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The volatility & ever changing nature of 'League of Legends' eSports

Counter Logic Gaming's Dexter and Nien.
Counter Logic Gaming's Dexter and Nien.
Photo courtesy of Riot Games, used with permission.

You've just come off a second place finish with an astounding 80 percent win rate as a team including an Most Valuable Player award just three weeks earlier and now you find yourself benched.

Xpecial seeming sullen after a Team Solo Mid loss this season.
Photo courtesy of Riot Games, used with permission.

Such is the situation Alex “Xpecial” Chu finds himself currently in.

Following the conclusion of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) - North American 2014 Spring Split, Xpecial partook in nightly streams from his own home. This wouldn't normally be exceptionally notable if it wasn't for the fact that the rest of Team Solo Mid (TSM) remained at their gaming house in Los Angeles.

Then it happened.

Unthinkable for long time TSM fans, randomly during his stream Xpecial suddenly seemed sullen and bothered. “I didn't want to say anything for the past few days [because] I wasn't sure about it yet,” admits Chu. “[The rest of Team Solo Mid is] starting scrims tomorrow and I won’t be playing in them.”

Andy “Reginald” Dinh, owner of the team later took to Facebook with fans already hounding at his door. “Xpecial was benched because of his attitude. After hearing feedback from the entire team, I made the decision to bench him.”

Reginald continues, “In this period of time, I hope that he will refocus and review his actions. League of Legends is a team game; just because you have the best players on a team does not mean you have the best team.”

Despite its second place finish TSM could soon find itself with a new support player, even though Xpecial is widely considered as one of the best three supports in North America.

“I have always made my roster decisions based on the entire team's feedback and would never make a business decision because of personal reasons,” says Reginald, “I truly believe that everything I do is to benefit TSM.”

League of Legends, and eSports in general, are constantly evolving and changing. This volatility means that absolutely no one has job security and everyone needs to fight tooth and nail for their spot among the pros.

Just recently the sixth, seventh, and eighth place team during the Spring Split found themselves in relegation, battling against the top ranked Challenger teams to keep their spot in the LCS. XDG Gaming, Evil Geniuses (EG), and Team Coast found themselves facing off against LMQ, Cloud 9 Tempest (C9T), and Complexity.Black, respectively.

One of the most feared teams among the Challenger League, LMQ, a team that recently moved to North America from China easily took down XDG knocking some big names like Zach “Mancloud” Hoschar out of the professional scene for the time being.

“Felt like staying away from social media for a bit,” comments Mancloud on Twitter, “but now I feel is a good time to say that I'm not done with competitive [League of Legends]. I'm just looking at my options, and you'll all see me again soon enough.”

Evil Geniuses managed to take down the highly skilled Cloud 9 Tempest to retain their spot but even that ended with one of the more prominent players attempting to break into the big leagues retiring his dreams for good.

“For those who are curious, I'll be retiring since I'll be needing to go back to school,” announces mid-laner Aaron “Bischu” Kim. “Thank you again to the Cloud 9 organization for helping us out during our journey. . .It was a good run, thanks for sticking with me.”

Perhaps the most conflicted series this relegation was Team Coast versus Complexity.Black. With household names (at least among League of Legends eSports fans) like Shiphtur and ZionSpartan dueling it out with the likes of Westrice who was looking to get back into the scene after repeatedly struggling since his heyday just a few years ago. Many fans weren't sure who to cheer for.

When Team Coast suffered defeat at the hands of Complexity you could feel the disappointment and raw emotion in Danny “Shiphtur” Le’s words. His only tweet that night: “I don't deserve to be in the LCS.”

Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaya was a little more lighthearted but still clearly disappointed saying, “I definitely could have played much better and hopefully I can improve if I am still playing competitively, not sure what my plan is [at the moment.]”

Even victory results in some sort of sorrow once the initial high goes away. Shortly after his victory with CLB Jonathan “Westrice” Nguyen posts, “Bittersweet win versus Coast. I played very badly but I'm so proud of my team for doing work. Guess I don't have to retire after all.”

Professional eSports players typically have a much shorter career than those in other fields but with success never certain and failure ready to strike at any moment each and every player can never grow too comfortable in their role.

Counter Logic Gaming’s Zach “Nien” Malhas did extremely well in rebuilding the team following their terrible start to the Split. However during the playoffs, following the team’s throw during game two and subsequent obliteration in game three by TSM, fans began tearing Nien apart.

It wasn't long until he announced his departure from the team with the community's hate only being part of his motivation. He vows that he will return one day but until then there’s a hole in CLG’s top-lane that needs to be filled.

While all of this means that there are spots on some of the highest tier teams for those who find themselves displaced due to relegation there will always be those who have just seen their career end in the span of three to five games. That’s all it takes.

It’s an emotional roller-coaster with those finally achieving their dreams with other's leaving the scene before they even got started.

And while that brevity makes it extremely exciting for fans, it can only be terrifying for those fighting to keep themselves from fading into the crowd of challengers.