A few universal truths exist in sports, and e-Sports is no different. Winning isn't everything it's the only thing, there is no "I" in team, and of course that it's easier to win when no one expects you to do it. Being the scrappy underdog will always be easier than the old favorite and the biggest reason is expectations.
Ask any player and they will tell you that the mental game plays just as big of a role in the way a player and a team performs as their actual skill levels. So what does this mean for the LCS? It means that teams like GGU, Vulcun, and Ninjas in Pajamas (formerly Copenhagen Wolves) have their work cut out for them in the summer split.
The Problems Winning Creates
When a team has a great season, especially coming out of nowhere they are only expected to get better and better. Fans and the players believe themselves that they are essentially climbing a ladder and that a 2nd or 3rd place finish means a 1st place finish the next season. In reality, it's not that simple because a lot of things have to go correctly to win. That's what truly makes the incredible run of TSM all the more impressive. Everyone's been gunning for them for months and they still always manage to end on top.
So what happens if one of those teams starts slow? They had seemed to figure it all last season and if they come out and start something like 2-5 everyone will be pressing the panic button. The outcry of the community will begin from Reddit to the General Discussion forums about how Vulcun was overrated or GGU's 2nd place finish was a fluke run. When you win and finish strong, the next time people are gunning for you, not the other way around. Teams take you more seriously than before and the element of surprise is gone.
We heard endless discussion about the top 4 and bottom 4 in the NA LCS. At the beginning of the season it was about how much better the top 4 was than the other 4. At the end, it was about how there was hardly a gap between any of the teams and if anything that's worse for the teams who finished highly. If one of those teams starts slow again this season, we could very easily see roster moves and the proverbial panic button struck too quickly. At the end of the day, e-Sports is a business and the business is winning.
It's not just from an organizational or community standpoint that is impacted. Psychologically as a team it hurts to lose when you expect to win. Confidence can be broken easily by losing a few games you thought you should win because you (and the community at large) were perceived as the stronger team. Teams are much more likely to argue when they are losing to a team they believe is worse than them whether it is actually the case or not, than losing to a team expected to crush them.
Dealing with the drama
It's easy to say that you can't let outside pressures effect you and to just play your game. Every manager/coach tells their player that in every sport, but it might be the toughest in e-Sports. Interacting with the community is such a gigantic part of being a professional player, that when that community turns on them it's hard not to take notice. For every Reginald out there that can take all the criticism and brush it off his shoulder like he's Jay-Z, there's a million other players like Hotshot, or MakNooN, or Elementz who let the criticism effect them more than it should.
Cliches are cliches for a reason, and one of the best in regards to sports is one game at a time. That's the only way to deal with expectations effectively. When you are team expected to win, you can't be thinking about what place you'll end up at, it's how can i win the next game. This same strategy matters in solo queue as well, what happened in the last game doesn't matter. Take what you can from the game in the prism of getting better, and forget about the outcome win or loss because the next game is the most important one.
It's a common thing in other sports for a team that makes a big off-season acquisition, or finished strong last year to take a step back the next year because they believe they are naturally going to get better. It's hard to remember all the hard work that got you to that strong finish when everyone is singing your praises during the off-season, but if they don't, a step back is inevitable.
The Lakers in basketball this season acquired a lot of talent and have a history of success, but the lofty expectations set on them at the beginning of the season only weighed them down as the injuries and losses piled up. League doesn't have physical injuries, but nerfs to champions are essentially the same thing. Until a player is able to adapt his champion pool, he isn't playing up to his potential when "healthy".
The flip side of the coin works as well. CLG comes in with a new lineup and almost no expectations to start the season, a position they've never been use to before. Just this last season we saw SK Gaming start strong and have a very good showing during the regular season when no one thought they'd be as strong as they were. Don't be surprised if several teams that ended last season fighting for their lives in relegation matches start strong in the new season because they had to fight and claw every step of the way. It certainly worked for Curse at the start of the spring split.
In the LCS, beating TSM will count the same as one of the teams who won a spot from the amateur circuit. Expectations can't color the way your team plays because it was almost always be a negative weight that everyone will feel all the time. Players respond differently to pressure, but playing carefree and loose is almost universally accepted as the best way to play. So much more goes into winning than people realizing for professional teams.
Preparation, the way the meta shifts, how a player feels on the day they play, that it's impossible for anyone to not have a bad week or two. The question is how well will the teams be able to handle it this time around when all their weeks are suppose to be good.
What do you think RoG'ers? Will teams like Vulcun, NiP, and GGU perform better or worse this season? Which team will surprise that was in relegation? Do expectations and pressure from the community, management, and the team really matter? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to stay tuned to ReignofGaming for all your LoL-related needs!
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