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League of Legends • Aug 01, 2019

Thorin's Take: Let's All Make Believe

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Thorin's Take: Let's All Make Believe

Whether it's Sneaky addressing claims of his poor laning brought up on Hotline League or European players arguing that they are being unfairly characterized in a specific manner, there has been a noticeable backlash against analysts and commentators, particularly within the Western scene (LEC and LCS) over their analyses, rankings and the narratives they have put forth in public.

From my position as an industry veteran I see this as a mixture of naive optimism, unintentionally disingenuous advice, simplistic broadcast balance thinking and an inability to communicate directly from one section of the industry to another.

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Is anyone here prepared to say

Just what they mean or is it too late?

For anyone here to try to do

Just what it takes to get through to you

When fellow industry professionals inquire as to my thoughts or feelings on being criticised, dismissed or sometimes even openly attacked by professional players, coaches and fans of teams, I've taken to explaining that "I'm built for war", in the sense of having a hunger for battle over ideas and firmly not being browbeaten or silenced as far as my opinions and analysis go. That's a position I arrived at many years into working in this industry, though, and few others are in a similar position or possessed of as much experience to assure them this approach works or would be effective for their brand in particular.

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My primary concern when I see analysts and commentators defending themselves or further clarifying their opinions is that they often seem to either partially cave or entirely concede their positions and even the premise of their role on the broadcast. If one of the best Western League of Legends Mid laners in history calls your ranking "the dumbest" it's easy to see how that might cause you to seek a way to appease said legend and his fans and hope that meeting him in the middle ground will gain back some of the hit to your credibility due to the immense significance of the individual questioning your analysis.

When LEC players have appeared on the EUphoria podcast, which generally does an excellent job of mixing entertainment and serious analysis with fan culture components like rankings and story narratives, some of the analysts have at times appeared to be practically apologising for having held certain opinions and then walking many of them back and almost negotiating with the player what an acceptable opinion for the analyst to hold or analytical point to make would be.

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That might appear to be an effective method of reaching the player and integrating him and his perspective into the analysis side of the game, but I would put forth the position that the analyst is not there to win over the favour or approval of the players and coaches in the game, but rather communicate their opinions and analysis to the viewer and create an entertaining and hopefully insightful broadcast. As such, I would consider techniques which allow said communication with the target audience to be more important and efficacious than getting professionals on your side.

Similarly, vocal elements of the teams' fanbases and the viewing audience make kick up a fuss on social media and thus seemingly place pressure upon the analyst or commentator to cave or concede or acknowledge the backlash to their opinions or analysis, but that backlash comes with the territory of the role. An analyst or commentator, excluding instances of pure play-by-play, is not some mere "reporter" whose job is simply to report the facts and leave all qualitative analysis or explanation to the viewer.

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So let's all make believe

That we're still friends and we like each other

Let's all make believe

In the end we're gonna need each other

It's not as if some of these pros and coaches could not be placated or brought on side either, but more that I think many forms of attempt to achieve that goal would run counter to the premise of being an analyst or commentator and delivering a successful and unique broadcast experience to the viewing audience.

A common suggestion, frequently put forward by coaches, involves directly and privately asking pros and coaches for their opinions and essentially their analysis on a given topic. Certainly, the more significant information an analyst can be exposed to and consider within the umbrella of his analysis the better.

Perhaps hearing about a strong turnaround for a much criticized and poorly performing player will allow the analyst to factor that into his expectations for the player and prepare him to redirect the narratives and analysis he presents on said player in a different direction in the coming weeks. Similarly, such nuggets or tidbits could prove useful as trivia to create narratives around a player or inform the audience of more than they merely see upon the stream or hear from the broadcast talent.

On this point, I think coaches and pros have a point, they just push it too far and the framing of this approach as one which will heal the divide or conflict, when I would suggest it is already a technique many analysts use and actively seek to use, is a little disingenuous or misleading. More on that later.

The desire to be liked or accepted by pros and coaches or their fans is a dangerous one for an analyst. It can very easily get in the way of their analysis in ways detrimental to both the broadcast and the integrity of the analyst's own brand. An example which immediately springs to mind is regarding Froskurinn, one of LoL's premiere analysts and commentators for many years now and famously an expert in the Chinese region of the game.

As a result of an unfortunate slip-up on my talk show 'Summoning Insight' many years ago, where she inaccurately described the champion pool of a very famous European player, likely as a simple mis-step of picking the wrong player to use as an example for the region's tendencies without having explicitly research that player's champion pool; Froskurinn was forced to carry that baggage for a number of years whenever she interacted with the Western fanbase, some of the more vocal elements returning time and time again to her mistake and presenting it as evidence that she knew nothing about their region or perhaps the game itself, as pertains to performing the coveted role of expert.

This issue came to a head, for my money, with an incident where while she was working at IEM Cologne 2015 FNATIC, a top Western team, were playing China's Qiao Gu Reapers.  Due to heavily criticising a teleport play which won QG the match, in the aftermath Froskurinn received harsh backlash for being biased in favor of FNATIC, the Western team, as opposed to the Chinese team, which would have been the assumption and preconceived notion, in light of her expertise and work history.

