10. “and the faithful shall be rewarded” (spring playoffs week 1)
I have a complicated relationship with faith, and I don’t mean that in terms of religion. It’s just in the last few weeks, I’ve realized that I’ll never be the kind of fan who believes their team will win no matter what. I don’t mean that I’m a fair weather fan — far from that. Rather, I’m terrified that I purposefully pick the teams that will lose (I mean, come on, Kongdoo Monster?). It’s easier, after all, to have no expectations than to be disappointed. It’s the stronger fan that has a deep, inexhaustible well of belief, that can look you in the eye and tell you their team is 100%, without any doubt, the best team in the world. It’s the strongest fan that can tell you time and time again, even after their team loses, that their team is the destined to win it all.
As I write this, we are in the middle of the first LCK playoff round, MVP vs KT. I was a KT fan when I started this feelings diary and declared as much in the first entry. But whether it’s because I’ve had to cement my feelings through writing for ten weeks or because I’ve spent almost ten weeks cheering them on, at some point I’ve swung over from “KT is the team I’ll cheer for” to “KT Rolster is my LCK team.” Even when they were bombing against every other LCK team, even when their final regular season victories seemed as shaky as a drunk man getting up from the bar to go home after last call, I was there, waking up too early just to drag my body through three hours of dread. That’s what happens when you get invested.
Last week Kelsey Moser and Emily Rand previewed the LCK quarterfinals. If you’re reading some random stranger talk about her league feelings on the internet, then you’ve read Emily Rand’s writing, and you know her mini-bio at the end of every article has been, for as long as I’ve been reading her articles, “Emily Rand’s love of the 2013 KT Bullets will never die.” As a fellow KT fan, I’ve never felt as close to Rand as I did during the moment in the video where Moser turns the conversation away from MVP vs AFS to ask how AFS (the projected winner) would fare against KT. “Maybe it’s just because KT is the one team that I’m personally a fan of — it makes me see their mistakes more and I’m a little harsher on them,” she says, and then laughs nervously, maybe a little self-effacingly. “It’s like KT all year,” she says, throwing her hands in the air. “They have the pieces to win. Can I count on them winning? No.”
I don’t want to speak for Rand, who speaks better than I ever could, but in that exasperated hand gesture, that laugh she used to punctuate her unflattering assessment of KT’s current form, I saw in Rand a kindred kind of fan. Our doubt comes from love, from deep investment. We’ve gotten used to the possibility that the things we love, the things we invest so much of ourselves in, fail us time and time again, even when we know they could succeed. Strapped onto this ride, sink or swim, we care so much that it comes out the other end not dissimilar to disdain. Listening to non-fans praise our team makes us anxious, and we happily jump in with the haters when they tell us why our team will lose. We love them too much to let them get away with blindfolding us to their faults, and so we tell them we love them by saying things like, “they can lose easily to either MVP or AFS.” (For an Asian-American, this sentiment is extremely familiar. Even, dare I say, familial?)
Last week, Misfits won in a reverse sweep against Splyce, cementing a place at the semifinals in Hamburg. I’ve cheered for MSF since their first EULCS game, but with momentum and the late-season slump working against them, I hadn’t dared to hope. Understand, when I counted them out, it wasn’t because I thought SPY was the better team or that MSF doesn’t deserve to be in the semifinals. It’s just that I’m cowardly with my faith.
And then on Sunday, Flyquest reverse-swept Counter Logic Gaming in a five-game series that had me jumping out of my seat and pumping my fist in the air. With no allegiance to old or new Cloud9 or any of CLG, my attachment to FQ rests solely on the shoulders of Hai — a good talisman if you’re hoping for playoff upsets. Sure, the game, like the MSF vs SPY match, seemed more lost by CLG than won by FQ, but I had the time of my life watching that best of five: Hai on Talon barreling out on slivers of life, Moon making the Rengar come to life the way (bless him) Kakao could not, seeing FQ adapt and evolve their strategy as the games against CLG went on. I can’t lie and say that I expected a reverse sweep, but I’ve been wanting all season for Hai to prove the haters wrong, to show that FQ can make it, if even just off the backs of their enemy’s mistakes. (That too is part of the game — just ask me, a KT fan, how many times we’ve made stupid mistakes and let the game get away from us.)
But you know who probably had the most fun this weekend, who tasted the sweetest victory and walked away from this weekend feeling like one of the chosen faithfuls? These guys.
What could have been better for the faithful Fnatic fan than that clean sweep against H2K? When everyone counted you out, when it had seemed like a sure thing your team wouldn’t even make it to playoffs, much less to semifinals, how sweet must it have been to know that your faith was placed in trustworthy hands, that the team would point out true north, to Hamburg? This was an untested roster that seemed like it was a complete failure until these last matches. Truly, the faithful were rewarded.
We make fun of TSM fans (and rightfully so) for shoving their fanchants into every moment of quiet, even during games where TSM aren’t playing, and we make fun of the team itself for aiming for “number one at Worlds,” just like we make fun of their fans for believing it’s possible. But maybe there’s something to be said for the fan that believes blindly. In a time where every kind of love seems to be ironic, sports seems like one of the few places where you can express unironic, uncool, unadulterated faith. For a fan like me, who expects the worst, victory is just relief. But give me another five, ten weeks, and who knows. If I keep the faith long enough, maybe I too will be rewarded.