At 8:14 p.m. on Saturday night, the North American League of Legends community was hit with what may be the biggest shock in league history. Cloud9 head coach Nick “LS” De Cesare was released from the organization, effective immediately. Now, if you don’t avidly follow the League Championship Series, this may seem like just another firing. Obviously these happen in traditional sports too, so one might question what all the drama surrounding this specific firing is about. It’s important to understand that this story is still very much in the developing stage, but how the team handles communications throughout the rest of the event will have major implications for how future situations are dealt with.
What makes this such a massive deal is that Cloud9, a perennial top-tier North American franchise, gutted their roster from last year in favor of a team built entirely around LS. This included South Korean players Park “Summit” Woo-tae and Kim “Berserker” Min-cheol, who uprooted their careers in the higher-regarded League Champions Korea to play for LS in America. Cloud9 made it very clear this offseason that their team branding would be centered around LS The players that swore by his style of play and upheld his coaching philosophy suddenly fired him with no explanation a mere four games into the season.
Now, it’s no doubt that having LS as a coach was an experiment. He is a celebrity in the League of Legends world, not just as a coach but also as a streamer and caster. His style of play breaks the mold of the usual strategic status quo. In traditional sports, when this kind of coach is hired, it’s usually understood that if things go south, there’s a short leash. However, LS’ tenure as Cloud9 head coach had not been going badly as of the time of his release. The team was 3-1 and tied for first place in the league.
For a comparison to traditional sports, let’s look at the NFL. In the past season, the Jacksonville Jaguars hired college coach Urban Meyer to lead the team. Meyer is a well-known name in football but was definitely seen as an experiment considering his lack of professional coaching experience. Just like LS, he was released by his organization in his first season of work, but unlike LS’ two-week stint, Meyer held the position for 13 weeks. Within his term, Meyer was fined $100,000 for violating NFL practice rules, was accused of kicking one of his players and was seen at a bar in Columbus, Ohio having inappropriate contact with a woman that was not his wife.
All of those infractions happened before Meyer was let go by the Jaguars. LS was let go without any public-facing controversy leading up to the decision. Here’s where Cloud9 has an important responsibility to uphold: If this ordeal is allowed to boil over with no transparency from the organization, League of Legends esports will lose a great deal of credibility. The community deserves a substantive answer for why the firing occurred. If a traditional sports team fired a coach that was having a successful season without a valid reason, those involved in the sport would go ballistic. If Cloud9 has a good reason, obviously this move could be justified, but the people deserve to know what that reason is.