When you become a fan of a League of Legends player, the talk of retirement is always a bit worrying. Especially after a tough loss, it’s quick to think the worst: someone you enjoy watching will be walking away from the game, and likely destroying their team along with it.
With more than a few instances of this happening over the last couple months, I got to thinking: what causes someone to retire from the game they love, and more importantly, why is it getting harder to believe them?
Earlier this past week Kurtis “Toyz” Lau and Wang “Stanley” June Tsan both departed the Taipei Assassins, leaving them with only a single member from their Season 2 World Champion lineup. Following this, the public perception of the former Taiwanese powerhouse took a nosedive; if they weren’t considered off-form before, they’ve definitely been removed from the World Title picture.
While Stanley’s future has been left ambiguous, Toyz’ statement has pointed towards his exit from competitive League of Legends, at least as a player; while the window’s definitely open to mentor other players, it looks like Toyz the All-Star AP Mid is done.
From the translation of Toyz announcement from Facebook (emphasis mine):
After winning Season 2 World Championship, a lot of players have considered Toyz as a world top AP, and started to research me and tired to learn from me. Therefore I set my goals really high and asked myself to win the mid line in every single game since people would think it’s unbelievable for Toyz not to win the line. Since then other teams tried to put the pressure on the middle line when playing with TPA. Because of that, it’s difficult for me to win the middle lane and I started to lose my own style of playing my mid AP.
I have tried hard to change my playing style to cope with what other teams’ strategy which was focusing on me, and I did things like playing AP Janna to let the team rely on AD and all I had to do is to farm as much as I could and they wouldn’t always gank me and then in the end we would lose the game. However, thinking back, is this still Toyz? Why have I turned the playing style into the way which wasn’t really Toyz’s style?
Further on in the message, we get a little bit more of an idea of the pressures that this young man faced, and ultimately how they affected him.
After Season 2 World Championship, there were games like SWL, NGF, All-Star, GPL, I didn’t meet the expectations people have for TPA. We lost again and again, and I can’t explain how bad I feel about those critics and the pressure I had. Every time I checked PTT (Taiwanese forum like Reddit) and read about how people blamed and criticized me, I felt so bad that I couldn’t sleep. For a while, I had to rely on sleeping pills so I could get some sleep. Things like my nationality are not something I can do to change it, and I sometimes wondered why I wasn’t Taiwanese. Therefor, I just had to accept those critics.
We can get a clear picture of a classic situation: fame and previous success caused an unbearable amount of pressure onto someone who was young and ill-equipped to handle it. This, coupled with the constant feedback (good and bad) coming from the Internet, lead to a burnout of catastrophic proportions.
It takes a special type of person to be able to weather that kind of storm, and ultimately Lau does not seem to be that. Further still, the Taipei Assassins will be left with a cannibalized roster that will need a new shotcaller and synergy with two of its members; this does not bode well for a repeat in October at World’s.
Two Sides of a Coin
Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera had a rough end to 2012. After playing for the world-class Team Dignitas for most of the year, he was summarily banned from the League Championship Series due to his poor personal behaviour. Since then, he’s been a bit of a controversial figure in the competitive League scene: some want him forgiven, other want him to ride out his year-long ban.
Because his sanction only falls towards LCS competition, he has still been active in streaming and playing at Challenger-level teams. This past weekend at Major League Gaming’s Spring Championship, Dominate’s team, Curse Academy, was eliminated from the $20,000 tournament by the eventual winners, FXOpen e-Sports. After the loss, he tweeted this message:
Shan “Chaox” Huang suffered a similar fall from grace. Despite being a starter on Team Solomid for years – eons in eSports time – he was removed from the squad after it became apparent both parties weren’t willing to work out their respective differences. He announced his retirement via a YouTube vlog, and has been doing a mix of streaming/coaching since then.
