Comparing League of Legends teams to their traditional sports counterparts

FC Schalke 04 is one of many traditional sports organizations to have entered esports in the last year. Esports parallels traditional sports in many ways. With so many interesting comparisons to explore, Slingshot’s Connor Smith put together some of his favorite League of Legends teams and their traditional sports doubles.

Counter Logic Gaming and the New York Mets

It takes some time in sun to appreciate the shade, and few teams understand that better than Counter Logic Gaming and the New York Mets.

Mets fans are no strangers to adversity. Annual mishaps and collapses have made fans cautious, yet hopeful, despite the team’s wealth of young talent. CLG mirrored the Mets in recent years, following upsetting losses and mediocre finishes with a second place finals appearance that helped reenergize its fan base. Both teams have similar credos: George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis’ “If you have no faith, why are you guys even here?” comment parallels Tug McGraw’s famous “Ya Gotta Believe!” motto during its 1973 World Series run.

The fans who stuck with both teams did so in the shadow of their mortal rival — the Yankees and Team SoloMid — while clutching onto faith in their team’s potential. CLG’s back-to-back eliminations at the hands of Curse/Liquid are also reminiscent of the 2007-08 Mets’s back-to-back September blunders, which included a record-breaking collapse in 2007.

Both fan bases were rewarded in recent competitions: CLG won the spring LCS split and earned a second place finish at the Mid-Season Invitational, and the Mets won the National League pennant and lost in the World Series. This upcoming season will test both teams, however, as they both face tough regional opponents.

Echo Fox and the Brooklyn Nets

Echo Fox and the Brooklyn Nets have high-profile owners and acquired aging superstars to surround their young talent. Neither team has been able to translate that into much success, though. Few would consider them playoff threats, though, their owners’ deep pockets inspire hope for a better tomorrow.

Not every new organization will burst through the gates like Cloud9; both were content developing its young talent around aging veterans. However, this could breed unrest amongst fans if these teams don’t start winning eventually. The upcoming season will be a tall task, but both fan bases are optimistic. Faith worked for CLG, after all.

SK Telecom and the New England Patriots

Since 2013, no combination in esports came close to matching Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun’s countless achievements. The Korean duo added an MSI title to a crowded trophy case that includes two Summoner’s Cups, five domestic titles and an IEM Katowice Championship. Faker has drawn favorable comparisons to traditional sports superstars such as LeBron James and Lionel Messi. Faker’s success, however, is a team effort that begins with dedicated efforts from kkOma and the rest of the SKT coaching staff. Similarly, there are two constants in all four of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl titles since 2001: Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.

Both the Patriots and SKT dismantle their opponents with a superior captain and superior preparation. Even in the noticeable valley of 2014, SKT still managed to earn titles in OGN Winter, NLB Summer and All-Stars Paris. Neither team wins it all every year, but their adaptability over the years is unmatched. Just like SKT succeeded with both Faker and Lee “Easyhoon” Ji-hoon in 2015, New England held a formidable 11-5 record in 2008 when Brady missed 15 games with an injury. Both coaches proved their systems aren’t limited to one key piece, which is a scary thought for opposing coaches.

Neither team’s reign has gone without some shortcomings.The Patriots’ only loss in the 2007 season came in Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants. History repeated four years later, as New England fell to the Giants for a second time. Likewise, SKT’s 2014 season was plagued by Heo “PawN” Won-seok’s move to Samsung Ozone. The Samsung lineup that would go on to win the Season 4 Summoner’s Cup eliminated SKT from the spring and summer split of League Champions Korea. To make matters worse, Samsung swept the tiebreaker for a worlds seed away from SKT, which forced them into a losing regional qualifier. PawN didn’t stop there; At MSI 2015, his Morgana counterpick helped neutralize Faker in the deciding game of their best-of-five series, which brought the MSI trophy to China.

Still, the Patriots and SKT have earned the world’s respect, no matter how obnoxious Rob Gronkowski continues to be.

NRG and the Los Angeles Dodgers

A transfer from questionable ownership to high-profile celebrity investors is a Mets fan’s fantasy, but it became reality for the Los Angeles Dodgers and NRG. The Dodgers’ ownership group boasted names like Magic Johnson, while NRG enticed Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez and former Dodger Jimmy Rollins.

Both ownerships spared no expense. The Dodgers’ payroll skyrocketed when the team picked the Boston Red Sox clean by acquiring the exorbitant contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. The Dodgers broke the Yankees’ grip on the largest payroll in baseball, as they’ve maintained that title since 2014. NRG used its wealth to acquire two notable Korean talents: Lee “GBM” Chang-suk and Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min.

