Swan Song: The Old Guard
League of Legends has become the most successful competitive video game ever. Read any statistic about player volume, most active players, spectating viewers for high level tournaments and LoL is usually at the top of each list. This quick rise to the peak of their industry has seen a handful of young gamers become international stars. It's hard to believe that we are only in the 5th season of competitive LoL, and most of the original masterminds of the game have already "retired" for various reasons.
Names like xPeke and Yellowstar, Dyrus and Doublelift, are some of the remainder of what is lovingly referred to as the "old guard" of western players. Most of these players have already moved on, and it is uncertain how many more of them will be gone in the coming months. But before we look ahead at the reality that season six looks to bring us next year, let's take a trip down memory lane.
History of the League: Part One
I got into League of Legends in the fall of 2011 while I was recovering from a leg injury, having to spend roughly 23 hours of each day on bed rest for 90 days. As my first MOBA, I was researching the game and learning basic things like "item builds" and "jungle pathing" when I came across the SoloMid website and a frequent guide poster named Marcus "Dyrus" Hill. At the time he was NOT a member of Team SoloMid, nor did I know that such a team even existed, all I knew was that he was really good at LoL, and his blunt commentary on stream was both informative and hilarious. I became a TSM fan in March of 2012 when he joined the squad (basically because he was already living there) and started watching just about every competitive tournament that was available to stream.
After completing his 4th season with the team, Dyrus told TSM fans during an interview with OnGamer's Travis Gafford that he was most likely going to retire after season 5:
"Thank you for supporting me for so long. It's been kind of up and down, a roller-coaster as a TSM fan. I'm probably gonna end up retiring this year" - Dyrus
This is the 5th year some of these players will have spent 12-15 hours per day, every day, not just playing League of Legends but training to be the best team in the world. These guys are 21-25 with enough money to start pursuing just about any venture they want, not to mention the dozens of Challenger Series start ups that would overpay for a coach with their credentials.
So while I decide whether or not I will continue to root for TSM after Dyrus retires, I look at this particular off-season with morbid curiosity. Just one question remains that will shape the landscape of the 2016 LCS season...
Who Else Is Done?
Doublelift has been flirting with retirement since Counter Logic Gaming's epic collapse following an ill-conceived boot camp in Korea to prepare them for the NA LCS Summer Playoffs. After going 0-6 in the NA playoffs, and needing a reverse sweep to retain their LCS spot in the promotion tournament, Doublelift was leaning toward either retiring or testing the waters to see if a more favorable situation was available. He was once again halfway out the door following yet another disastrous post-season after the 2015 Spring Split, but was convinced to remain until the end of the season.
"I told (Chris) that I didn't want to play anymore, that I was considering going full time streamer" - Doublelift
xPeke has officially made his point clear, he is still one of the best minds in LoL. Leaving Fnatic to start his own Challenger squad was a big risk, and one that had not worked out well for other former stars who had attempted the feat. But not only did his new team Origen crush through the Challenger scene, they were about as dominant in the EU LCS as his old Fnatic teams were and the only team capable of beating his old teammates. While he has made no official announcement, a July article in The Daily Dot cites "multiple sources close to the player" that he plans to retire after the 2015 World Championships to focus on running Origen as an organization.
Yellowstar is one of two players who have been to every World Championship tournament (the other being Dyrus). He is another player who was almost retired after last season, but decided to stay to help Fnatic build their new roster. One has to wonder how long he wants to play, as he would be a welcome addition to Fnatic's coaching staff and allow him more freedom with his time.
"I was considering retiring, but actually it was too late to sign up for school, so I decided to give it another try for this season." - Yellowstar
While these four names are probably the biggest for the western LoL scene other long time LCS veterans are currently in the process of deciding their LCS futures.
IWDominate, has already chosen a replacement in Team Imagine's Moon, and is currently in talks to acquire his contract in order to groom him this off-season.
Froggen had considered retirement after a horrid showing at the 2014 World Championship, including a loss to Brazilian IWC team KaBuM! eSports. After two straight 7th place finishes in 2015 as well as no players contracted beyond this season, Elements could be looking at a large scale roster change.
Get on with it.. GET ON WITH IT!
As of right now, only a single player from the Season One World Championship has confirmed his intention to play next season, Team Liquid's Xpecial. As there doesn't seem to be a clear cut superior option for them, it is probably that Xpecial will retain his spot and keep the flame alive for the old guard.
"As long as I still believe in myself, and my teammates believe in me, I will still play. But once that day is over, I'll stop." - Xpecial
Roster changes aren't always the answer, and while these players are mostly going out on their terms it is important to remember how far the game has really come. If you were to go back and watch even as close as the Season 3 World Championship you will see just how much the game has changed. These players hold a special place in history as the trailblazers, who were able to adapt to the changes in the metagame and remain at the top of their peers.
While change is inevitable, this off-season could see the departures of a lot of names you expect to see every week when tuning in to the LCS broadcast. Apart from those already mentioned, people like sOAZ, Nyph, CandyPanda, and kev1n, could all be watching from home, leaving behind the next generation of western stars to attempt to keep up with the powers that have risen in the east.