The Herald Pit will be a recurring segment here where the Rift Herald staff discusses a topic in the League of Legends community. This week, it’s Worlds.
We made it. After five weeks and 77 games the 2016 League of Legends World Championships have come to an end. A familiar champion was crowned and a dynasty cemented as SK Telecom took home their third championship in four years. In some ways the tournament already seems like a distant memory as League of Legends charges full speed into the New Year. The pre-season starts next week and Intel Extreme Masters two weeks later, with All-Stars in Barcelona not long after. But before it slips all the way into the past and out of our minds - at least for a bit - The Rift Herald staff takes a brief look back at Worlds 2016:
The Case for Bengi as World's MVP
Austen Goslin: Most Valuable Player is one of the few awards in team sports that is almost impossible to agree upon. Not just who should receive it, but what the award itself means. There’s the one side, which claims that MVP should go to the best player in the competition. That argument goes something like this: “Obviously, if someone is the best they are also the most valuable.” There is a lot of merit to this line of thinking. After all, the best player in the world should make the biggest difference for their team, purely on the basis of being the best. This is the kind of reasoning that gives us Faker as the MVP of Worlds 2016.
But I have two problems with this definition of MVP. The first is that it’s boring. I know that’s not a good reason, and I’m sorry if that’s the version of MVP you like, but it’s true. If we give MVP to the best player then we can probably predict who will get it at the beginning of the tournament, and where’s the fun in that?
The second, and more important, reason is that it doesn’t quite fit the spirit of the award. It isn’t about which player quantitatively added the most to their team, it’s about the quality of what they add. Valuable means something more than pure skills. It asks which player was placed in incredible situations and surpassed them for the good of their team. At the 2016 World Championships there was no player who fit that description better than Bengi.
Sure, I could go through the stats and tell you the exact numerical value of what he added, but honestly I don’t think that’s necessary. The events themselves are evidence enough of his accomplishment. Just think about it. Bengi was placed in the single most high pressure Worlds situation ever. SK Telecom is on the brink of elimination - for the first time in team history - down two to one against the ROX Tigers in the Semi-Finals and Bengi is asked to play a champion he has no competitive experience on and had barely practiced. Then, he was asked to do the same thing a week later, except this time he is subbed into game five of the World Championship. No other player in the history of the game has had to do either of those things and Bengi did both at the same tournament.
The fall of North America and Korea’s continued domination
Julia Lee: Maybe I was just hopeful, but I really thought North America had a shot this year. Team SoloMid looked pretty good, Counter Logic Gaming looked passable and Cloud9 looked...alright. It shocked me pretty badly when only Cloud9 made it out of Group Stages.
I could sit and make excuses about why North America didn’t move on or say that NA got all the “hard groups” but when it boils down to it, NA just isn’t as good of a region we all think it is. Sure, TSM and CLG looked pretty damn good during the regular season, but the cream of the NA crop are just big fishes in a tiny, tiny pond. Once the teams get thrown into an international tournament, they become minnows in the ocean and the Korean teams are sharks.
People can complain about Korean teams dominating the League scene all they want, but you can’t deny that the Finals match between SKTelecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy was amazing. I expected a clean 3-0 sweep, but SSG proved me wrong. (CoreJJ and Ruler, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry! I should have believed in you more!) Even I was ready to be bored by the Korean Finals match, but as the series stretched on, I was reminded that I was there to watch two of the best teams in the world duke it out for the World Championship title. Regardless of where the teams are from, I was going to see great gameplay and I did.
The Old Switch-aroo
Ryan Gilliam: After Week 1 of Group Stages, I wrote a lengthy opinion piece on how I really didn't want SKT to win Worlds this year. The article was a combination of worry about the professional scene and SKT fatigue on my part. After all, I have seen them win a lot of different trophies since I started watching in 2013. But despite my written objection, I found myself softening on the idea of three-time World Champions SKT. Some might think that this was Stockholm syndrome, a realization that they are going to win and that I may as well accept it. But I think its better than that. I think SK Telecom sold me.
But that feeling doesn't only apply to SKT. I have spent the past several years baffled by the praise of the KOO/GE/ROX Tigers, at least, in international tournaments. While they always impressed through the OGN/LCK season, I never felt like they made a great impression at events like Worlds (even when they were in the finals of Worlds 2015). But this year, similarly to SKT, I bought what the ROX Tigers were selling. This year, I felt as though SKT and ROX actually needed to try in order to win.
This may seem like a weird complaint, but I hate lazy League of Legends play. I don’t enjoy watching good teams not have to try in order to win, or worse, lose because they didn't play their hardest. It’s boring and frustrating to see a team deny their own potential. I feel as though, outside of the LCK, I haven’t seen SKT or ROX ever really have to try. If SKT ever lost a game in international play, it seemed as though they dropped the ball, rather than their opponents toppling a giant. But something this year clicked, and it clicked during Quarterfinals weekend.
If you go back and watch those games, something feels different. ROX committed to their crazy, fast style and went hard for the win. SKT cemented their identity as the only team to play the “flawless” style; a style that leaves every viewer, caster and player watching just say “SKT is so good.” When these two teams met in the semifinals, it felt as though both teams deserved the win and that they both tried their hardest.
Sometimes the heart doesn't really know what it wants until it gets it. Turns out, I just wanted to see SKT and ROX bleed a little for their wins. And bleed they did in arguably the best series of League of Legends that has ever been played.
Don’t worry about the gap, enjoy this while you can
Pete Volk: Yeah, I hear you, it’s pretty boring to see the same region (and the same team) dominate year after year after year. But League of Legends esports is still in its infancy, and we’re still early enough along that basically no one (except SKT) is very good at it yet (at least compared to how it will look a few years down the road).
That will change. More money and stability is entering the industry, and as teams learn over time someone will catch up, eventually. It may not be for a while, but this happens in sports — one time figures out a certain way to be successful (the Spurs, the Patriots, etc.), and repeats it to win title after title until someone else adjusts and finds a way to beat them. There are a litany of reasons Korea is ahead of the rest of the world, but as this game develops, the rest of the world has no other option but to eventually catch up.
Here’s the thing. SK Telecom T1 is clearly the best League of Legends team in the world, and has been over the past four seasons. That kind of consistency at the highest level is incredible, and watching a team at the height of its game (and of the game in general) is not something you get to see in every sport.
This won’t last forever (I promise). Enjoy this run of dominance while it lasts, because it truly is a marvel to watch.