Although the ownerships breathed life into their scenes, the actual results have been mediocre at best. Neither team has performed in the playoffs, as there are clear holes in both teams. Eventually these massive payrolls will catch up, but the owners expect their investments to be rewarded.

Team SoloMid and the New York Yankees

No North American team can claim a fraction of the prestige that accompanies Team SoloMid and the New York Yankees. Both established themselves early in their league’s history, as they constructed powerful regional dynasties and polarizing fan bases.

According to data from last November, TSM flairs on Reddit nearly outnumbered the second and third most popular flairs, CLG and Cloud 9, combined. TSM fans are loud and plentiful. Although often facetious, a thundering TSM chant has the potential to strike at all major competitions — even ones that don’t include North American teams. Likewise, the Yankees led every Harris Poll of Adult MLB fans since 2003. But being the most popular team has its downsides. A 2015 poll of North American fans crowned TSM the most hated team in the region by a sizable margin. Meanwhile, SB Nation named the Yankees the “least likable team in baseball” in its 2013 ranking of all 30 teams. Success attracts fair-weather fans, so it’s no surprise that both teams are affected by vocal minorities.

Both are popular because of their winning ways and big names. This success helped them attract top talent from around the world, creating the perception that they snatch up young talents like Alex Rodriguez and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg.

TSM and the Yankees struggled in their most recent seasons. Bringing in big-name veterans such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Bora “Yellowstar” Kim wasn’t enough. The fallout of the 2016 spring split and the 2015 season made both teams adjust their philosophies toward free agents: TSM brought in rookie support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang; the Yankees made no major signings. Despite recent struggles, both teams can rely on their resources, fan bases and legacies to help stabilize long-term growth.

Fnatic and Real Madrid

Although G2 and Origen have the Spanish ancestry down, Fnatic’s reputation as a European dynasty makes it the Real Madrid of the LCS.

We’ll steer clear of the FC Barcelona/Real Madrid debate, but Real Madrid’s 10 UEFA Champions League titles is most akin to Fnatic, which has missed only one LCS final. Fnatic won the first world championship, making it the only team in Europe to earn the game’s greatest honor. Joe Miller even dubbed the Fnatic/SK Gaming matchup “El Clásico” — a nod to Real Madrid and FC Barcelona’s storied rivalry. Alas, SK Gaming is no more, so it’s up to Origen and G2 to reinvigorate this tired narrative.

Fnatic and Real Madrid understand their storied past means nothing if they don’t compete to the best of their ability. Fnatic always looks to improve its team by cultivating young talent while a veteran superstar facilities a signature playstyle. Real Madrid lost out to FC Barcelona a few years back. Like Fnatic hopes to do with the return of Yellowstar, Real Madrid has bounced back to the top of the European world.

Team Liquid and the Cleveland Cavaliers

Conventional wisdom says surrounding a former world champion with a wealth of young talent is a recipe for postseason results. Neither Team Liquid nor the Cleveland Cavaliers got the memo.

Be it some wicked dealings or a vengeful spirit, something unnatural is keeping this duo from winning the all-important championship. Few frustrations compare to consistently falling flat when it matters most. Cleveland had LeBron James for seven years, yet the perennial All-Star was not enough to save the city from its 52-year championship drought. By the time James left to win two championships in Miami, the Cavaliers racked up three conference semifinals losses, one conference finals loss and another in the NBA Finals.

Team Liquid (formerly known as Team Curse) fans are tormented by a curse of their own — albeit not nearly as deep-rooted as the Cavaliers’ — that thrives in the team’s inability to ascend beyond the semifinals of an LCS season. Although Liquid has two third-place finishes, the curse is nicknamed “forever fourth” because of seven fourth places finishes and a regional qualifier loss that kept Liquid from the 2015 League of Legends World Championship.

Despite their respective curses, both teams show signs of greatness. The Cavaliers led the Golden State Warriors 2-1 in the last year’s NBA Finals. Experts questioned Golden State’s maturity and applauded James’ efforts. The Warriors then stunned Cleveland fans and bounced back to take the series 4-2. Likewise, Liquid led Cloud 9 by two games in the last year’s spring semifinals. But the rebranded team could not overcome its previous troubles and dropped the series 3-2.

James and Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin proved their merit with championship wins, and there is hope that said  pedigree will finally deliver their teams into the promised land. In 2016, Team Liquid has a strong supporting cast of young players, while James has a healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to contend with the NBA’s best. If history has any bearing, though, then we can expect both fan bases to face the bitter taste of disappointment.

Honorable Mentions

Team World Elite and the Dallas Cowboys

ROX Tigers and the Carolina Panthers

Origen / G2 and FC Barcelona / Atlético Madrid

Schalke 04 Esports and Schalke 04

Royal Never Give Up and the OKC Thunder

Jin Air and the New York Jets

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.