Froskurinn essentially admitted she had been swayed to combat her own perceived bias by playing up the Western team in the match-up, presumably in the hopes of heading off criticism before it arrived. My time-line after that is a little off, but I can say that she has since fairly steadfastly predicted and analysed based entirely on her own perspective and analytical skills and as such been able to make bold and insightful predictions like the LPL becoming the best region, which arguably did happen, and some which did not come to pass but stood as interesting and entertaining points to make on a broadcast, providing an otherwise unstated perspective.

I would also suggest that while there is some value to the suggestion to consult pros and coaches, that when it comes directly from those individuals there can be a clearly disingenuous underlying premise that the individual in question simply wants their opinion heard and then broadcast, as if they were the final word or authority on that topic - which alas often is the perspective of some pros and coaches in this industry.

Stradle my hope and make me pray

To a God I've never seen, but who I've betrayed

To the people who live the afterlife

In a place I'll never be 'til I'm crucified

As someone who has performed the role of analyst in my native Counter-Strike at over 50 offline events, including live on the number one cable television channel in the USA, as well as keenly followed that side of the industry for the better part of the decade or so since we moved beyond simply pairing up two play-by-play commentators and then having them create the whole show, I have a very clear and defined perspective on the role of an analyst and I will argue it with a near-religious zeal that goes beyond simply stating an idle thought.

It's my contention that the job of the analyst is to be an expert in his field and communicate his honest qualitative analysis of the game and its players, as accurately and ideally entertainingly as possible, to the viewer. I hold that principle to be practically sacred, in this context. As such, allowing others to censor, limit or hijack that principle or the analysis of individual analysis to be a form of blasphemy on all parts.

An analyst is an expert and an expert is trusted to giving their expert opinion, based on the information and conclusions their analysis of the matter has brought them to. The audience has no time or ability to double check everything said and must rely upon the analyst to be telling them what they really think and mean. It is a position which requires great integrity, as evidenced by the pressures placed upon many and the seemingly easy out of simply conforming or walking back your analysis which often seems to be offered - a veritable devil's bargain.

This topic broaches another concern of mine for broadcast talent. Namely the premise of having to "represent both sides" or be "fair and balanced", that dreaded term seemingly cursed forever to be associated with unethical television journalism. I would contend that an analyst should not pick "the other side" to the one they expect to win and has analysed as being the better team in that direct match-up unless he or she explicitly states that they are playing devil's advocate or addressing the fans of that team.

It should already be an expectation that analysts will provide the win conditions for both teams, regardless of how unlikely they may be on one side, and so having a divided desk for the purpose of representing all view-points is anathema to my principle of the analyst's job. The analysts are not there to provide all view points, but rather only their own. An often misunderstood characterization of objectivity is the notion it means neutrally presenting all sides. It is actually much more tied to the concept of looking at all of the evidence and opinions out there and selecting the one you feel is most accurate, and thus objective, regardless of what you may wish or hope were true or accurate.

If a team is heavily favored and all of the analysts on the broadcast pick them to win then that in itself is a narrative which presents interesting opportunities. Firstly, explanation of the sheer gap between the two teams prepares the viewer to experience the awe of seeing a dominant performance, as opposed to being tricked into thinking they will see an incredibly competitive match. Secondly, if an upset does occur then the analyst's pre-game comments stand as a fine historical record of how significant and unlikely such an upset was. How entertaining or interesting that segment is comes less from creating a false narrative that every match-up is close and more from the analytical skills and story-building of the crew working that game.

That latter point bears exploring a little further, as my own experiences in and time reflecting upon the analytical role has led me to the conclusion that narratives and analysis come from the game itself, bottom up, to the analyst and not from the analyst, top down, to the game. The narratives and analytical points are waiting in the game for analysts with the skill to observe, outline and build a case for them. How true that is obviously highly subjective and perhaps even a silly premise to consider, but it has ensured I have never lacked for something I considered interesting or entertaining to say on a desk after a game.

Korizon

So let's all make believe

We're still friends and we like each other

Some pros and coaches or their fans are going to get upset or think the analyst is wrong regardless of the analysis style or points displayed. That's not only inevitable, given the diversity of opinion in the industry from person to person, but impossible to entirely avoid, unless all opinion and analysis are omitted from a broadcast. As such, attempting to placate everyone seems a fool's errand.

"You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all the people all of the time", as the 16th president of the United States famously said, quoting the poet John Lydgate.

A rarely considered perspective is that pros and coaches may not even be aware, due to being busy playing and practicing, that a specific narrative is brought up and couched in the context of what is viewed as the fan consensus or a strong piece of feedback from the public. Without that information it is easy for them to feel singled out or unduly criticized when it's possible the analyst may even think highly of them and be arguing their corner, in contrast to said public consensus.

