League of Legends

Thorin's Take: Kelsey Moser - League's Weak Side Queen

by Duncan "Thorin" Shields

Share


Kelsey Moser is perhaps the most under-appreciated esports journalist and thinker in history, particularly within League of Legends. She is also my favourite esports journalist and thinker. Over the last eight years, Kelsey has worked throughout the industry and covered numerous major regions in LoL. From years unnoticed grinding to become a good writer she went on to become one of the premiere journalists in the space for a number of years.

Kelsey is the mind and vision behind the English language coverage of the LPL, now arguably League's best region and home of the last two World Champions, taking it from a mysterious and indecipherable closed off scene to one which now attracts far more attention and interest from a Western audience. Indeed, many if not all of the major narratives surrounding the players of the early years came from her imagination and pen. It is no exaggeration to say without her there may have never been a proof of concept that there was an English audience for the region, especially after the niche favourites PapaSmithy and PastryTime departed. There may be no Froskurinn. No Raz. Such is but one of her contributions.

Ever working to expand her skillset and improve, she later branched out into video content like talk shows and monologues. Since 2018 she has been employed as a coach, helping H2k make the EU LCS (now LEC) play-offs in S8 Spring and later becoming the Academy coach of 100 Thieves, winning the S9 summer split last year.

Advertisement

Beneath what appeared to initially be a dry and humourless exterior, Kelsey showed us there was a driving passion and relentless work ethic to know more, do more and be more. She taught us so much about the Chinese and European regions, whether you knew it or not. She made us care about the LPL.

The very hungry caterpillar

Kelsey Moser originally wrote under the alias "Prehistorique", as much as she might like to forget it, and could be found hustling to get her work published on GosuGamers and smaller League sites like the now-deceased Mundoverse and Paravine.

"She applied just as a volunteer at first saying she had some experience running some amateur NA cup if I remember correctly." recalls former GosuGamers editor Drexxin. "I don't think she had a lot of confidence in her writing or anything at the time and mostly just did really basic news and recaps."

Advertisement

It would be at Mundoverse and Paravine, along with parallel efforts at the Riot-funded lolesports, that Kelsey emerged as someone willing to tackle historical narratives and dive into deep analysis of players and teams on the basis of their strengths and styles. Quickly she began to attract the attention of more prominent figures in the scene and earn her industry plaudits, even while her work and the region she covered - China - continued to struggle to make a major scene-wide impact.

What immediately stood out to me was her bravery in attempting to analyse, often critically, the play of the best Chinese players and teams, as well as her eagerness to improve with each article and story-telling attempt.

"Her style allows her to break down complex information into more concise sentences and this coupled with her analytical ability of the game has made her into one of the preeminent figures for Chinese League of Legends in the West." remarked dooraven, one of her editors at Paravine.

Advertisement

The analyst emerges from the chrysalis

Speaking to me back in early 2015, Kelsey's long-time friend and former colleague Froskurinn, now one of the world's most well known and accomplished colour commentators, explained, corroborating Drexxin's remarks, that Kelsey initially lacked confidence in her writing and even game knowledge. Only through enormous amounts of study, amassing one of the most incredible archives of Chinese scene data and knowledge, did she forge herself into someone capable of tackling the important topics of the day.

"She'd watch me play and explain the game. She wanted to be able to talk more in-depth with me concerning it so she started watching esports and vods. The changing of obsessions: literature to esports.

Kelsey just needs to know how and why things work. She needs to be educated. She was never very good at physically playing the game and that frustrated her because she knew what needed to happen." recalled Froskurinn.

Advertisement

Even back then, before her writing career had even begun, Kelsey had shown a hidden capacity for analysis, though. The victorious World Championship campaign of Taipei Assassins (TPA) came as a major surprise to most experts around the world, with the winner of the event expected to be Russia's Moscow Five or Korea's Azubu Frost, but Kelsey knew better.

"I remember watching S2 and everyone I talked to said it was going to be X or Y, no one ever said it was going to be TPA." explained Froskurinn. "Kelsey said it was going to be TPA. She'd been watching [TPA ADC] Bebe playing on [NA pro] Atlanta's stream and thought he was incredibly talented. So she'd been following TPA and thought they had the best chance of winning."

