When a team is doing badly, the Reddit Circlejerk gets going in full force. Fans lose confidence in their favorite team and starts blaming one or several of its players for the losses, asking for their heads. Even in cases when the players ARE underperforming, replacing them might actually do more harm than good. In this article, we will talk about why this could be the case.
First of all, it’s easy to criticize players and ask for their removal with no understanding of what it means to play on stage or without knowledge of team dynamics. The things players do ingame aren’t everything they do for a team. Without knowing their role behind the scenes, it’s extremely hard to be accurate when calling for roster changes. What does that mean? Let’s take the famous example of C9’s Hai “Hai” Du Lam. That player has been underperforming long before he was benched from the Mid Lane position for a while, due to several reasons, wrist problems included.
It was clear for a while that Hai wasn’t really cutting it against the best Mids in NA, not to mention internationally, however, once he got replaced, C9’s performance plummeted even more. Why? Because Hai was Cloud9’s tactical leader, the one who made all the calls for a long time. Simply put, his teammates weren’t used to calling, which resulted in a dip in performance. It wasn’t a problem that could be fixed quickly, so Hai was brought back to try and shotcall from the Jungle, a somewhat mechanically easier role.
Of course, he couldn’t hack it against players who’ve been playing in the Jungle for years. Then, Hai moved to Support, with a little bit more success. C9 was doing better. The former Mid and Jungler played a whole split as a Support, before the team figured out how to compensate for the lack of him shot-calling.
Once they did, he moved away from playing, the considerably stronger individually C9 roster with muted shotcalling issues got to the Grand Final of the NA LCS Summer Split, losing to TSM, and defeated Immortals in the Gauntlet to make it into Worlds. Sometimes, a player is so important outside of his immediate responsibility of playing his lane, that you can’t just replace him immediately and expect improvement.
Sometimes, certain players can also be “the heart” of a team, where it has nothing to do with anything that happens in game. When does this happen? Usually, when the roster has several high profile stars or difficult personalities, who would be at each other’s throats if not for that one guy, who mediates conflicts.
While it isn’t precisely the same, and example of this situation could be the Team Liquid CS:GO lineup, which took 2nd place in ESL One Cologne 2016, which was the best result by any NA team in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Who was “the glue” of that Team Liquid squad? Spencer “Hiko” Martin. When Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev was first signed to Team Liquid, he and Hiko struck a friendship. Drama followed, s1mple and his teammates had a lot of tension between them. Once the Cologne Major was approaching, it’s reported that Hiko was the one person who made the struggling roster gel, which, famously, resulted in some amazing CS:GO matches, where Liquid upset their opponents. Hiko is famous for only caring about winning a Major. Everything he does is for that purpose. It’s probably likely that once old drama started coming out again, Hiko’s ambition centered his teammates and provided them with some perspective of what they could achieve if only they stopped squabbling and played together.
What would have happened if Hiko wasn’t on that team? Nothing. He wasn’t usually the one dominating highlight reels, but he WAS the one who got the team to play and make it into the Grand Final. Without him, even if he was replaced by… Nikola "NiKo" Kovač, that iteration of Team Liquid probably wouldn’t have gotten that far in that tournament. In this one case, Hiko > NiKo.
There can be many more reasons why keeping a player, who isn’t as individually skilled as his opponents, might turn out to be a boon for an eSports team. There are many things players do behind the scenes, which make the squad function. As fans, we will probably never know all of them, so before we call for a player’s removal, we should remember that and trust in our favorite team’s judgment, trusting in their decisions, no matter what they actually are. Chances are, they know the details surrounding the decision much better than we do. Let’s not feed the Reddit Circlejerk, being a professional eSports athlete is hard enough as it is. Don’t believe it? Try playing for high stakes with an arena of people in front of you, with only noise-cancelling headphones to protect you. More about that tomorrow.