Esports expert Andrew Noland argues against the subjectivity of giving a Most Valuable Player award to an individual LoL player
The regular season of the League Championship Series (LCS) Spring Split has drawn to a close, and awards season is in full swing. The Most Valuable Player, like in any sport, will be both the most controversial and the most subjective of the accolades. Hot take alert: the award is a waste of time in League of Legends for a plethora of reasons.
The first is that all MVP awards are inconsequential to the players that win. Why? Because no player, except for the few with the most inflated egos, cares about winning the best player award if they lose the championship. Winning the award while winning the title can mean everything; proving yourself as the most skilled player on the championship team is a remarkable achievement. Being the best player in the league, but on a team that does not win the championship, does not erase the fact the MVP is a loser. It’s that simple.
In League of Legends, winning as a team is the only thing that matters. Only the winner of the Spring Split travels to the Mid-Season Invitational; only success in the postseason racks up points to travel to Worlds. This isn’t accomplished by a single player, but rather through the synergy of the team. Players perform specific functions that don’t translate from team to team. Golden Guardians top laner Hauntzer is versatile, capable of playing both carries and tanks depending on what his team asks of him. On the other hand, the winner of the 1st Team All Pro Top Laner, Licorice, plays almost exclusively carries.
There is an analogous trend in athletic sports. The Heisman Trophy and the NFL MVP will likely go exclusively to quarterbacks and running backs until the end of time, although both awards claim they are rewarding the best player of the season. The voters, journalists, coaches, teams, past winners and even other players claim that the legitimacy of their vote comes from statistics. James Harden will likely win the NBA MVP because his point hauls are historically ludicrous. The fact is that it’s much easier to identify and praise offensive players over struggling to discern the best defensive players.
League of Legends functions in the same way. Carry players are much flashier and their plays spark greater public attention. It’s why they’ll win the MVP every time. CoreJJ, Team Liquid’s support, is the overwhelming favorite to win this spring because of his engage supports early in the split. Aphromoo, 100Thieves’ support, won a year ago for the same reason. Mid laners (in the same way quarterbacks are the perennial winner of MVP) win because they are traditionally designated to play exclusively mages and assassins to provide consistent damage and overwhelm the mid and late game. Attack Damage Carries (ADC) are the same.
But even within the mid lane, some players produce varying interpretations within that mold. TL Jensen picks champions that simply stabilize the lane; TSM Bjergsen chooses roaming, mid-game champions to dictate the tempo of the mid to late game; C9 Nisqy plays control mages that dominate teamfights. Do voters decide they’re the best based on how they perform within their own self-carved space in the mid lane role or as mid laners as a whole?
Even choosing the criteria for an MVP can be next to impossible. If voters hand it to the best player, Bjergsen or Doublelift would win every split. Another school of thought is to break down the best teams and imagine how they would succeed without a certain player. As an example, if Licorice was removed from C9, would Cloud9 be in second place? The answer is likely no, but no one knows how Licorice would play on any other team. The same fallacy would contradict what viewers have witnessed with Ssumday, a top laner that has performed excellently despite being trapped on the tenth place 100Thieves.
The most objective choice is prioritizing the all-pro team, while throwing away the outdated concept of an MVP. In other words, voters should try to imagine the most optimal team from the players’ performances. This allows voters to draft the best players and also highlight their specific playstyles and how well they play to that model. It honors a wide array of players and rewards often overlooked roles. Will this be done? No. But a man who wants less vitriol in the world can dream.