The early years
Back in season 1, it was this smallish game with some potential. Season 1 worlds tournament came around with EU and NA teams competing in a small venue. The game had promise. In season 2, the esport grew rapidly through its multiple LAN events and global competition. Teams like Team Empire/Moscow 5/Gambit with the legends that are Evgeny ‘Darien’ Mazaev, Danil ‘Diamondprox’ Reshetnikov, Alexey ‘Alex Ich’ Ichetovkin, Evgeny ‘Genja’ Andryushin, and Edward ‘Edward’ Abgaryan came out of nowhere. EU and NA organisations really started to establish their brands on the emerging esport. This gave birth to the personalities that have lasted until now. Players like Henrik ‘Froggen’ Hansen and Paul ‘sOAZ’ Boyer are still household names. Brands like TSM, CLG and Fnatic laid their marks through their own merit. Season 2 worlds had Taipei Assassins upsetting Moscow 5 and taking the world trophy not long after that series. It was an exciting time to start watching.
In Season 3, seasonal leagues replaced LAN tournaments. Every week people tuned in and watched these new and prominent teams fight. This season held something truly magical. This was the season where continued competition gave birth to immense highlight reels. A Korean support player named Hong ‘MadLife’ Min-gi got renowned for his godlike Blitzcrank and Thresh hooks. Another more famous one was the ‘InSec’. Korean Jungler, Choi ‘InSec’ In-seok coined the forever imitated ward jump into ultimate sequence on the champion Lee Sin. Over in EU, if Alex Ich got Ryze then the game was a sure bloodbath; meanwhile, Enrique ‘xPeke’ Cedeño Martínez’s Kassadin backdoor still lives on in our hearts and minds. https://youtu.be/ooozyf5y5t8?t=102 But the craziest thing was still to come. Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok was hot on the press in the LCK finals. Back then, he was a rising star in the Korean realm, completely off the radar to most Westerners. That was until THE moment of the LCK Summer Finals was brought to our attention. Described by others as the most iconic clip in League of Legends history, it was the moment that changed the future of the game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPCfoCVCx3U Off the back of this play, SKT went onto dominate Season 3 Worlds championship, and start a dynasty no other organisation has yet achieved.
Change is good
Season 4 saw great shifts in regional dynamics. The great importation of EU and Korean talent began in Season 4. Has more money came into the scene more NA teams contracted international talent. The best example is TSM who imported Bjergsen and Lustboy. In season 5, many teams began importing talent, like Team Liquid and Impulse acquiring SKT’s Piglet and Impact. This gave the region some interest as the import experiment created its own unique appearance compared to EU. Established teams like Gambit, Fnatic, and CLG.EU/EG/Alliance had to fight every step of the way that year. The result was Alliance disrupting Fnatic’s trophy cabinet and the first time Gambit’s core did not attend Worlds. That year Samsung White won the World Championship, cementing another year of Asian domination. It was also the first time NA pushed further than EU in a World Championship. Spicing that Western rivalry for the year to come.
Where it went wrong
The followings seasons eventually became more of the same. A significant drop of powerful rivalries as franchising replaced established orgs with whom I had no connection to. They got there because they are the highest bidder, rather than the rise their predecessors had to go through. The continued importation of Koreans into other regions changed the way the game played. The eternal meta of tower pushing, vision control and other objective based gameplay made it less appealing. The game we watched did not appear familiar to the game the fans played regularly. As a Western fan, the magic of the years gone by began to fade as we watched a Korean style maintain its clutch on the world. The result of all this was clear, as Western viewers went down gradually.
As it stands, several influencers have already commented that this is the best Worlds so far. Western fans rejoice as we are guaranteed one team in the finals. EU had G2 Esports and Fnatic in the semi-finals, which has not been seen since 2015 with Fnatic and Origen. Cloud 9 was close to relegation in the NA LCS but made the semi-finals with rookies. A magic that we once saw many moons ago appears to have returned. The defeat to the Korean prowess and meta has sparked a sign that its grasp on the game is fading. A recent post from Clutch Gaming’s coach says it all really. https://twitter.com/NaserAlNaqi/status/1053977295260672000 I know I’ve stated other issues with LoL as an esport. However, reinvigorating the game to its former familiarity is the ultimate way of showing it has not lost its core identity. If Riot maintains this formula, we may just get new and explosive rivalries and compelling storytelling in its new age. Perhaps this era will regain the excitement that the game once had and ignite that passion and wonder the game grew so much on.