, scrolling through endless fan-theories and discussion videos. You click what looks like an interesting post. The page loads and it’s too late to turn back: you see spoilers. Every last bit of them. You couldn’t even look away before you read about each character, their successes and demises, right down to what would have been the pulse-pounding finale. You know everything. The question is: Do you still care to watch it? If you answered no, then congratulations: you know what it’s like to be a League of Legends fan outside of Korea.
Teams rely on success to retain its fans, sell merchandise, and gain access to resources that will help them grow further, and no team has been more successful in the game than SK Telecom. However, sports (and esports) league rely on competition to retain all fans, sell merchandise and tickets, and grow. The problem with having a dynasty is that by having a single dominant team, there is, by definition, no competition. There is more suspense around who will face SKT in the finals than there is about who will win. It’s worse still, if you reside outside of Korea, where the question is “can your favorite team make it out of Group Stage?”
Why is it that the most-discussed teams every year in the group stage are the Wildcard teams? Of course, various upsets can play a factor here, because we all like to see a good upset. But another factor here is play style. From Likkrit’s Brand support to Gigabyte Marines’ power-farming Nocturne, these teams rely on surprise strategies to gain them key wins where playing the standard meta would almost surely mean defeat. And these are the games we remember. In a world where Korea aspires to be the best version of itself, and the rest of the major regions aspire to be a less-effective Korea, so-called “cheese strats” are a breath of fresh air. It can feel like Wildcard teams have a stronger sense of identity sometimes, even if it doesn’t necessarily correlate to a stronger win percentage. But if you can’t win, entertaining is the next best thing.
Barrier to Audience Growth
I know what you’re thinking: “Is he really complaining about audience growth when League is consistently one of the most popular esports in existence?” No, but also yes. I’m ecstatic that the game has thrived so much. At one point in time, I never thought it was possible. But it could be bigger still. Or at least it could if the endings weren’t spoiled every year. Despite the above “stale meta” and guaranteed Korean champion, I still watch all the games every year, because I enjoy that. I’ve been into it for quite awhile. But imagine being new to the game, and still knowing what was going to happen. Would you be drawn in by the lack of intrigue or suspense?
Real-world reference: at this moment, does anyone have much of a reason to get into the NBA if they aren’t a basketball junkie? Not really, because they don’t need to know what a pick-and-roll is to predict an extremely likely Warriors victory. Similarly, a near-assured SKT title can ward away viewers, no matter how interesting it might seem to analyze a slightly different pick/ban phase.
It’s not SKT’s fault they’re so good. They shouldn’t aim to end it anytime soon. But as a fan, and proponent of the game, it can be frustrating to watch. It can be fun to see a dynasty toppled, but that requires someone else to actually take the crown.
Regardless of where you stand, if you can stay up for this battle of titans, you probably should. The League of Legends World Championship grand final begins here late Friday night, with the pre-game ceremony getting under way at 11:30 pm PST!
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.
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