The world of North American League of Legends has woken up to some extremely unexpected news today. Five of the most successful League of Legends streamers and former NA LCS professional players — Imaqtpie, Dyrus, Voyboy, Scarra, and Shiphtur — have teamed up to form the Echo Fox Challenger Series team.
Retired professional players returning to the LCS isn’t anything new. Just recently before the 2017 Spring Split we saw the formation of FlyQuest, with several former pros returning to compete, and they were successful enough to reach playoffs.
But this is different. These are five of the most successful Twitch League of Legends streamers teaming up to return to pro play when nobody expected even half of them to do so. Rumors and jokes had gone around that one or two of them might return to the LoL esports scene, but nobody predicted anything like this. And as if the five players teaming up wasn’t enough surprise, their coach will be popular NA LCS caster Mark “MarkZ” Zimmerman, most well known for his brilliant rendition of Silver Scrapes during the last NA LCS Finals.
To shed some light on how this came to be, Dyrus, the former TSM fan-favorite Top Laner, said the following: “I said I closed the book on my professional story, but I’m opening it back up again. I missed the energy of the crowd and the thrill of competition, and with a great player-focused organization like Echo Fox behind us, I get to focus on playing how I want to play.”
Given the tendency for pro players to often return to the competitive scene, it’s easy to see why these five decided to team up, even if they’ll be playing in the NA Challenger Series rather than the top league where the main Echo Fox team competes. Leaving competitive play and its constantly rigorous lifestyle can be a jarring experience, and similar to how professional soccer or basketball players always miss their greatest passion after retirement, esports athletes, too, often long to return to what they love most.
The interesting thing is that, unlike with traditional sports, esports athletes actually can return. Again, FlyQuest demonstrated how effective older players can still be, in particular by showing off Hai’s continued tactical dominance. “Hai’s still got it” was probably the most popular phrase all throughout this past Spring Split.
It’s frankly quite likely that this new Echo Fox team will tear the Challenger Series up. These players have tons of experience and all continue to consistently play at a Challenger-rank level in the North American region. Given that they’ll have terrific team chemistry and that they’ll probably have more fun than any professional team in any sport has ever had, they should be able to dominate with the right amount of work and practice.
In the worst case scenario (i.e., if the team doesn’t perform too well) we’ll at least be treated to some of the most entertaining League of Legends we’ll ever see. The viewership of the NA Challenger Series will skyrocket because of this team, and for good reason. There’s no doubt that these players will put on one hell of show. I’m definitely looking forward to it, and I’m sure millions of others are, too.
If they do succeed, however — and I expect they will — the benefit to the League of Legends competitive scene will be astronomical. Imagine five of the most popular streamers on all of Twitch, teaming up and actually showing up teams that have been competing full-time for years. This sort of combination of fun and competitive success would propel the growth of the esports scene substantially. It would be absolutely huge.
And isn’t that part of what esports is all about? I personally always take pride in the fact that, while esports are certainly intense and competitive like traditional sports, they also are almost always fun and lighthearted to an extent. It doesn’t take away from the competitive aspect; if anything, it adds to it.
This newly formed Echo Fox Challenger team is, in my opinion, the embodiment of esports culture. Whether or not they find competitive success, they’ll be showcasing the best of this industry: the fact that, while esports are competitive, rigorous and intense, they’re also fun, hilarious and lighthearted.