By Petar Vukobrat
March 25, 2020
Two-thirds of the LCS Player Association has voted to cancel the 2020 Spring Split. This fascinating bit of news was met with a lot of backlash online primarily because the results of this poll were taken at face value.
The topic of North American players and their motivation has long been a hotly debated issue and, frankly, with good reason. If it’s not the players and their lack of motivation, then it’s the ping, or the server size, solo queue mentality, scrim culture, astronomical pay, or something else entirely.
All of that, however, becomes immensely insignificant when facing a global epidemic. The world, in short, is facing an unexpected challenge, presented in front of humanity without any prior notice. We’re all winging it, frankly, and no one’s quite sure what to do or think. While having weekly League of Legends to entertain the masses might be a fantastic avenue for escapism, it’s not the same if these players don’t feel safe doing it — entertaining us, the “roaring multitude.”
About half of currently competing LCS players aren’t from North America. They’ve left their homes and families in search of a career in a fledgling esports industry. They’ve embarked on a path less beaten, and are now competing in a foreign country that, odds are, in no way resembles their own.
And now with a pandemic knocking on the door and everyday life coming to a halt, they want to go back. An important distinction needs to be made. They don’t want to cancel Spring Split because it’s less important in the League calendar year, but rather because it’s less important and there’s a pandemic entering the very pores of society as we know it. This split is not the end all be all and if it were canceled right this instant, the world of competitive League wouldn’t suffer much. Sure, things would change a bit going forward (in an attempt to catch up), but that’s nothing in comparison to the impact of COVID-19 on a global scale.
Should anyone be surprised? These players are isolated in a country that’s only now coming up with a “game plan” on how to tackle the pandemic. The powers that be in the United States have yet to come to a consensus on what needs to be done. Imagine being a foreigner caught in the “crossfire” between two vastly diverging philosophies: Nation-wide lockdown and a forced jumpstart of the economy.
Self-isolating in your homeland is quite a challenge, even for the introverted among us. Imagine having to do that in a place without any face you truly hold dear. The horror.
We all love esports. We really do. But frankly, in these trying times, the idea to cancel Spring Split should be the least of our worries. Life itself is far more important, of course, and if someone’s life (or quality of life) is endangered, something needs to be done. To tell a foreign player they can’t go back to their home country amidst one of the most threatening and confusing epidemics in history is, at the very least, morally questionable.
“You have to stay here and play League of Legends.” Do they really, though?
In that sense, the Spring Split really doesn’t matter when you have coronavirus breathing on your neck. Some of these players are surely unmotivated — there’s no doubt about it — but they’re being paid handsomely, and obviously they would rather stay in Los Angeles, cash in their checks and earn obscene amounts of money. Make no mistake. Going back home in specialized airplanes and through multiple check-ups and quarantine is not the easy way out. These players are scared (some more than others) for their well-being. It’s easy to understand why.
Again, these are challenging moments not just for the United States but for the world as a whole. Is it not, then, sheer lunacy to ask someone to stay put and endure this chaos so they can play League of Legends, of all things? It’s all a matter of perspective, and when lives are at stake, competitive League is about as unimportant and insignificant a thing as you can possibly imagine.
Two-thirds is nothing to scoff at. Even if it were less, these players should still be able to make a decision regardless of what it says in their contracts, given the situation they’re in. Some of them might have older parents or relatives or friends in need. Others just want to survive this whole craze with their loved ones by their side.
Are they wrong to yearn for such a thing? Of course not, and we shouldn’t judge them for it or paint their actions in a negative light.
Some might say: “You’re locked in a house, in a safe environment, so just play League of Legends and earn money” but that’s beside the point. Only those who have found themselves in a similar position can truly judge through first-hand experience.
The number of deceased patients is rising by the hour and even the best and most competent countries in the world have been caught off guard. So we really need to understand when someone can’t (or won’t) concentrate on the more banal things in life — like video games. These young players, these adolescents are supposed to talk about patch highlights and pick and ban strategies while thousands of people succumb to the virus with each passing day.
Of course they want home. They should be able to exercise that right. We’ll play and watch all the League in the world once this chaos blows over. But until that day comes — and it’s still uncertain when it’ll come — player health and safety has to come first. Locking them in a room somewhere in Los Angeles is not a solution. It’s not even a band-aid fix.