This prediction came in spite of her own preference that the Chinese region win, represented then by a World Elite side who would go on to a legendary streak of performance following the World Championship, but this predilection did not blind her to the obvious outcomes of her rational analysis and intuitive sense for the game at the time. This quality has remained a hallmark of her work, ever willing to potentially sacrifice personal credibility with overly attached fans to speak her perspective on the truth to the misleading narratives of the day.

"She's the most knowledgable of the Chinese scene of any Western journalist, great to work with, talented writer, never missed an assignment. I wish I could clone her for every scene." stated Mirhi, her editor at lolesports.

Falling in love with the challenge

This rebellious streak that would not be silenced can be traced back to her youth and eventual career decisions. Kelsey's early creative interests included writing both fiction and non-fiction, with an obsession over Russian literature, yet she went into the field of economics for her initial career.

"She went into economics because of a passing comment her father made to her when she was young that she should marry a guy with a math background because he'll make a lot of money. She enjoys numbers, but it was more out of - not spite - but proving a point." remarks Froskurinn.

Kelsey became obsessed with the Chinese region in League of Legends and began studying it soon into discovering the game. It is not enough to simply suggest she liked or was interested in Chinese League. That fails to capture the power of her curiosity.

"I can't recall having a conversation with her that didn't relate to LoL (specifically Chinese LoL) in some way" explained PiraTechnics, former Chinese region commentator and later EU LCS.

There could be no greater challenge at that time than attempting to become embedded in the seemingly alien Chinese scene. There was very little in terms of English language resources regarding the region, with even broadcasts being hidden away on sites that required some basic understanding of the Chinese language to navigate. Kelsey not only began immersing herself entirely into this quest but soon applied what she could bring back to enhancing the perspective of everyone in the West with a curiosity for what was going on over there.

Brains behind the broadcast

Following initial amateur broadcast attempts by the aforementioned PapaSmithy and PastryTime, later famed on camera talent for the LCK and LCS, respectively; Kelsey would help build up a new team and amateur broadcast effort to provide a way into the LPL for the Western audience. While she rarely appeared with her own voice on the broadcast, beyond filling in occasionally, she was the vision steering the tone and narratives expressed on it.

"When I met Kelsey, I realized that she had laid a ton of the groundwork for what would become LPLen. And she continued to work intensely on it, helping us with stats/stories, and often making sure the stream stayed on." says PiraTechnics.

Froskurinn told me every statistic that appeared on the broadcast through to 2015 came not from a Riot API but from the hand taken database of Kelsey Moser. She would supply the commentators with the relevant story-lines and information to create the stars and narratives of the emergent elite region. I've wondered myself now how many insightful remarks I'd heard from the on camera talent at the time may have come from her directly and reading her work back the genesis point seems clear and undeniable.

"Kelsey works harder than anyone to know about the scene because of how much time and effort she puts into it. I don't think anyone can touch her on that front." states PiraTechnics.

While never a success in terms of raw viewership, Kelsey was instrumental in establishing "China Talk", a regular talk show focused on the LPL which existed parallel to my own more general show "Summoning Insight" and this became a venue by which onlookers learned more about now much bigger profiles like Froskurinn and Raz, both of whom later worked as full-time commentators in the LPL.

Surviving and then thriving

Kelsey went from writing for smaller sites and lolesports to moving up to bigger endeavours such as the now deceased OnGamers and Yahoo esports, with a stint at TheScoreEsports in between the latter two. During this time her profile had risen to begin to match her now formidable prowess as a scene expert and writer. She even branched out to embrace the European region, even while she continued to be locked into everything taking place in China.

"I think the most impressive thing about Kelsey's writing is her dedication to her subject. Be it a high profile player like Uzi or a player from LPSL [the Chinese second league] that almost no one in the Western scene has heard of, she will breakdown and introduce you to that subject with the same top notch quality. There are few people in eSports who work as hard as she does. She's a remarkable writer." explained Fionn, one of the scene's premiere narrative writers and a fellow colleague at lolesports, TheScoreEsports and Yahoo Esports.

She went from a fringe contributor to the journalism space to one of its most important voices. It is little coincidence that translated into turning an amateur or semi-professional interest into a full-time occupation writing about the game and regions she loved.

See the world through my eyes

Indeed, Kelsey's ability to outline the playing style of a team, its stars' tendencies and the system by which they played became legendary to those who closely followed her work, myself included. Through a brief overview of Kelsey's favourite players and mainstays of her work we uncover the narratives that eventually came out of the mouths of the best commentators in the region, were relayed to the top experts elsewhere for use more broadly and are now fondly attached to and remembered whenever said players are referenced.

