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OP-ED: On Trash Talk in League of Legends: The Illusion of Drama

With the Battle of the Atlantic raging on and the 2014 LCS Spring Split looming comes the return of trash talk from high-profile and professional players, whether it be the recent regional back and forth between North America and Europe, or local, in regards to the awakening of the storied CLG and TSM rivalry. Whether you find it enjoyable, annoying, or problematic, trash talk’s place in League of Legends eSports is a unique phenomenon that elicits often community-driven drama.

Generally, comparing League of Legends eSports to that of traditional, professional sports like football and basketball is apt and provokes interesting approaches to how we view and understand our game on its professional frontier. But when it comes to trash talk, League of Legends is quite literally in a league of its own and understanding the inherent performative nature of trash talk could be vital as we flesh out what this eSport will look like in the future.

In League of Legends, it’s all too easy to read a pro player’s tweet, Facebook post, or one-off Reddit comment about so-and-so’s play or this and that about some team. It happens on our personal feeds. It’s accessible, and that immediacy tends to prompt those dramatic responses that take off and wind up on the front page of Reddit, where the spurred team or player’s fans come to defend and other fans come to counter-rally.

The words of a pro player enter the mainstream discussion almost instantaneously as they were written or spoken. Therein lies the difference between traditional sports and an eSport like League of Legends: that short delay between what a player said is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. To that end, trash talk in League of Legends becomes much more of a spectacle than we’d regularly see in other sports.

Doublelift's branded t-shirt

Now, the moral arguments of trash talk aside, it happens whether or not you find it damaging to a team’s brand or a player’s image, or if you find the hype it creates exciting. What matters is that we don’t forget that in and of it all lies performance. These are the actions and ramblings of personalities--characters--not persons. It’s a performance and, in most situations, the personality intends for a certain reaction--hype, more often than not. It’s important we understand that.

Sometimes the language is harsh and the player is solely responsible for that consequence of their choice in words, but even still, it’s necessary to separate the personality or character from the actual person and instead look for the intention behind the trash talk. What does Dyrus gain when he calls CLG bad? It couldn’t be to hype up the notorious CLG-TSM rivalry--where his comment actually proves mutually beneficial to the two teams--could it? Furthermore, is it strange that the Top 10 Best Trash Talks in LoL eSports NA/EU 2013 that’s been circulating around the community tends to be very CLG/TSM heavy or that Doublelift says his signature “Everyone else is trash” quip and then points to his branded shirt?

All of this isn’t to say that because trash talk tends to be rooted in performance, the harsh and offensive (mildly or not) nature of the act is a null point, evacuated from the discussion. In the same video, there’s the infamous Zuna post-game interview where he speaks harshly about a down Dignitas, losing handily to then-Vulcun (now XDG Gaming). There certainly is a difference between trash talk and offensive remarks, and maybe in the case of the Zuna fiasco it may have to do with appropriate timing--taking jabs before a match to hype that particular match or to pump up one’s team, or a team taking your punches after beating them.

But that distinction belongs to the player; it’s their responsibility to handle their trash talk respectably, to make their intention as clear as possible. It’s our responsibility as a community to look for that difference--the intention of the remark, something very difficult to find, but one that would prove helpful in understanding the performance of trash talk. Think about the trash talk threads that /r/leagueoflegends has adopted from other professional sport subreddits. In the same way that our true words are hidden behind excessive caps lock and frank language, so too are the comments from professional players. But whereas capital letters can visually assert their irony or their humor, speech seems to fail in that regard (especially when it comes from a certain monotone player) and what’s left is the illusion of drama, spurring actual drama and firing shots.

Written by Alex "amagzz" Magdaleno - @amagzz
Edited by Jordan Spence - @SanctifiedLoL

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