The Thorin Treatment: Celebrating the Full Monte
On a day when many expected to simply learn who the talent would be for the Season 6 World Championship English broadcast, more information emerged which sees veteran caster and scene personality Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles all but departed from the game he has been professionally embedded within for almost five years. League of Legends loses one its all around talents, most recognisable faces and voices and custodians of history.
The American, just over a month prior to his 30th birthday, was not announced as a commentator for the game's most prestigious tournament, where he has occupied a position as a key analyst for the past three editions. Compounding the significiance of his absence came the revelation that he was not invited by Riot Games, but instead will be commentating Overwatch - the upstart would-be rival game to LoL - for current employer OGN and seems all but out of the door entirely for the game which he has worked with for half a decade.
A not-so-unpopular sentiment
Despite such a long tenure of service, even within the context of esports as a whole, and having provided years of free entertainment for fans around the world, someone who should have been one of the most celebrated figures in casting history leaves without any notable fanfare from the game he has nurtured and the fans he has entertained and informed. Community discussion largely centered on justifications for why his absence from the tournament of the year was not worth getting upset over.
Some focused upon his almost entirely destroyed relationship with Riot Games, who banned him, without anything approaching a reasonable or fair process, from owning an LCS team and forced him to sell his in a matter of days. Such "fans" proposed that of course he would not be invited to work at such a prestigious event in light of his stern comments regarding said controversial ban, despite Riot both publicly stating that the ban would not affect their decisions in hiring him for such an event and his outrage being entirely understandable and within reason, in light of the outrageous circumstances of his livelihood and future profits being tampered with by the actions of Riot.
For others, they felt as if his comments about Riot over the years amounted to "whining" or proof of his "arrogance." Such opinions ignored the many complimentary statements MonteCristo has made about Riot Games over the years, seeking to see things from their perspective and offering his advice on how they can improve their game and competitive scene. Even up to and including this year, when so much has been done to make it understandable that he would lay into Riot, he has repeatedly offered potential solutions and reasonable commentary upon their actions and errors.
Finally, there were those that repeatedly stated that since they did not think or feel MonteCristo was the best commentator or by a significant margin, that his absence from the World Championship was not as notable as it was being painted as being. This, of course, ignores MonteCristo's ability to fulfill the dual roles of one of the world's handful of elite colour commentators and desk analysts. Separate the two out and there are other candidates or preferences for one to choose from, but combine the two, as would have been the case at Worlds, and few would reasonably be able to arrive at even three names who could fill his shoes or match his world renowned level at said roles.
When fan favourites such as Deman and Joe Miller departed from League of Legends, at their own discretion, the outpouring of disappointment and celebration of their impressive and prolific careers was wide-spread and apparent for all to see. Not so for MonteCristo and his soft end to the League of Legends chapter of his career.
Real recognises real
If the ungrateful snarls or derision of fans who, almost inexplicably, felt spurned or sided against an individual who had provided them with years of entertainment, the result of diligent work and applied effort to improve, were not enough to turn the stomach and leave a bitter taste in the mouth, then the unanimous silence of MonteCristo's peers in the League of Legends on camera talent community must have done the trick. No notable name among his peer group of top tier LoL commentators said anything regarding the American's absence from the tournament, likely departure from the game or embarking upon a new path in his career.
It's not as if they were required to stand upon their desks, a la Dead Poets Society, and defy the wishes of their employers for Worlds. Nay, even a simple mention of commiseration for not being able to see him there, well wishing on his next endeavours or general comment regarding his contributions to the game would have been enough. Instead, they all sat silent and watched their colleague, and in some instances supposed friend, exit their realm, perhaps forever. I'm no fan of the military life-style, but there are occasions in life where a gesture such as a simple salute - an acknowledgement of respect or moment of recognition over what someone has accomplished or endured - seems only appropriate.
League's renaissance man
Over his five years within the community and professional scene of League of Legends, MonteCristo has taken on and excelled within six distinct roles. Beginning as a journalist, the Vassar graduate built up ggChronicle to be one of the few bastions of intelligent, in-depth and well-articulated content in a fledgling competitive scene. Perhaps his most notable contribution there, beyond his efforts as an editor, was his "The Sixth Man" analysis of what made CJ Entus Blaze near unbeatable for a notable run of 13 games in the Spring of 2013.
Expanding his efforts as a journalist, MonteCristo appeared as an on-camera interviewer for Major League Gaming's (MLG) tournaments in 2012. In an era of generic interviewers who flew from different esports event to event, often having switching game on a nearly monthly basis, Monte brought a professional sheen to the position which was also grounded in a deep understanding of the game and bolstered by established relationships with the professional players he would speak to and work with to get answers from for viewers. Simply asking players how they felt about the next match he was not.