The first name that springs to mind is five LPL champion ClearLove, legendary jungler of World Elite and later EDward Gaming. Dismissed immediately by so many experts outside of the region for his limited attention to ganking, seens as the primary role of his position, Kelsey saw a player who excelled but in an unorthodox manner.

"The fact that Clearlove is a jungler and not a particularly strong one has always been one of his flaws. Jungling is something he just has to do sometimes to get to the part of the game he really wants to play." she explained in a piece for TheScoreEsports in early 2015.

Kelsey broke down the World Elite system, which at one point amassed a domestic and international streak of 30 plus match wins in a row and world number one status, as inverting the roles of Jungler and Mid laner. Misaya, himself an unusual Mid laner, would be applying map pressure, most famously on his signature pick of Twisted Fate, and this left ClearLove to power farm the jungle and grow strong.

With ADC WeiXiao the best in the world at his role and a god of team-fighting and CaoMei a force to be acknowledged in the Top lane, WE would extend the laning phase, sometimes even declining to knock down towers, to farm up their carries and reach late-game team-fights. In those fights, ClearLove could be considered a carry in his own right, where other junglers were better known for their early game presence on champions like Lee Sin and Elise and would fall off in prominence by the latter phase of the game.

As if to showcase how his style had adapted to his team as much as his team had moulded around him, Kelsey later explained that ClearLove in 2015 became the opposite kind of player. With Korean ADC Deft having replaced NaMei on EDG, many expected the Korean to simply play in a similar fashion to back in Samsung Blue in Korea, vulnerable in lane but an intuitive genius in team-fighting. Instead, he became a domiant lane ADC and in no small part due to ClearLove playing and picking around camping his lane and ensuring he got ahead with plays.

Connoisseur of AD Carries

The Chinese region was for many years seemingly obsessed with the strength of farmed AD Carry players, perhaps owing to the strength of the one position in Dota and World Elite and WeiXiao's success internationally in LoL. Kelsey would take it upon herself to become the chronicler of and most informed voice on the super-star ADCs of the region.

The previously cited WeiXiao was, understandably, a key focal point during his time in the successful World Elite line-up of 2012 and 2013, but in 2014 he was one of the only holdovers still wearing the red and white and many assumed the team success of newer ADC stars like Uzi and NaMei meant he was a near-washed up player. Kelsey again set the story straight, as she saw it.

"WeiXiao could kite better than any AD carry in the world over the course of his career, but the reality was that he couldn't adapt." she wrote in an article for TheScoreEsports in early 2015.

Kelsey saw WeiXiao as a great player still showing genuine glimpses of genius, even capable of surviving without help or resources at times, in a changing LPL in which he no longer had the squad to become a champion or qualify for the World Championship.

Coming in quickly to dethrone WeiXiao and occupy the vacuum of his title of best ADC were two young stars, Royal Club's Uzi and Positive Energy's Dev1l, later renamed to "NaMei". While Uzi quickly struck international acclaim as a 16 year old prodigy carrying Royal Club to the S3 Worlds final, this masked his domestic flaws and position firmly behind Dev1l, in her mind.

Dev1l in 2013 was a hard carry lane dominant monster in his own right, arguably the best Chinese ADC that year and having emphatically pushed a Positive Energy line-up with no business reaching the final in spring to a championship in the summer split. At a time when the best teams in China were OMG, iG and WE; Dev1l showed he would be a special player to follow.

Twitter: @karonmoser

Renamed to NaMei the following year; he joined up with WeiXiao's former Support Fzzf, Jungler ClearLove and coach Aaron in EDG. This team would continue his domestic dominance, winning not only both splits but numerous side tournaments featuring the best Chinese teams and making the final of practically everything available domestically in 2014.

His style, Kelsey explained, had morphed though into more of a stalled out style, harkening back to Aaron's WE, and it was NaMei's display of strong team-fight positioning and accute understanding of threat zones which made him an MVP level figure. Headed into the S4 World Championship many were calling him the best ADC in the world, ahead of Korean stars imp and Deft, of Samsung White and Blue, respectively.

"NaMei's consistency and proficiency in execution of his positional skill set has allowed him to show up the best in his region." she wrote for TheScoreEsports in early 2015.