Ask me about the premise Rekkles is a better AD Carry than FORG1VEN in their primes and it's easy to see how it will sound as if I have a low opinion of Rekkles and do not consider him an elite player, since I will be highlighting weaknesses or deficiencies which prevent him from being the absolute best player or better than the player he is contrasted against.

On the other hand, ask me to compare Kobbe - named all-LCS pro first team ADC - with Rekkles at the end of the Spring split and you could easily imagine it's Kobbe I am singling out and Rekkles I am an over-eager admirer of, being as I think he was the real best ADC in the region that split and his carry performances what enabled FNATIC to go on their big streak and enter the play-offs in storm form.

A logistical reality that makes attempting to create a pro/coach consensus impossible, in terms of pleasing all pros and coaches, is that pros within a same team often have differing opinions or perspectives than each other and their coaching staff, even if they may agree upon much and their convenient moments of agreement may come when they decide to speak out together or support each other in criticizing a narrative or piece of analysis. There's also the fact that some pros and coaches play the political game and will say one thing privately but another publicly, sometimes with a significant delta of difference between the opinions or analyses.

Then there's the burden of knowledge that may buoy up a pro or coach to believe he is "right" but actually damage the integrity of his own opinion, if used as a crutch. Pros and coaches may have a lot of knowledge and insight into their own play and perhaps their teams, but they are often too busy to watch all of the other players and teams out there. As such, they may be operating on information like the few times they have played that player or team publicly, the few games they've seen of them or even their experience practicing against them.

The latter can have value in providing extra context, but pros and coaches often make the mistake of considering the larger data sample size of those practices as superseding the reality of the official matches themselves. If you know HeaQ, picked solely as a hypothetical example, carries scrims and I have only seen him fail in official LEC games then we may have very different opinions and analyses of him as a player, but if you skew yours too much to his performance in scrims then I'd suggest you will provide less accurate and meaningful analysis of his official play.

There's also the incidental matter of players letting personal and professional relationships and feelings cloud their judgement of players, as witnessed by how many pros will overlook an entire bad split from a decorated pro they respect, like or have played with, while ignoring the sharp rise of a young talent who they may not yet consider as having proven himself, even if he had a split worthy of an elite player. We all have our blind-spots and biases to contend with and acknowledge.

On that note, I will offer an olive branch to the pro community by pointing out that an effective way for you to combat narratives you consider nonsense or damaging is less to defend yourself, though if you are comfortable and eager to do so I'd like to hear or see it, but rather defend a player you have no direct visible connection with. Had Rekkles or Patrick, who I am using as examples and not making any demands of, come forward and explained that they agreed Kobbe was the best ADC of the split it would have a more significant impact upon the community narrative than they might realize.

Let's all make believe

In the end we'll need each other

An essential aspect of a broadcast to highlight is that everyone involved needs each other. Analysts and pros and coaches each play a part in creating a good broadcast and neither can be removed without the experience suffering. The pros play the game and give insight and appear on broadcasts, without which there could be no good broadcast experience. That much is obvious. What is perhaps less immediately apparent is that the analysts and commentators play a vital role in the broadcast with their opinions and analyses.

Every official match cannot be interesting or entertaining in itself, a sad but undeniable reality, and so into the vacuum of an otherwise boring experience can be poured insight and entertainment by the broadcast talent. Essentially carrying a match with narratives, humour and story-building. In that sense, the broadcast is a team spot and pros and coaches are team-mates with broadcast talent, but each with their own roles which they must be allowed autonomy within.

Faker has carried a lot of LCK games, but my friend MonteCristo or current day LCK expert PapaSmithy have carried plenty too, and I'd hope pros and coaches can acknowledge as much.

Let's all make believe

That all mankind's gonna feed our brother

When you appeal to a person's self-interest you can often be assured a higher rate of agreement or compliance and so I will point out that a broadcast must have its own goals for success and metrics of judgement. This is a business and it must create a certain amount of revenue to both continue and potentially grow. The most basic metric is of course raw viewership numbers. LEC and LCS are franchised leagues, colloquially, and must meet certain thresholds or suffer as a result. That means the success of the broadcast has a knock-on effect of the business success of the teams within the league.

That broadcast helps to feed and clothe pros and coaches, just as the play of pros and coaches ensure Vedius has appropriate dress-wear and MarkZ can pay his rent.

Let's all make believe

That in the end we'll all grow up

Just as analysts and pros can have very different opinions and yet not be coming to the common table of the broadcast or social media with ill intent, so this matter is not a simple one and is open to many interpretations and perspectives. I would close by saying I hope some of the points raised and outlined herein will help offset some of the overly simplistic opinions on the matter and avoid petty beefs between industry professionals. Shit-talking, banter and hot takes have their place and should be an accepted part of the industry, within reason, but they may also not be as effective or insightful as they initially appear.

Stay true to that righteous course, analysts! Trust your own abilities and speak your mind. We'll love and hate you for it, but we need you to do it.

Note: the headings were all lyrics from the track "Let's All Make Believe" by Oasis, a B-side from the "Go Let It Out" single