Heading into the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI), most fans of the European League of Legends' [official site] scene were pleased to see G2 eSports representing their region. The team had stormed the EU LCS in their rookie split, with a combination of individual skill and teamwork. They also had a cocksure aura around them - they weren't just winning they were winning with a swagger. No surprise then that there was a sense of excitement about what this squad of newcomers could do on a bigger stage.
Faced with veteran opponents, would their upstart nature cause big upsets? Even if they didn't there was little concern that they would put the European region to shame with their performance. After ten games, two wins and some crushing defeats though, 'shame' is very much on the agenda as fans, professional players and the community quickly turned on the G2 organisation.
The first murmurings of discontent came on the eve of the tournament when word began to spread that G2’s management had decided to allow the players two weeks holiday between victory in the LCS play-offs and their journey to Shanghai. Most teams use this time to practice and prepare for the opponents they're to face, with VoD reviews or even by heading to Korea to scrim (practice) against the still-active teams there. Not so for G2, whose players were allowed to travel home to visit family members and take a break from the punishing esports lifestyle.
G2's first game at MSI against Taiwanese side Flash Wolves ended in disappointing capitulation after they squandered a 6k gold lead. By the end of their fourth – a battering by Chinese team Royal Never Give Up – G2 looked broken. It didn't take long for the knives to come out for the team.
Former Gambit Gaming and Roccat support Edward Abgaryan took to Twitter to share his disdain, stating “Eh... this is actually sad. Why would you go in to international tournament as best team from ur region without practice.”. He continued, “Rather see any other top 4 team from Europe,” and concluded with “actually fkcing disgusting to see. T I L T.“
By the evening of day one of MSI commentators had joined in the condemnation - here's caster Christopher 'MonteCristo' Mykles weighing in:
After another debilitating defeat to North America's Counter Logic Gaming first thing on day two, a statement was released by G2 eSports. In it, they lamented the quality of available practice opportunities back in Europe and cited the visa application process coupled with uncertainty over whether they would even be going in defence of not heading to Korea.
The organisation also discussed the mental state of their players – proposing the notion that sometimes giving people a rest and the opportunity to rejuvenate is better than enforcing further practice, particularly if that practice is of a low standard.
"Following a rigorous Spring Split with practice, scrims and official games for 10+ hours a day, 6 days a week for 3 months straight, it was important for the mental state of our players to be allowed to take some time away from the game, visit their families and reset for MSI and the following Summer Split."
This is where I start to have some sympathy for G2. Professional LoL players have punishing practice schedules. G2's spring season apparently consisted of practicing for “10+ hours a day, 6 days a week for 3 months straight.” Their youngest player Luka ‘Perkz’ Perkovic is just 17. When I was 17 I was probably spending 6 hours a day at school and much of my free-time in parks drinking cheap alcohol. While all elite sportspeople make sacrifices, ten hours of practice a day is around four hours more than an elite level phrical athlete might be expected to train (here's a bit of 2012 Olympics-related research which puts the average at 6 hours per day, 6 days a week). While LoL is far less physically demanding, it's not a stretch to say that an intense 60-hour working week might take a mental toll upon a person.
The other question is - when exactly are these players supposed to rest? By the time MSI ends on 15th May, there are only around three weeks until the Summer Split begins. Should G2 instead use that time for rest and risk going into the season woefully unprepared, or do we expect them to do more bootcamping and more training?
This is not the first time this topic has arisen in professional LoL, with players talking about ways to avoid burning out or losing their love for the game. In relation to the G2 discussion, Maurice 'Amazing' Stückenschneider, who plays for fellow European side Origen suggested on Twitter that his own team would likely have taken a similar approach.
“Realistically: OG would have practised dynamic queue in the homeland and would have done equally bad as G2 - same for any other EU team." He followed this by admitting “Last but not least: If I were G2 I would rather sandbag MSI than to have no time off before summer split and risk not going to worlds."
(Just in case it wasn't clear, MSI has the power to impact regional seeding for Worlds but it doesn't determine which specific teams from that region get to go.)
My feeling is that the schedule for winning teams is punishing and as a result G2 were put into a no-win situation. Either they practiced for both and risked ending up with an exhausted squad going into the summer season (and would potentially miss out on Worlds), they took a break after MSI and would be refreshed but unprepared for the summer season (and would potentially miss out on Worlds), or they prioritised the summer season and the chance at Worlds qualification and took a break before MSI (risking crashing out of MSI/embarrassing their region/securing less advantageous seeding for Europe).
Perhaps the organisation simply chose what they considered to be the best option in the long run - allowing their rookie players a break and ensuring that they remain fresh for upcoming challenges, with MSI the least of their concerns. The flip-side of that is that the organisation is going to have to deal with a lot of criticism for taking that decision, as well accusations of poor planning over the visa issues.
The LoL community was quick to condemn G2 over what happened going into MSI. They might be equally quick to laud the decision-making if G2 are able to perform for the rest of the year. But if G2 falter in the summer season the organisation will not only have damaged their team’s performance at a major tournament, but their reputation as an esports organisation.