King maker of the botlane

Kelsey took deadly seriously the responsibility of establishing the best ADC, and thus defacto best LPL player in that time, and ensuring misleading fan narratives did not overwhelm domestic play. NaMei's failure to perform at an MVP level at S4 Worlds, perhaps due to cited illness, and Uzi's back-to-back finals appearance led many to over-rate the Royal Club star, not knowing he was far from the same dominant force with regularity back in China.

Kelsey was far more critical of the young pup, explaining that "Uzi's problem has never been his power or his potential or his mechanics, but his consistency." Indeed, she saw his team's surprise turn to qualify for the World Championship in 2014 as being related to his team not solely funnelling resources and kills into him. It would not be until Season 8, five after his first Worlds final, that Uzi won an LPL championship. Kelsey again proved herself the most rational and insightful analyst when it came to the stubborn but fabulously talented star.

Despite NaMei's international embarrassment, she put her reputation on the line to seriously contrast the two and find him greater than his more well-known ADC brother.

In later years, particularly after joining RNG, she would credit Uzi as the best ADC and worthy of the status he had already accrued among international fans in unwarranted fashion years prior. The "Uzi Worlds buff" became less relevant and almost entirely erased by the dominance of RNG's 2018 run, winning both LPL splits and MSI.

Set the stage and let the actors play their parts

Outlining those narratives, which will be immediately familiar to readers of her work or those watching the LPL during those times, served to establish how massively influential Kelsey's voice was upon the Western audience and myself specifically. I was but an avid reader when I began to follow her content. This article will stretch my arrest of your time to its limits if I am as in-depth in laying out her coverage of some of the other great names, but a few demand mentioning.

In a region obsessed with ADC power, the rise of OMG - a line-up that drew its active force from the Mid-to-Top side of the map - contrasted staggeringly. Gogoing, Lovelin/allen/LoveLing and Cool would fight each other outside of the server only to adapt and play like a single-minded hydra inside of it. Similarly, iG were a team never hailed for their ADC play but rather the champion ocean of Mid lane prodigy Zz1tai and Top lane hard carry style of PDD.

EDG and later Snake Mid laner "U" may not even be remembered by many now, but Kelsey ensured his play was documented and appreciated by her readership. Similarly, fellow EDG players Top laner Koro1 and Support Meiko, largely post-NaMei, were given column and article inches to ensure fans knew EDG was not just the NaMei/Deft and ClearLove show. Koro1 will make an appearance later in this story when the time is right.

In the latter days, RNG and Uzi's quest for championships and EDG's reinventions dominated the headlines, but Kelsey was on the ground floor in tracking the integrations of Korean Mid and Top stars Rookie and Duke to iG and their battle to become not just the best snowball team in the region but eventual champions. A Korean streamer called TheShy would soon be introduced into the mix and Kelsey was one of the only analysts to insightfully point out that iG played better around Duke in the early days of his competition's arrival, while so many others were fawning over the incredible skill peak of TheShy but ignoring his dangerous variability of performance.

Think of the greatest teams in LPL history and the narratives which come to mind are direct from the pen of Moser. World Elite's extended laning phases and unusual inversion of Mid-Jungle. iG's Top and Mid carry style, almost ignoring bot lane. EDG playing a consistent Mid style and relying on their strong ADC to carry fights, with the Top lane often sacrificed. Royal Club's hard focus on Uzi and the do-or-die investment of "raising the puppy". China's best organisations have seemingly iterated on the same formulas over and over and it was Kelsey who made this clear to those of us outside of the middle kingdom.

"Compensating for gaps in playstyle is often the unspoken goal of team design, but the roots of these player flaws aren't immediately apparent." she wrote in 2015.

YouTube: Izento

European vacation

With Chinese LoL never the most appealing or exciting for a Western audience, Kelsey took her full-time positions and invested a similar amount of energy and time into becoming an expert in the EU LCS. Some of her most notable story-lines included some of the only critical analyses of Huni, then hard carry of the 18:0 and Worlds semi-finalist FNATIC of 2015. She even committed the then heresy of contrasting him with H2k Top laner Odoamne, who played the inverted style of weak side Top laner and neutraliser of carries.

Likewise, she turned her rational lens to super-star name Rekkles and charted his own mixture of success and struggles, going from over-hyped tertiary carry to eventual genuine MVP player of the league over the years.

