Capitalism, Communism, and League of Legends

The Western worldview demands that one player be the best. It demands that one player’s success or failure be attributable to their own hard-earned genius or shameful failure. The analysis of performance and outcomes is simple (and simplistic), under this view. If your teammate Jax lost top lane, it’s because he is bad. If your teammate Vayne killed all 5 of the enemy team, it is because she is extremely good. For the Westerner, a few numbers tell the whole story: The players with lots of kills are good players and they are the cause of victory. The players with many deaths are the bad players and they are the cause of defeat.

I posit that this view is misguided and the consistent success of Eastern teams over Western teams can be interpreted as evidence of different views of teamwork. Perhaps some of these differences are manifestations of the emphasis placed by American capitalism and democracy on individual performance, and the emphasis placed by communism and agrarianism on community and role-interconnection.

Having no more than a general education regarding Eastern culture (so, take this with a grain of salt), I suggest that it is easier for a member of an Eastern culture to see a League of Legends game as deeply teamwork-oriented in a way that does not resonate with Westerners. For the Westerner, in all things, there must be a single person whose genius and skill determines the outcome; something analogous to the “Great Person” theory of historical interpretation (that history is largely shaped and determined by singular individuals who “move history,” rather than economic, cultural, or other larger, faceless forces). I wonder if it is easier for Eastners to embrace the notion that no single person on a team can succeed without the entire team.

Eastern teams do recognize individual talent, of course, but they place it in a different context. One of the best players in Korea for the first 3 seasons of League of Legends was MadLife. He played Support, and led his team to victory through leadership, macro-play decision making, vision control, protecting teammates, initiating fights at the best moments, as well as some amazing mechanical prowess to disable key points of the enemy team.

In contrast, the players who generate the highest levels of hype in NA and EU are Midlaners and ADCs- players with more potential to score more kills. The Eastern teams understand that the game is not about individual glory, but about 5 players filling different but equally essential roles. Western team struggle to internalize this lesson, and emphasize the “highlight-reel” ability to get kills over the more abstract strategic value of vision and communication.

In my personal experience playing on the North American server, it is difficult for Westerners to see the web of interconnection between each player’s actions, whether the outcome is success or defeat. The relationship between Taric’s wards and Vayne’s pentakill goes unmentioned. The only time such elaborate interconnection is brought up is when players experienced an undesired outcome, as illustrated by Tim Buckley:

The greatest success (measured both by victory and by enjoyment) I have experienced in League of Legends has come when the team recognizes both their dependence on their teammates as well as their teammates’ dependence on them. When a team sees themselves as 5 individuals operating side by side towards a semi-common goal, disaster and frustration result. When a team sees themselves as one entity that can be subdivided and grouped as multiple co-dependent organs, with an interdependence as intricate as any mechanical, electrical, biological, or structural system, I am reminded why I play the game at all.


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