MonteCristo established himself as a colour commentator for offline events in 2012 with three appearances at MLG events, two of which would be won by elite level Korean teams, foreshadowing his future moving over to Korea at the end of the year to begin as part of the English broadcast for OnGameNet's (OGN) Champions Winter season, the third they had run. MonteCristo would remain the voice of colour commentary there in English for every season up until the last, spanning 10 total seasons of OGN and LCK. When one thinks of an English language broadcast of the best Korean league in LoL, they think of MonteCristo as an immediate association.
Outside of commentating extensively in Korea, Monte has been ever present at international competitions, with four Intel Extreme Masters events on his resume. A quality I've often admired and which has not often been noticed by the community is that when attending an international event, where Monte may not have been intimately acquainted with the styles and play of all of the notable names in the field, Monte would reach out to experts and analysts for those regions to ask for their insights and recommendations for games to watch as research. Those who imagine such an approach is simply par for the course in this profession would find themselves shocked if they knew how many fan favourites and acclaimed experts could not put aside their egos to undertake such an approach or simply didn't care to over the years.
The big show
At the three Riot Games World Championships MonteCristo attended from Seasons three to five, the OGN man was to be primarily occupied as a desk analyst. In this role he not only thrived, but helped spark the adoption of non-player desk experts in other games, such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, where the author of this article has fulfilled such a role on more than 30 occasions.
As an analyst, MonteCristo brought not only his deep knowledge of the Korean scene and the fruits of his personal labour in following the Western regions, but also added elements of punditry and showmanship with his flair for antics and humour. At the Season 3 World Championship final, a match which is one of the most infamously one-sided stomps in the final of any competition of such stature, his "SK Telecom hype train" whistle and ticket conductor skit not only elicited the loudest pop from the crowd all night, which I can attest to having been sat in said crowd, but also stands out as the most memorable moment.
As both a commentator and an analyst, MonteCristo has never been afraid to give his honest opinions, even when they meant going against crowd favourites or the consensus opinion of the community. This again refers us back to that S3 Worlds final, as he was the only analyst on the desk to predict an SKT victory. The other three, despite later admitting they too expected the Koreans to emerge victorious, decided to throw away analysis in favour of crow-barring their own pagentry, instead siding with the massive underdog Royal Club, the Chinese team who had surprisingly made a run to the final. Such a decision, more in line with the thinking of the staged entertainment of the WWE than any professional sport I'm aware of, even fooled some mainstream journalists into reporting the victory of SK Telecom, an overwhelming favourite to take the title in said match, as being an underdog victory, by the nature of the majority of the desk having picked the other team to win.
Monte's bold nature in speaking his mind and his showmanship were also always on display in his role as a community pundit starring as a co-host of "Summoning Insight," a community talk show covering the major regions of the competitive scene and which has thus far run for 76 episodes. For almost every appearance, Monte's location in Seoul, South Korea, meant he was required to set an alarm and wake up early, so as to be able to accomodate the guests, who were nearly all from Europe or North America. Despite working a full-time job, and even coaching a team and later owning one on the side, Monte endured and provided the community with regular analysis and entertainment at no cost to themselves.
Slings and arrows
For three LCS splits, Monte was a coach for CLG, helping take a team far behind the meta and trapped in the mind-set of "protect the Doublelift" into an era of excelling in lane-swaps and improving their ability to read and control the map. Their success was limited to a single third place finish in Spring of 2014, but they made the play-offs of all three splits and their failures can be seen before his time and continuing on afterwards. His role as a coach was clearly the weakest of his different endeavours in LoL, in terms of getting through to his players and accomplishing notable successes, but he was also one of the very first to undertake such a role and attempted to pursue success remotely, since the position could not match the income of his primary employment as a commentator.
Finally, Monte was the owner of Renegades, an NA LCS team in the Spring split of this year. Attempting to implement. Riot banning his co-owner, Chris Badawi, on the basis of essentially not liking the cut of his jib and throwing out the red herring of a rule they retroactively applied to him, left Monte as the sole owner of the team. Again having to work remotely, the downfall of the team, outside of mere results, leaves a mark against his name, by association in many's minds, but nobody has come forwards to suggest he was to blame or directly involved in any of the purported incidents which saw him banned and forced to sell.
Adieu, goodbye, so long
MonteCristo looks to leave League of Legends following an illustrious career within it. No one has shown as much versatility in taking on as many roles or reinventing themselves to fit their goals. League is left without the most established and knowledgeable voice it had casting in Korea, where a new era must begin. The World Championships will miss its most entertaining and one of its most insightful analysts. The community will feel the absence of "Summoning Insight" and Monte's presence there, when said show closes its doors in the coming future. Finally, League of Legends is left to the opportunistic jackals who'll pick underdogs for cheap laughs, those who won't speak up against the tyranny and irrational decisions of logic and fans who could not even show respect to one who had given them far more than they could ever given back in return.
Photo credit: lolesports, ESL
Custom artwork by @PapieroweDrzewo.