Historical Context vs Present Results

The closing drums of the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) punctuate the standing ovation of Korea’s dominance. Despite the herculean efforts of North America’s Counter-Logic Gaming (CLG), SK Telecom (SKT) reign supreme, completing their international circuit by obtaining every available domestic and international title; they truly have ascended to god hood.

But it wasn’t easy.

Despite their dominant finish, SKT fumbled their start, performing poorly in the Group Stages by dropping games to every region, save for the unprepared European G2 Esports (G2) and the Wildcard representative, SuperMassive Esports (SUP). SKT would manage to right their record on the back half of the Group Stage, splitting most of their series — except the back-to-back losses against the LMS Flash Wolves (FW). But the most explosive sets of the tournament happened across from China’s Royal Never Gives Up (RNG).

Splitting RNG in the Group Stage, SKT would seed fourth in the end, across from RNG’s dominant 8–2 run –dropping games only to the two Finalists in the back half of the stage on the knife’s edge of crucial fights and miracle turn arounds. In an unfortunate turn of events, SKT’s slow start erased the possible China vs Korea Final from the history books and off the League of Legends Pro League (LPL) ever impressive resume. Third/Fourth place is not what RNG deserved for their MSI performance.

But it was expected.

Since China’s failures at the 2015 World Championship, critics have cut the LPL from the elite. The region took a backseat to the dominance of Europe and the consistency of the LMS, the LPL’s brand now synonymous with under-performance; the laughing stock of the global consensus. And despite the seven month spread between Worlds and MSI, this reputation colored perceptions and majority of predictions. RNG took a backseat to Korea and Europe — a coin flip between the under-represented LMS.

RNG rode into MSI on the narrative of redemption for a tournament in which they never competed.

As for North America, forever playing catch-up and underdog to their history of international failures.

But the continued skepticism of North America — CLG in particular — makes sense in context. Analysis and predictions are fully realized in hindsight, and historically, North America hadn’t made an international final in years before Team Solo-Mid’s victory over Team WE at the 2015 Intel Extreme Masters (IEM). And yet, CLG is held accountable to North America’s failings and past iterations, despite major roster overhauls.

And in both sentiments: Why is that?

No one will dispute the portfolio of expectations surrounding a player. The longevity of a career will begin to peak and slope in outliers that can then be held to a standard. With the stable core of Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun, it makes sense that SKT can continuously achieve greatness. And more importantly, be held to that standard.

Korea doesn’t win simply because they always have, but this has become the shorthand of logic applied and made analysis lazy — and worse — safe.

In the dramatic shifting landscape of esports due to Meta and roster changes, why are spread International Events worshiped as the gospel? This is not a critique on the value of historic context, this is a critique on extremes. The issue is when the balance between present analysis is overshadowed by the status quo; when regions are deserted because of their historic reputation and not on the merit of the present players or teams.

Or the inability to separate the region from the team.

It’s a brilliant marketing ploy to assimilate a country behind a brand, especially on a stage like MSI. And there’s also little dispute that each region hosts a domestic Meta or trends. But there will always be outliers within the teams — the aggressive KT Arrows, the methodical Vici Gaming, or the chaotic Unicorns of Love. These teams that break the traditional mold of their region. And that narrative has far more value and analysis than the sum of: KT Arrows will win because they’re Korean.

China will lose because they performed poorly at Worlds.

And the same sentiment can now be extended to Europe. G2’s failures at MSI are now echoing through the global community, condemning the region. A single bad tournament result has absolutely zero affect on the next event. The bridging analysis from successful tournament to successful split isn’t in the victory, but the application of growth and mastery that achieved the result. The prediction mean nothing in deciphering team’s success.

And this isn’t to target the work at MSI on Riot’s broadcast, the desk defined team ceilings and limitations — especially with the addition of Clement Chu and Jake “Spawn” Tiberi — but to recognize that in the saturation of content around League of Legends, Riot’s broadcasts are hardly the last word. Or the loudest.

Majority of predictions safely assumed:

SKT
G2
RNG
FW
CLG
SUP

Most variation fluctuated between RNG-CLG, but consensus mirrored the 2015 Worlds results; which is ridiculous given that neither G2 or RNG participated in 2015 Worlds. The irony, of course, is that looking back on the history of results and applying that to future events will create a fairly accurate prediction rate. But ultimately a poor understanding of why.

“History remembers the ends, not the means.”

SKT won MSI as predicted by the majority, but not in the way majority had thought. These empty predictions do wonders for boasting, but cheat the real majesty of Korean dominance. The narrative will paint Faker on his throne, and he should be celebrated for his incredible achievements and highs. But what’s far more interesting and important is not that Faker is amazing: but why?