Is this thing on?

After overcoming her insecurities about writing, Kelsey was bold enough to embark on a wider exposure to the video format. Beyond China Talk, which had niche appeal, she would appear on Episode 14 of Summoning Insight and created video content for TheScoreEsports. Eager to encourage her efforts and further grow her profile, I created the "Narrative Wake" talk show as a vehicle for her philosophies and analyses of the game.

I can only hope the show played a small part in her transformation from an awkward and unsure on camera presence to someone growing ever more comfortable and confident, even on her own. I merely opened the door and welcomed her in.

Holy sacrifice

After beginning as someone unconfident in her own understanding of champion interactions, due to her lack of high level playing experience, Kelsey became not just the best narrative writer but a legitimately great thinker about LoL too. Her understanding of and outlining of the misunderstood strengths and timings of side-lane play have become a hallmark, even as many have continued to lag behind her understanding of the evolving metas of the years. It's no wonder she displayed an affection for tease-would-be-MVP nukeduck over the years, with the Norwegian a master of split-pushing.

Kelsey was a master of research and it is still little understood the sheer time sink she invested into learning about and following competitive League of Legends. During the days of our talk show, she would watch all four major regions extensively (LPL, LCK, EU LCS and NA LCS) as well as managing to maintain a minor interest in and knowledge of smaller regions like LMS and CBLoL. When Worlds would roll around, she somehow would arrive at our shows with enough of a knowledge of the wildcard and play-in teams, the most likely to be eliminated immediately and thus least researched by Westerners, that she could talk shop with the most informed experts focusing solely on those leagues and regions.

As someone who has lived a monk-like experience in the esports space, even I am awed by her dedication to watching games live, catching up on missed games via VODs and almost harrassing experts from other regions for details and discussion. This was not merely her job, something to be done to put money in her pocket, but a flaming passion that radiated through her being. I can compare her only to a monk or mystic of centuries ago in her zeal and drive to gain direct experience. Second hand testimony will not suffice for Kelsey.

Kelsey's pattern recognition and modelling skills are immediately recognisable from her work, but the sizable portion of her life over the last seven years she has sacrificed to gain the understanding to draw out her insights is criminally under-estimated. She even moved to China directly, to experience the league on the ground, and began learning Chinese to interview players directly. She is no tourist or dilettante when it comes to Chinese League of Legends.

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Kelsey loves players who are flawed and Froskurinn explained to me that she hates the idea of perfection. She has an appreciation for those who can acknowledge their weaknesses and compensate for them so they are irrelevant or cease to be weaknesses for their team-mates.

As such, I early on in my relationship as a colleague of her's compared her to Koro1, one of her favourite players and the long-time Top laner of EDG. The least touted player on the team, he helped make the overall team's style and strengths championship material by becoming a great weak side player, tank player and teleport user. I suggested she saw her own flaws but knew that through work and understanding she could contribute to a successful effort in her fields.

I can now extend the analogy further and find myself staggered by my accidental epiphany. Kelsey has been the weak side queen of Chinese League of Legends as her tireless efforts, often ignored and lacking in resources, have enabled and directly elevated the performance of her co-workers. Whether that be commentators like Froskurinn and PiraTechnics, who went on to much bigger things thanks in no small part to her constant feeding of appealing and accurate narratives or myself as the showman of our shared content, but lacking the viewing hours and in-game acumen she possessed. Without her, I believe we would all have been much weaker and poorer in our endeavours.

100 Thieves

The transfiguration

"She thinks she is boring and that she's a terrible personality" said Froskurinn in 2015.

Kelsey thought she was a bad writer nobody cared to read. Yet she toiled and strove to establish herself as one of the game's most prolific and insightful writers of all-time. She imagined herself boring on camera, but has made monumental strides to become a niche but beloved co-host and guest.

I don't know if she was born special, but she was certainly different to anyone I've encountered when I first made her acquaintance and by all accounts as a youth. Regardless, she made herself into someone unique and peerless. To simply engage with her content is to owe her a debt the cost of which you can never fully appreciate or repay. To promote her work and occasionally encourage her to keep fighting to improve and then share her with the world was but a pittance contrasted against the insight, fascination and joy I experienced being educated and enlightened by her work. She is an inspiration to me that has never run dry in the six years I have known her.

I care what Kelsey Moser has to say and thinks and that won't change any time soon.