When I talk to people who have no background in gaming or eSports about League of Legends and the LCS, I (probably like many others) often rely on easy, sometimes reductive comparisons to traditional sports — comments like how the LCS is some chimeric hybrid between the NFL and any European football league, and how the El Clasico is Team SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming.
It’s a rivalry spawned out of exciting, irrational, and sometimes immature trash talk, as is par for the course when it comes to any good rivalry. To the fanboys of Team SoloMid and Counter Logic Gaming, it’s a way to vent their misguided frustration about their rivals. To the fans of both teams, it was a way to have fun on Reddit, while also masking their insecurities about their team’s overall strength.
Over the years, the rivalry has grown, once from a place of probable jealousy and dislike to a presumed way to generate hype about their upcoming matches. It was and is everything that is expected and great about sports rivalries.
But this year it’s changed in a way that likely blindsided us all.
Weeks before the season opened, all seemed right. You had Lustboy giving his power rankings, putting CLG below TSM, Cloud 9, and Team Liquid — a small bit of honesty from the TSM support. In one of the LCS’ opening packages, Dyrus asserted TSM’s dominance in the league, albeit not directly calling CLG out.
But after a couple of weeks of competition and scrims, Dyrus backpedaled a bit on that assertion, saying in an AMA on his personal subreddit, /r/LOLdyrus, that CLG was the “best out of all 10 teams,” with TSM not being too far behind their rivals. In their post-match interview after beating Dignitas, Bjergsen and Santorin rated both of their CLG counterparts — Link and Xmithie, respectively — as some of their most feared competition. TSM, maybe for once, strangely respected their sworn rival.
But this respect flowed both ways. In Travis Gafford’s latest post-match interview with Doublelift, Travis phrases the expected “TSM vs. CLG” question in a way reminiscent of all the past iterations of that question: “Everyone seems to be thinking that TSM is way ahead of the curve […] what do you think are your chances against TSM?” while hinting at unknown parties in the scene that agree with TSM’s purposed dominance.
In seasons past, certainly when Reginald and Hotshotgg captained their respective teams, you’d expect an answer dismantling the hype around their rival and correctly placing it back on their team, often citing ambiguous scrim records to bolster their defense. Both teams would play into the rivalry like this throughout the season where it would come to a fantastic crescendo of trash-talk on the days leading up to the next North American El Clasico between the two heavyweights.
Instead, Doublelift responded by saying he “kinda” agrees, noting that TSM is playing the “humble card” in saying that CLG is better them, whilst playing it himself. He noted that TSM had one strange loss against Team 8, while CLG lost “pretty fair and square” to Liquid. And he ran down the roster evaluating their strengths — “Dyrus is pretty decent […], they have Bjergsen and Santorin who are pretty strong together, […] and their bottom lane has always been pretty good…”
Doublelift’s list of pretty-qualified strengths of TSM ends with him saying that the team CLG would call “FreeSM” not just one season ago has “no discernible weaknesses.”
It might be weird for some diehard fans to see. Many might think this is the death of the TSM-CLG rivalry of yesteryear and whatever excitement it brought because these two teams suddenly respect each other. But respect and humility don’t kill a rivalry; it strengthens it in suddenly rational ways that many aren’t used to. What’s more, respect and humility don’t make these two teams any less interesting or exciting. Sure, their meetings aren’t filled with that same level of pre-match hype from the trash-talk; instead, they’ll actually stand on something worth merit: the performance.
If you’re looking for an answer, it likely lies in the same pre-season teaser where Dyrus asserted TSM’s dominance — when Aphromoo says CLG thought they were a top team last year, but was mistaken; or when Bjergsen says that while many thought that going to Worlds and taking one game off of Samsung White was an achievement, it wasn’t for him.
Maybe TSM and CLG recognize that — after three seasons of the LCS and five seasons of international play — number one in the LCS really holds no weight. As long as you’re at the top and performing consistently well throughout both the Spring and Summer Splits to earn your spot at World, fighting over who actually is the best in a region matters very little if you can’t translate that into meaningful wins when it matters most in October.
More than anything, TSM and CLG might have their sights set elsewhere with this new rivalry.
And if that’s true, I welcome it as it’s far more exciting to know that the top teams in North America believe the other is better because that’s where complacency dies.
Humility isn’t boring; humility is hunger.