A Knee Jerk Reaction: Reddit and FNC Caps

Caps practicing alongside ex-teammate Xerxe, both are set to join EU LCS this split

FNATIC’s recent signing of now LCS-eligible 17-year old Rasmus “Caps” Winther to be the heir to their mid lane dynasty has been met with backlash after circulation of his behavior in solo queue. There were three front-page threads on the sub-reddit regarding his behavior, two of which are broadly speaking, a witch-hunt of the young mid laner. Largely, I believe this is fueled by virtue signaling — people see something moral reprehensible when taken in at first glance and condemn it without any real critical thinking. There is an immediate moral high-ground when criticizing someone who exhibits unsportsmanlike behavior, and I will not argue that what Caps did was right, in fact his behavior is unsportsmanlike, troublesome even. But I also don’t believe the way [parts] of the community are responding is right, either.

An immediate dog-pile of vehement condemnation and an active search for more fuel to essentially flame Caps occurred, which is almost as reprehensible as his own actions — it at the very least surrenders any moral high-ground they had. This sort of angry mob-style attack on a young player’s career that is just beginning can very well ruin it, especially when they are coming to grips with handling the spotlight. Caps’ behavior should be handled and investigated by Riot and FNC, not by reddit-detectives acting as both judge and jury, pressuring the org and Riot to act. If you’re in the lump of the community lobbying for this, I’d like to present my perspective and perhaps context to the situation in order to change your mind.

First of all, I’d like to make clear that I do believe Caps’ behavior should not be tolerated, but it must also be recognized it’s not out of the norm. When it comes to extremely talented young competitors, be it physical sports or eSports, outbursts of this kind are almost common. Often times, this can be behind closed doors practicing — deep in training rooms after hours of pushing their limits — where athletes let out their frustrations of wanting more success. This is the passion of a competitor, and in the League of Legends scene, every minute of practice is recorded.

Solo Queue is a Pro’s Weight Room

A key distinction to make when judging a professional player is that there is a contextual difference between what Solo Queue is to them and to the average League of Legends player. Usually, that pro player is either a) preparing for scrim blocks later in the day or b) has already played rigorous hours of LoL in scrims and is now playing to polish his skills. When a pro player queues up, it’s the same as a professional athlete clocking in after-hours at the gym to polish their skills — they are there to seriously practice, it’s not just another fun game of League of Legends to them. Their career relies on them pushing themselves in that practice, and in practice is where as a competitor you take out the frustration of your shortcomings in previous failures. Subsequently, there will be outburst of anger, it’s natural as a passionate competitor.

The difference between professional athletes and professional eSports players is that every second of Solo Queue is recorded. If you saw every piece of practice footage of your favorite athlete from say, age 16 onward, I’m sure you’d find something morally objectionable. I emphasis age there, because young eSports talent is thrust into the spotlight at an early age, certainly before they are fully matured. In most cases, this is prodigal talent as such with young athletes and it becomes a focus over academics, funneling all their efforts into the make-or-break career of being a professional competitor.

The Sacrifice to go Pro

Something that professional athletes and eSports players share is the sacrifice and passion they invest into being top of their class, usually from a very young age. Players like Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett who is also known for his outbursts in solo queue dropped out of high school to pursue his dream, many athletes do the same. I imagine Caps’ who began his professional journey at 16 is in a very similar situation to Dardoch and professional athletes like Bryce Harper.

For players in make-or-break situations like this, the frustration in practice and passion to succeed is only multiplied, leading to behavior troubles because of the pressure their facing. There are countless hours put into mastering their craft, perfecting every single small detail, because they have no other option. This must be kept in mind when we judge a professional player’s actions — especially a rookie who hasn’t fully matured as a human, let alone professional athlete yet — not as an excuse, but as a way to empathize with their actions. Try to place yourself in the shoes of a player on the cusp of achieving his dreams of breaking onto the professional scene, then evaluate Caps’ actions.

