It started, like many inflammatory comments, with what was intended to be a joke. On the official LoL Esports website for the 2021 World Championship Pick ‘Ems competition, an attempt at tongue in cheek humour was made regarding when Pick ‘Ems would begin. “Come back October 10 [sic],” the website snarked, because “Play-ins are happening and we don’t support that fiesta.” It has since been removed from the site.
In a surprise to very few, this has gone down exceptionally badly with the wider League of Legends community. Everyone from Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere and Clayton “Captain Flowers” Raines to the likes of Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg were less than impressed.
hmm I'm quite saddened by this wording. Disrespectful to 1) the fact that play-ins is such an important part of Worlds 2) the amazing teams and scenes from the play in regions. Really odd.— Eefje Depoortere (@sjokz) September 26, 2021
Honestly can't believe the official site has it worded like that. We all like to banter and bm each other during the games, but this shit is just disrespectful to both the players and fans from those regions.— Clayton Raines (@CaptainFlowers) September 26, 2021
“Disrespectful” was the by-word for many - including Sjokz and Flowers - with Sjokz going on to point out that those “fiesta” teams were the ones that knocked current LEC champions MAD Lions out of Worlds last year, while Flowers voiced his disbelief that it was the official site that had worded the statement in such a way. Others, like Competitive & Education Development Lead for Evil Geniuses Kelsey Moser, said they had to double-check this “wasn’t a meme before RTing holy sh*t,” while current PCS caster Devin “PiraTechnics Younge lamented “what a way to tell the play-ins teams you don’t care about them.”
Perhaps inevitably it’s already being mocked by the greater LoL collective via memes and Twitch spam. Everything from Bjergsen’s latest stream title at the time of writing to the comment section of the LoL subreddit is rife with references and mockery of Riot’s gaffe in messaging.
Luke Cudney, Director of Esports Product Management for Riot Games has since released an official apology via the LoL Esports Twitter account. They blamed this miscommunication on a placeholder that was never intended to go live, saying it was “meant as an ironic joke due to our frustration in not being able to support Play-Ins.”
Note from our Digital Director:— LoL Esports (@lolesports) September 26, 2021
Today we activated Pick'ems with copy about our intended start. Unfortunately, a member of our team previously wrote placeholder copy meant as an ironic joke due to our frustration in not being able to support Play-Ins, and it was posted live.
But the issue lies beyond purely a poor choice in phrasing by Riot - unintentional or not. The fact of the matter is Play-ins will not be covered by Pick ‘Ems, and it was referred to (even if it was in farce) as if it was some kind of trailer or pre-show to Worlds. As though it wasn’t part of Worlds, and instead some lesser event not worthy of proper coverage.
And this is the crux of the issue: even in their apology Riot admit their own frustration with the value the production has available for Play-ins, that we have to wait for the “real show” to begin. And that should be galling for minor region fans, teams, and players.
For many teams this is the highest point their organisation has ever reached. For many players, this is the make or break point of their careers. For fans outside of the major regions, this is a chance to see their best and brightest shine. To have the stage they stand on be diminished by lack of care, time, or resources is a tragedy, regardless of unfortunate circumstances and in-jokes borne of frustration. If the team behind Pick’ Ems is frustrated, so too should the fans be.
Of course, the apology matters. The context matters. But the fact remains that it points to Play-ins being held as lower value in the eyes of Riot - even if that frustrates Riot themselves. Let’s hope the frustration is limited just to Pick ‘Ems.