Europe’s False Exodus

As a result of some higher-profile players leaving European teams during the League of Legends offseason, LoL Esports, content-creation hub for Riot Games, made a reference to an “EU Exodus” in a video promoting the start of this week’s League of Legends Championship Series.

Using the word “exodus” is an overreaction, especially considering that word carries a recent context within the League of Legends community. In 2014, numerous professional Korean players left Korea to play in other regions for more money following the world championships, referred to as “the Korean Exodus.”

The situation with the EU LCS simply does not warrant the same use.

Seven players left European teams to play in North America: Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin, Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim, Jean-Victor “loulex” Burgevin, Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek.

In contrast, the Korean Exodus had 19 players to go China alone. Five more went to North America, three to Europe, and four to smaller regions, totaling 31. That’s more than four times the number of players who have left Europe this year, and the equivalent of six five-man rosters.

In terms of quantity, the European exits don’t even come close. But what about quality?

Froggen is a mid laner who has played professionally since Season 1. He played for the legendary Counter Logic Gaming EU team that became one of the best teams in the world in Season 2. Although his subsequent teams would not be as successful, his skill has held steady over the years. After the implosion of Elements last year, it’s no wonder Froggen has moved on.

Yell0wStaR is another veteran talent of Europe who has played since Season 1. He joined Fnatic in Season 3 initially as an AD carry but switched to support in Season 4. Through that time, he and Fnatic continued to be one of the best European teams, winning various LCS titles and attending worlds. In 2015, he led a reconstructed Fnatic team that included Huni and Reignover to first place in both splits of EU LCS and top-four finishes in the Mid-Season Invitational and the League of Legends World Championships.

Huni and Reignover surprised analysts with their synergy, establishing themselves as the best jungle-top combination of the LCS in both splits. Huni was also awarded “Rookie of the Split” for his spring performance. Their departure, along with Yell0wStaR, is not only a loss to the EU scene, but a blow to Fnatic, which must rebuild once more.

Freeze has been playing for years but only occasionally qualified for the EU LCS under Ninjas in Pajamas. He played for Copenhagen Wolves last year, and though the team performed poorly, Freeze stood out with impressive carry performances. His skill is deserving of a top-level LCS team.

There is no denying the talent that has left Europe is strong, but so were the players who left Korea in 2014. A few of the most telling examples:

The Samsung sister teams of 2014 come to mind first. Samsung Blue was one of the most innovative and dominant teams in Korea. As good as it was, Samsung White eclipsed Blue at worlds that year in a startlingly easy fashion and is considered the best team of all time by many fans because of that tournament.

Following worlds, every player from those teams left. Among them were legendary talents Bae “dade” Eo-jin, Gu “imp” Seung-bin, Choi “DanDy” In-kyu, Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong, and Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu. Those players created legacies within Korea that took years to build, and they left overnight.

Other elite talent left Korea, too. Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, current jungler for China’s Invictus Gaming, started his career with KT Rolster in Season 3, and consistently finished within the top three of various Champions seasons. With the KT Arrows, KaKAO was able to upset Samsung Blue in Champions Summer 2014 in the final round, cementing his reputation as one of the best junglers in the world. He was not able to go to worlds, however, as KT Rolster Arrows lost to Najin White Sword in the second round of the regional finals.

Another example is Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin. Despite his personal decline alongside the rest of SK Telecom T1 in the Summer of 2014, Piglet was still an important part of the powerful lineup that won the 2013 world title and made Korean esports history by sweeping Champions Winter 2013–2014. He was released from SKT and joined Team Liquid in North America, where he and the team failed to meet expectations.

Piglet’s case is worth mentioning because he and his rival, imp, both left, bringing a sudden end to one the most entertaining rivalries in Korean LoL history. Others, like KaKAO vs. DanDy, or Faker vs PawN, were stripped away as players left. Korea was left with a power vacuum and needed a reboot. Fast.

Europe does not have to rebuild like Korea did; there are plenty of familiar faces and established narratives remaining in the region. What has happened to Europe is more like some neighbors leaving than a diaspora.

Using “exodus” to describe Europe’s offseason is simply a publicity stunt from Riot’s content team to drum up interest about the LCS, but many fans, including this one, aren’t buying it.

This false narrative disregards the consolidation of European talent that occurred in the offseason. H2K bringing in former ROCCAT players Oskar “VandeR” Bogdan and Marcin “Jankos” and the legendary Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou-Napoleon Jankowski. Or Origen’s acquisition of Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage. These noteworthy roster moves are left unmentioned, which is unacceptable, because they are exciting and not exaggerations.

In mainstream culture, the word “exodus” is largely associated with the Bible’s account of the Jews following Moses out of Egypt: God’s chosen people leaving slavery behind.

In League of Legends, Riot may want to believe that Western teams can be the best in the world. But as of now, if there were such a thing as a “chosen people” in League of Legends, it’s the Koreans.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.