In less than two months, the League of Legends World Championship will begin. Twenty-four teams from around the world will get the chance to compete for the biggest title in League or, arguably, in all of e-sports. For the second year in a row, they’ll do it in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, many thought it was going to be impossible to host the World Championship at all but, with strict restrictions and without a crowd, it happened and Damwon Gaming brought the Summoners Cup back to Korea. They’ll be back to defend their legacy but perhaps more importantly to try and prove that they have a legacy in the first place.
After this pandemic, when people can go to games and laugh with their friends again, questions are going to be raised about every championship, victory and hard-fought win. Is it the same, people will ask, to play like this in this isolated world as it is to play in front of thousands of screaming fans?
For teams like the MAD Lions, who have only ever played half of a split with fans, the question is jarring. The young roster won two LEC championships, made top four at MSI, was one game off of beating eventual winners Damwon Gaming and looks like the best team in Europe going into the World Championship on home soil.
Yet, they’ve played half of a split in person. Never won one in person, never won a playoff game in person although their rookies, Armut and Elyoya, have never lost one in person either. Is it different to win like this? Is it easier? Harder? Or simply different enough that we’ll look at it in five or 10 years differently than we do the ones from “normal” times.
The debate of this reminds me a little of when people discuss eras in sports and whether it’s reasonable to compare a team who competed 20 or 50 years ago to a dynasty now. Is it fair to compare eras or circumstances or teams to ones in different situations? It’s the same question that comes up in the League of Legends community when people ask if you count Fnatic as a world champion.
They won the first World Championship, yes, and they have the skins retroactively to prove it, but season one was so far removed from what the following World Champtionships would be that that victory seems hollow when considered next to the likes of SKT, FPX, IG and Damwon?
To me, this question is more difficult than that one, however. It’s easy to see that Fnatic did not face the same difficulty that today’s champions do and while they were the best in season one and will forever be a world champion because of it, the circumstances of their victory were not the same. But the issue with COVID-19, with sports and tournaments and circumstances from this time, goes beyond league: this is something every sport will question.
There is not a professional sport that played in the last 18 months, not football nor league nor basketball, that won’t face the question of how performance during the pandemic should be considered. They’re victories, of course; no one will claim that the Dodgers didn’t win the last World Series, but are they the same as winning in 2019 or, hopefully, in a post-pandemic 2022? Are they worse? Are they better? That’s the real question, the one that hall of fames and fans will be arguing about in twenty years. Does it matter when a team wins, when a dynasty is born, or simply that it is?