Esports: Falling Stars

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Every sport has players who were undisputedly the best athletes when and where they played. I’m talking the Tiger Woods and Serena Williams and Derek Jeters of sports, the people who were universally respected as, if not the best, about as close as it’s possible to be. 

The same is the case in esports. CS:GO has S1mple and Zywoo, but before them it had Niko, Guardian, Coldzera and KennyS. In a sport like professional CS:GO, where the best teams play each other regardless of region and nationality, it’s not difficult to pick out the players who are routinely the best. 

It’s much harder in League of Legends. Because most of the year is spent with teams only facing others from their region, it’s difficult to ascertain a good understanding of where teams and players rank against each other. That difficulty is made worse by the fact that the best player having the best week of their career could lose every game at an international tournament because the other four people don’t perform and, with such limited international events, there are few opportunities to perform against other regions. 

Despite this, there are and always will be players who are the best. In Korea, that historically was Faker. In China, Uzi, in Europe, Perkz and Caps, and in North America, Doublelift and Bjergsen. These players are the best of the best in their regions, players with trophies and titles and MVPs. Many of them, most of them, have played for nearly as long as League of Legends has had an esports scene, a decade of fighting for titles and trophies and glory. 

Or, they were the best in their regions. Now, that first generation of exceptional talent is retiring or moving on. Uzi retired this year, citing health problems, although he’s said he’d consider a return in the future. Perkz is leaving behind his beloved LEC, where he’s been one of the headlining players for the better part of a decade, for the LCS. And Doublelift and Bjergsen, as announced over the past weeks, are retiring.  

Doublelift’s retirement, announced just over a week ago, is a particularly harsh blow to a region that has struggled with getting homegrown talent. Doublelift had played in the LCS since the beginning; he competed with Epik Gamer at the first Worlds. There are few players who are domestically more accomplished. 

And yet, as he retires after almost a decade of professional play, it feels like that storied career of eight titles, an MVP, a finals MVP, and five first-team spots, ends with a question mark. Is that what people will remember: Doublelift taking team after team after team to victory? Or will they remember Worlds, where he and his region both struggled massively to have any success? Doublelift himself never got out of groups at Worlds, nor lived up to the success he achieved in the LCS. Now, he leaves after a horrible 0-6 Worlds after his team once again won the LCS. 

These moves are not surprising, but it still hurts for a sport to lose it’s first generation of superstars, and forces the question of who comes next. In some ways, it’s clear; younger players like Caps have stepped up in recent years and shown that that first generation of star talent will not be the last. But for now, all fans can do is take a moment, watching the careers of players who were for so long the stars of a sport fade away.  

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