With MSI on the horizon, Riot tries to clean up League of Legends

Streaming is one of the best parts about gaming—once upon a time, watching someone play a game was an arduous task, up there with being Player Number Two. “C’mon, let me have a turn,” you might whine as your friend took their time going through Chrono Trigger’s menus. Few friends were virtuous enough to hand the controller over. Now, watching a game is a luxury. Whether you’re watching the latest tournament to root for your favourite team, or just chilling out with the Pie on in the background, League’s popularity is partially due to its accessibility through platforms like Twitch. And this is what makes the following stories so interesting—not only are they both examples of Twitch’s reach in making League such a dominant esports, but they’re also radical opposites in terms of production quality, values, and audience.

Let’s go international

With the Mid-Season Invitational revving up in Shanghai, everyone’s eyes are on the international stage. Regional champions from around the world are preparing to meet and battle it out. The MSI has always occupied a strange space—it lacks the prestige and impact of Worlds, but is significantly more serious than All Stars. This year, Riot has upped the stakes by including Worlds seeds for teams who advance to the Knockout Stage.

Of course, non-Worlds international tournaments have had their fair shares of upsets and unexpected victors (remember WE going up against the GE Tigers at IEM Katowice?) Riot has certainly been working hard to get fans excited for the upcoming tournament, with incredible graphics and detailed profiles, hype videos and hashtags setting the stakes.

However, the big question is whether the current international format is working. There are a few concerns that come up again and again:

Right now, teams fight among their own region for long stretches, only rarely meeting international competitors. Besides Worlds and the Mid-Season Invitational, there are the Intel Extreme Masters Events. Teams commit to 18 matches in their own region before they have a chance at going on the international stage, and a strong performance during those 18 matches doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll get to go on the global stage. The Immortals went 17-1 during the regular Split, but were knocked out of the Playoffs by TSM. The long stretch of the Split will only increase when the LCS changes from the current Best of 1 format.

It’s not as though teams aren’t interested in this international experience—many teams are spending the off season bootcamping in Korea for the solo queue and scrims.

As we head into the Mid-Season Invitational, the clear favourites are SKTelecom T1. Not only are SKT T1 considered to be leagues ahead of the competition, but North America is considered to be a distant underdog.

Amid the hype, one must ask: will these tournaments continue to garner such interest if the winner is considered crowned before the matches begin? The Worlds seeds help, and fans will likely always tune into cheer for their teams (even if, and maybe especially if they’re the underdog.) 

While the fires of fan interest still burn strong, Riot will have to consider whether the best way to draw in new viewers and keep the interest of the old is to change the system for the rest of the year. Despite the possible necessity of these changes, there’s no way they’ll be put into place before MSI draws to a close, so League fans should check the games out. Who knows? Maybe SuperMassive or Counter Logic Gaming will shock the world and take the title home.

The curious case of Tyler1

While the world elite prepare to rumble in Shanghai, the headlines were dominated by a very small scale case. One streamer—not a competitive player, not a coach or a celebrity—had been marked as ‘ban on sight’ by Riot. Who was this man? Tyler1 had been slowly building both an audience and a financial future through Twitch.

This could have been a tale of entrepreneurship and personality in the Internet age. Instead, this was less of the American dream and more like a nightmare. Tyler1 was a player notorious for two things:

  • Playing Draven
  • Being a terrible human being and teammate

His play was marked with intentional feeding, deeply personal insults, and a sort of petty bullying usually only found in middle school playgrounds. He treated world class shot caller and League legend Hai with vague contempt, argued with Phreak about the morals of champion select in a lobby with multiple Riot employees, and yet was somehow considered entertaining enough to pull in donation after donation (although he never earned a subscriber button, perhaps because of his foul conduct.)

Tyler1 should be a simple case: man trolls, feeds, and flames. Man is banned. Community rejoices.

Yet there’s a small minority of players who insist that Tyler1 provided the League entertainment they craved. The question is not whether people care: the important question is why do they care?

Part of League’s identity has been based off of trash talk, competition, and coming up with creative ways to thumb your nose at your opponent since its inception. League has made history with their community moderation efforts, but there are still fans who yearn for the days when the Rift was more of a Wild West environment. Tyler1 is just the most recent lightning rod for the conversation.

Realistically, there’ll always be ways for players to antagonize players. I’ve been griefed in Draw Something, and Hearthstone players can attest to the fury a well timed “WELL MET” can inspire. Despite this, Riot’s march of progress will likely roll forward. Tyler1’s plight is hot news now, but he’s infuriated ten players for every fan he has earned. For now, he stands as a marker of progress—banning him is a victory, but it also shows signs that Riot has a way to come with their social reformation of the player base.

From Shanghai to player reform, it’s a week of change for League of Legends. Both of these events are a sign of how easy it is to access League, on any level. Interestingly enough, they both show signs of change that has yet to come.