For this reason, the community’s almost bewildered disgust at any sighting of a professional or close to professional player acting out (be it flaming, intentionally feeding, what have you) is surprising to me, especially if you look to professional sports for context. Even on the field, players are prone to going into a rage whilst saying and doing things that are arguably worse than what Caps’ is accused of. It’s not unusual for passionate, professional competitors to run into morally reprehensible confrontations.

Odor (Right) received a short seven-game suspension for this mean right-hook

From physical altercations to shouting-matches, professional athletes are constantly displaying their emotion on and off the field. The fundamental difference between outbursts that professional athletes have and those that eSports professionals have is in how the fans and Riot react to it. In sports, even incidents like the killer right-hook pictured above only put Rougned Odor on the docket for roughly a two-week suspension. However, Riot’s precedent for punishment is set high when we look at previous suspensions such as Christian “IWDominate” Rivera who was banned for over a year for toxic behavior.

In League of Legends, the community opinion holds a lot of weight and Riot is known to consider it when making decisions, which creates a disastrous situation for any player caught throwing a proverbial right-hook. When you shout your unfiltered opinion into the ether of Reddit, this is something you must consider, especially when it involves a player’s career. Riot has been more lenient when it comes to young professionals making behavioral mistakes in Solo Queue lately, usually only suspending the player for a few games, fining them and leaving the punishment mostly in the hands of the organization. An example of this is Hankil “Road” Yoon of I May, who during the World Championship was suspended by Riot for one game and fined due to toxic solo queue behavior. This form of punishment allows a message to be sent to the player from Riot while also leaving room for the player’s organization to punish him internally.

Riot taking a progressive step by using this system of punishment when behavior issues arise in solo queue is an improvement, but as a community we also need the fans to come around on this subject. Without a doubt there should be punishment when players act out, but when they do, the harshness of our criticism needs to be more tempered. We have a unique grass-roots model with eSports and while it’s important that you cherish that, you must also understand the power it gives you as a fan with input. With a grass-roots system, your opinion is valued, which makes the posts you up-vote and the comments you make about players have real impact.

Understand our role as a Community

Taking a step back, it’s ridiculous that three posts about Caps traffic’d the front-page all at the same time while all being filled with the same strand of hate for Caps. Among the occasional nuance or defense in those threads, the sentiment you would come out of any of those three threads with is that the community is disgusted by the fact Caps will play in the LCS next season. If Riot and FNATIC are feeling for the pulse of the community, then it’s not a good sign for the budding young career of Rasmus.

Caps is a A sixteen year old player that came into a second place Dark Passage team in the TCL during their last week of the Summer Season and then guided them to a first place finish in the play-offs. He had the most kills of any mid laner in the TCL playoffs, a 65% kill participation and the highest mid lane GPM at 397. His play-style is that of the classical European mid and he’s capable of being the glue that holds together FNATIC’s new five man roster. These kind of strides at a young age makes Caps the caliber of player that we should be excited about watching premier in the LCS this upcoming season.

Instead, a behavioral slip up that should have been handled by Riot and FNC, not revealed by Reddit before they could address it, has whipped the community into a frenzy of backlash against a potential future star. Even people boasting FNC flairs have wished for his failure or for different mid laner to take his place. In reality, there is likely no better cost & potential-equivalent mid laner to Rasmus “Caps” Winther for FNATIC right now. Winther has the potential to grow beyond his behavioral issues and find his place in the bloodline of European mid lane gods, but with stern community backlash this becomes mentally more difficult for him to achieve.

As a community — on Reddit, on Twitter or anywhere you participate in public discourse — you must be aware of of the role you play in the psychology of players and organizations trying to raise those players. When you are critical of a player or when you take a stance on the position, ensure that you’ve questioned yourself first. Reaffirm that you understand the context of the situation the player is in and then criticize them accordingly. Players are rightfully in the line-of-fire for critique as professionals, but there is a difference between articulated critique and the sort of dog-pile unleash on Caps yesterday.

At the end of the day, the dialog about Caps’ behavior and subsequent punishment for his actions should be between him, Riot and FNATIC, not sprawled across Reddit in multiple threads.