TSM! TSM! TSM! The chant is so ubiquitous in League of Legends (and occasionally, the rest of esports) for a reason: Team SoloMid is the number one team popularity-wise, and this summer they’ve managed to become the number one team on the standings. The casters and analysts have a story to tell around not just each game, but the entire season itself. It makes sense that they would choose to focus on the winners—it’s far more exciting to look at competitive gameplay than middle of the pack (or bottom of the standings) back and forths, right? At the same time, the TSM storyline usually ends up centering around their long time rival, Counter Logic Gaming. There’s a lot of history there, but there may be simply too much history. We’ve been there, done that, and seen it before. We’ve seen TSM triumph and Counter Logic Gaming claw their way back for two splits in a row. Now, the pendulum has swung and TSM is back at the top with an undefeated record so far.
While rivalries are exciting, do we really have to look at these two same teams all the time? Here are three rivalry storylines that have popped up during the NA LCS that would be far more fascinating to shine a spotlight on.
NRG v Echo Fox
You know how Wolverine’s nemesis is Sabertooth? NRG and Echo Fox, on paper, have a lot in common: they both have big, traditional sports backing from celebrity names. They both are mid-tier teams with moments of potential that suggest they’re capable of so much more. They’re both sleekly branded themselves (although one is all blues and oranges, and the other is a much more stylish pink dominated theme). Neither of them is going to Worlds, and both of them have mid tier rosters, but so what? Their game was still more interesting to watch than CLG v TSM, especially with the end of game recall trickery that cost Echo Fox the match.
NRG has built their roster around being likable. Kiwikid, Santorin, and Quas were pickups for fan appeal. They’re a fun loving brand who wear bow ties and take lots of Twitter shots of their yoga sessions. On the other hand, Rick Fox has talked about how he wants Echo Fox to be champions. Echo Fox v NRG is a fun story that you could see on the Disney Channel. It’s not an incredibly serious rivalry with oodles of history, but it’s fun as heck to watch. CLG v TSM was not.
IMT v C9
At first, this rivalry doesn’t look like much. The Immortals and Cloud9 have had some really exciting games that are a joy to watch, but Cloud9 seems to be the lesser team at the moment. The keywords there are at the moment. Cloud9’s entire trajectory is clearly a long term one. They’re improving with Reapered at the helm as the head coach, still making the most of their dual support line up, and looking for talent in the Challenger scene. The Cloud9 of now is a top three team, but the Cloud9 of a year or two from now is a far more interesting prospect.
Immortals have beaten Cloud9 again and again, but they seem to have plateau’d as a team. They’re not repeating their incredible run of spring, where they went 17-1 (although they are doing respectably). If Cloud9 wants to be a top team, taking the Immortals down at a clutch moment is going to be the first notable stepping stone on their transcendence to a new level. Every time the two teams meet on the Rift, you know it’s going to be an exciting match. When you consider the stakes above, it just gets even more compelling.
Phoenix1 v the world
If you’ve ever watched a sports movie where one of the characters is a dog, you know that the team that keeps losing is totally able to have an incredible narrative built around their journey. Phoenix1 lost their first nine games, and then they finally took a game off of Apex. That’s a hell of a story, and it’s inspiring to see their fans rally. “Team Phoenix9-9, the dream!” They are small in number, but mighty in spirit—and hell, if your team’s logo is a phoenix, that’s beautiful imagery.
When even your coach admits that the players are “used to losing”, most people would count a team out. Imagine if the casters and analysts rallied behind Phoenix1 and paid attention to those matches. It would be a little less gameplay based, a little less established, but it would definitely be more interesting than another CLG v TSM grudge match.
Now, while I think all of those storylines are more interesting, the truth is that the finals will definitely have TSM (unless the team somehow implodes before or during playoffs), and CLG still has a strong chance of making it. However, every split and every season, the same storyline plays out. TSM and CLG, the long history, the insults, the Doublelift switch...
It’s not the NA LCS’s fault that TSM is so incredibly popular. Indeed, there’s no way to reverse that train. It makes sense that they would go with the biggest and most popular teams for their stories and narratives. However, if they want to reverse this trend and put the spotlight on mid tier-teams, then this is their chance. Look for the funny stories, the interesting characters, and spotlight them. Granted, they’ve started to do this with initiatives like the DRIVE documentary series. Hopefully they continue this path.
Let’s be real—not every team is going to have a fascinating story or a massive fanbase. However, teasing out these stories and making teams interesting is going to be a huge part of marketing the LCS in the coming years. I mean, as a Torontonian I can attest that our Maple Leafs have been a terrible team, but they bring in huge marketing bucks for the NHL. Esports owners and Riot, let’s start talking about the unique and cool story each team has. You might be surprised at what follows.