In the West, the 2021 preseason shuffle has gone under the sign of historic transfers like the retirement of Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, or Luka “Perkz” Perkovic’s departure G2 Esports for Cloud9 and Martin “Rekkles” Larsson jumping from Fnatic to take his place. But in South Korea’s LCK, one org has managed to infuriate and alienate fans on both sides of the Pacific — and it so happens to be League of Legends’, perhaps even esports', most successful organization.
For the past few weeks, legacy org T1 has been barraged by community outrage and pitch-black optics following leaks that it's looking to sign Nick “LS” De Cesare as a coach for the 2021 season.
The deal, first reported by Inven Global and later confirmed by a leak on T1’s own Lee “Effort” Sang-ho’s stream, has drawn quite the reaction. One fan hired an LED truck to drive around Jangro and Gangnam, where T1’s headquarters and training facilities are located, demanding “a clear and detailed explanation” and stating there’s “no future for a team that shuts out devoted fans”. Others took matters to further extremes, resulting in the harassment and obscene treatment of LS (or journalists writing about the story), to the point LS had to deactivate his social media presence and take cover.
The story has also split the Korean and western communities and fans and bystanders have been pointing fingers at each other, the pot calling the kettle black. And while the fanaticism of abusive fans is certainly an inexcusable, reprehensive behavior, T1’s management is most to blame as the originator of this controversy.
Leading in with LS was T1’s first and (perhaps) biggest mistake
Before this statement is misinterpreted and taken out of context, I’ll make it clear: this has nothing to do with LS’ abilities as a coach and a professional. This is not an argument that LS is not good enough for T1 (and, as we’d come to see, it is in fact T1 that isn’t good enough for LS). The issue lies with the duality of LS’ image between the West and Korea — two demographics that T1 wants to appeal to at the same time, given their split ownership between Comcast (US) and SK Telecom (KR).
On one hand, the West sees LS as an eloquent broadcast talent, a gifted analyst, and a revolutionist in terms of strategy, especially when it comes to wave management and itemization. “He’s changed how people look at itemization in pretty much every single western league. He got people to start thinking about their builds way more often,” Fnatic top laner Gabriel “Bwipo” Rau told Inven Global a few weeks ago.
“He’d be one of the best suited western personalities to join a Korean team. He’s lived in Korea, he loves being there,” Bwipo added.
"Even though they must have anticipated the backlash, T1 had no intention whatsoever to stand by their choice and offer support to the person they considered good enough to coach their roster just days before."
But LS’ image in Korea is different. The homophobic and xenophobic prejudices and the Malice/Untara story aside, LS is also seen as a coach who couldn’t even win Challengers Korea. What business then, fans ask, would he have coaching the greatest LoL legacy in history?
By leading in with LS for the coaching position, T1’s management showed they didn’t know — or rather didn’t care — about the controversy that would inevitably erupt. They were inconsiderate not only to the fans (many of whom are not fanatical zealots, but who are now being unjustly labeled as such by association) but, more importantly, to LS himself.
Because, as we’d see later, even though they must have anticipated the backlash, T1 had no intention whatsoever to stand by their choice and offer support to the person they considered good enough to coach their roster just days before.
Where’s T1’s spine?
I say that leading in with LS was T1’s biggest mistake because it was an act that opened the floodgates, but the management’s follow-up actions are just as ugly and indefensible.
After they put him in the spotlight, T1’s management left LS to the wolves (including those in their own Discord) just as easily and has since continued to issue one bad apology after the other. They’ve apologized to the fans, they’ve apologized to Effort, they’ve apologized to everyone but the one person who’s suffered the most from the complete lack of control within headquarters.
Despite boldly claiming that they would take legal actions and not take lightly any form of harassment or threats, and even doubling down on it in a recent “apology”, T1 management is yet to show they mean those words. Instead, they seem more comfortable with making hollow pledges and ignoring the real problem in a classic “out of sight, out of mind” way. But what else is new in the world of esports?
T1 fanatics’ behavior is still inexcusable
I wouldn’t say I’m a die-hard T1 fan, but if I was, I would be ashamed of my clique today. These vile actions and persecutions do not become a loving fan and, in fact, do not become any decent human being.
I will not go into specific examples as to not give fanatics the chance to riposte with “there’s no hard evidence” and “you’re just a westerner who doesn’t understand Korean culture”, and “we’re only doing this out of passion”. Indeed, it is so often nowadays that “passion” is used to justify any crusade, even the ugliest ones, because it “comes from love”. But I’ve seen love and that ain’t it. Love isn’t forceful or possessive, and abuse is culturally-agnostic.
As much as fans want to parade their entitlement and put themselves on a pedestal — something all too common for the modern age where the adage of “we wouldn’t be here without our fans” has become dangerous and empowering rhetoric — T1 doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to the hundreds of players, whose calluses on their hands, whose wrist and back pains, whose sleepless nights, and whose burnout before the age of 22 all in pursuit of greatness forged a legacy that’s entering its 19th year.
"I’ve seen love and that ain’t it. Love isn’t forceful or possessive, and abuse is culturally-agnostic."
It belongs to the legendary bonjwas Lim “BoxeR” Yo-hwan and Choi “iloveoov” Yun-sung who were the first banner-bearers of SKT so many years ago, and to Kim “Bisu” Taek-yong and Jung “FanTaSy” Myung-hoon, who — like their mentors — continued to revolutionize the magnificent beauty of Brood War.
It belongs (now even more so) to Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, who eight years later continues to be the most recognized name in League of Legends and will likely never be overtaken in his accolades. It belongs to the coaches, the analysts, the support staff who’ve been forced to adapt to an ever-changing landscape, on the clock and with little room for mistakes, all in the quest for more glory and more championships.
And finally, it belongs to the real fans. The ones who’ve been with the club through thick and thin and who are willing to trust even the more controversial decisions — or at least voice their concerns respectfully. Being a radical fan is easier, but this is not what support is. Radicalism doesn’t build fandom. Radicalism doesn’t elevate the club. Radicalism, contrary to what radicals always believe, is never a positive force.
"As much as fans want to parade their entitlement and put themselves on a pedestal, T1 doesn't belong to them."
The persecution T1 has received from those who are supposed to love and support it has been disappointing and frustrating, but you know what’s even worse?
The fact that T1 allowed it. Facing the choice to stand up to the bully or enable them, T1 chose the latter, and nobody who advocates for decency, unity, support, and fandom should be OK with it.
This isn’t the T1 I’ve known.
Esports editor and journalist of 10+ years. Lives on black tea and corgi love.