In an interview before the spring finals of the North American League of Legends Championship Series, Team Liquid’s Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett said four words that shook the community to its core for all of a couple of hours.
The response came after the upset victory of Team SoloMid over Immortals in the semifinals, a surprising 3-0 sweep. Seeing as Team Liquid was gearing up to face Immortals in the third place place match, the comment was appropriate, showing Hartnett’s confidence in his team in a rather humorous way.
The term “boosted” refers to players paying more skilled players to win games on the buyer’s account so that the buyer can appear to be more proficient than they might actually be. This was particularly stinging because of the monster season that Immortals had in the NA LCS. A 17-1 regular season made them the favorites to win the spring championship, so falling to a weaker-looking TSM, sporting a 9-9 regular-season record, was considered an upset.
Dardoch’s comment was soon posted all over the League of Legends subreddit along with pundits and pros alike starting a conversation about trash talking and toxicity among pro players. But is trash talk amongst pros really the same as the toxic behavior League of Legends is always associated with?
Trash talking has long been a staple in all competitive sports. Press conferences and interviews have always given players a chance to engage in some banter with their opponents, and esports has perhaps picked up the trend and taken it farther than any other entity. And that’s OK.
Using rivalries and trash talk as a promotion tactic is effective. Take MMA phenomenon Conor McGregor, for instance. He has frequently taken to social media to trash talk opponents. What made him even more popular was the fact that he had the skill to back it up, ultimately becoming champion and one of the most talked-about fighters in the world, even after he dropped the title. McGregor’s fights had record Pay-Per-View buys because he understood crowd psychology, which then allowed him to make an exuberant amount of money from his fights.
In the fighting game community, trash talk is expected between players — even when face to face. Although what is supposed to be friendly banter is often taken to the extreme, again this attitude is not anything new. Another example is in the Call of Duty professional scene. Scores of videos can be seen where players are literally standing up while screaming obscenities to their opponents and then shaking hands afterwards as if nothing ever happened.
Granted, there is no need for such extreme cases like those above, but League of Legends isn’t new to trash talk among pros either. TSM’s Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng is perhaps the most well-known example of trash talk being central to a player’s persona. His infamous “everyone is trash” comment is still remembered among both admirers and detractors and will probably follow him even for the rest of his career (and likely even after he retires).
In League Champions Korea, we can also see examples of healthy banter between not only opponents, but also teammates. In a video package of the Season 3 world champions SK Telecom T1, top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong makes fun of then jungler Bae “Bengi” Swong-woong’s inability to play Lee Sin, and Bengi responds by saying that he will not gank top during their finals match. On YouTube, anyone can find channels dedicated to LCK pros trash talking their opponents with English subtitles. There is clearly a demand for such exchanges.
No doubt excessive trash talk can damage a player’s reputation, but it’s also that same banter that raises the stakes of matches. People become invested in rivalries and thus become more likely to tune into the games that matter to them the most. By declaring certain victory or putting down their opponents, fans become more fanatic, wishing to see cocky predictions come true or see them crash and burn. This means more people will buy into the rivalry and thus tune in, just like how games between longtime rivals TSM and CLG always seem bigger than the rest.
Immortals seemed to have a target on its back for most of the season, and that seemed to only increase when Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon said in a promotional video that Immortals was “already practicing for” the Mid-Season Invitational. That added another layer of intrigue to both Immortals’ loss to TSM and the third place match against Liquid (which Immortals won 3-0).
One could argue that it would make a rather unsavory pro scene if these instances keep happening, leading to an “unprofessional” or childish environment. But it sure as hell makes for a more entertaining one.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.