There’s a major similarities in these situations, which highlight a big problem in League of Legends right now: players needing side markets in the event of failure. Because Chaox had a significant fanbase because of his days with TSM, he was able to transition his business into something that wasn’t dependent on competitive play. There are enough people that want to see him for him to help him make money to survive. While many commented that the ego problems that drove his departure from his team don’t seem to be fixed, it doesn’t look like that matters.
Huang’s main goal is to remain relevant for as long as possible, and his current strategy hits all three points of my personal LoL Player Success Venn diagram, posted below:
- He has the skill to back his words up, at least in a solo queue setting.
- He has enthusiasm during his stream, and ways of driving his audience with both trash talk (for the drama-lovers) and insight (for those wanting to learn).
- He has the financial foundation to stream often, building his audience and brand organically, without having to worry about expenses.
Dominate, however, does not have the same advantages. While we can argue for him satisfying the “entertaining” requirement, it’s rooted in his reputation as someone who is bad-mannered in solo queue. While this has carried streamers in the past, his pursuit of higher competition has hobbled him in the other areas: Challenger carries an unfortunate stigma of being a lower tier of skill, and the lack of visible tournaments or events keeps him from viewers’ eyeballs.
Professional players can get away with satisfying only one or two of the above areas, and those chasing that dream can put aside everything but “be good” due the stability of LCS salaries. This is what Dominate did. However, when faced with the prospect that his team may not qualify for Season 4 and having no safety net, he must question how much longer he can sacrifice for a goal that may not be attainable.
While both of these players have similar situations, the presence of Huang’ prior success allows him to have a safety cushion while Rivera needs to succeed in order to keep his League of Legends career alive. We may run into situations like this more often as the months progress, as eliminated teams seem to have a difficult time staying together once the prospect of professional, salaried jobs are off the table; the track record for relegated LCS teams have taught us as much, as only compLexity and GIANTS remained together after their exit.
The PR Windfall
Many League of Legends fans that enjoyed the Season Two World Championships will remember Team Solomid’s captain, Andy “Reginald” Dinh, retiring following their quick exit at the hands of Azubu Frost. This “retirement” lasted less than a week, and was largely panned by non-TSM fans. It is very hard not to think that this may have been anything but a snap decision to TSM’s poor play, and an attempt to shift some of the spotlight back onto a team that utterly failed to deliver on the international stage.
However, despite its intentions, the announcement worked. It got people talking about TSM, regardless of whether it was blaming Reginald or mythologizing his veteran status. There were threads up in minutes thanking him for his time spent in the game, just like there were when Huang announced he was done; you can bet that TSM shirts went up in sales that day, even if they flattened back out when the announcement was recalled.
With these four cases, two distinct groups can be formed: those for whom retirement means a hard stop and those who have enough of a stable base to continue making income off of the game. For Dominate and Toyz, their departure from League of Legends seems out of necessity due to the harsh realities of competitive play. Not everyone is going to make it to the tier that makes a stable income, and even those that do may not have the mental fortitude to put up with the pressures that come with the territory.
On the other hand, Reginald and Chaox both realized that a retirement announcement would suit them in a community environment that thrives on drama. Neither or them were truly going to leave the League of Legends spotlight, but were able to convince the community that the possibility existed. They capitalized on it, made it work for them, and perhaps cheapened the whole proceeding; you can bet that any time a pro player says they’re retiring, it will be met with a little bit of skepticism.
Perhaps that’s the main thing we can take away from this: while people will leave the scene all the time, it’s up to us to think about which ones are legitimate and others that may be part of an overall plan. By rewarding those who have put in their time and are genuinely, permanently leaving, it will go a long way to appreciating the sacrifice without suspecting ill intentions.
Matt Demers is a 24 year old writer who hopes to make a living out of his passions. He writes about gaming, League of Legends, comic books and other nerdy things. You can follow him on Twitter,YouTube and Facebook. If you’d like to read or watch more in-depth eSports coverage, consider donating to help with associated costs.