Clouded Judgement: Did Riot’s Bias Towards Cloud9 Turn Neutral Fans Against Them?

Strong narratives are the driving force behind the North American League of Legends Championship Series, but in the case of Cloud9’s 2017 Summer Split, perhaps Riot Games overstepped the mark in its attempt to make the story resonate.

The Team SoloMid vs Cloud9 rivalry has engrossed NA LCS audiences for nearing on four consecutive splits. From Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong’s dominance of the top lane to Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen’s crucial misplay in the 2017 Spring Split finals, C9’s continued efforts to usurp TSM from the throne has continued to encapture the imagination of eSports fans from across the globe.

During the Summer Split however, Cloud9’s underwhelming performance and league standing did not position Spring’s runners-up as title-contenders, yet Riot’s narrative for the season continued to awkwardly crowbar the team back into the frame.

Despite an evident slump in form – that proved to last right up until a playoff defeat to Team Dignitas – Cloud9 and their respective lineup continued to be placed on a pedestal by Riot’s production team.

As the praise continued to roll in for Cloud9, coinciding with the team’s slide down the table, fans began to take issue with the depiction of the team portrayed as the region’s inevitable number two.

A large proportion of the criticism initially stemmed from the ‘tier lists’ produced by a handful of Riot’s showcased NA LCS shoutcasters and analysts.

Though the tier lists were undoubtedly created to drive debate and engagement with Riot’s content, the perceived bias shown towards Cloud9 would leave a lingering bitter taste in the mouths of fans and players from North America’s other organisations:

Source: lolesports
Source: lolesports

Analysts and shoutcasters, David “Phreak” Turley and Joshua “Jatt” Leesman, received widespread backlash for their respective AD carry and mid lane tier lists, both opting to position members of the underperforming Cloud9 lineup in pole position.

The tier lists served to facilitate an unsavoury narrative for the rest of the split, as C9 fans passionately defended the abilities of their star players, continuing to draw scrutiny for the disconnect between their perceived value and league standing.

The Jensen vs Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg debate continues to rumble on with the NA LCS Summer Split MVP announcement a little over a week away.

Similarly, aggrieved fans highlighted the illogical thinking behind rewarding four of the six members of Cloud9 squad with All-Pro status – an award which is supposed to reflect performance – after C9 struggled to achieve fourth place in the regular split.

In Phreak and Jatt’s defence, their tier lists were explicitly described to be relevant only for the week in which they were created. The lists no longer retain any analytical relevance, yet it is a testament to the ill-feeling that the lists generated that they continue to be referenced to date.

Looking to generate a sense of excitement with a rallying narrative is a natural move for Riot’s NA LCS broadcast team, but whilst the tier lists will soon become seldom-mentioned memes, bias coverage of Cloud9 fixtures is unforgivable.

Team Dignitas put Cloud9 to the sword in the first round of the NA LCS playoffs, yet to the untrained eye and ear, Cloud9’s gradual retreat was all part of an ingenious ploy, at least according to Riot’s shoutcasters.

At one point in Game 2, Dignitas’ advantage was extended to a 10k gold lead, yet the analysis remained fixated on last split’s runners-up.

In spite of Johnny “Altec” Ru and Adrian “Adrian” Ma’s dominance of the bot lane throughout the series, the focus of the shoutcasters remained majoritively fixated on the All-Pro stars within the C9 roster.

That two new signings had formed one of the most formidable bot lanes in the region (supposedly) went entirely unmentioned, is inexcusable. That Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi’s desperation triple kill for Cloud9 was heralded as the play of the game only served to add additional salt in the wounds of the aggrieved neutral fan:

Whether Riot’s representation of Cloud9 tainted the public’s perception of the team is entirely subjective, though the amount of criticism lobbied against the team has certainly been disproportionate given their performance throughout the split.

Regardless, with Cloud9 stumbling at the first playoff hurdle, NA LCS fans will no longer be exposed to yet another insufferable narrative… at least, until the Gauntlet begins.