Nick Ray argues that the talent exodus we are seeing is due to LoL talent's career restrictions.
If you were to ask anybody in the community right now, they’d say that Yiliang “Doubleift” Peng’s return to TSM from Team Liquid was the biggest roster move of the offseason. It was everything a fan could hope for in a spicy offseason move. Aside from the storylines of redemption and betrayal involved, it also carried plenty of internal drama as well.
Shortly after Doublelift’s departure from potentially the most impressive roster in the history of the League of Legends Championship Series, however, another surprise announcement came out of nowhere. Liquid announced the addition of ex-caster and analyst Joshua “Jatt” Leesman to their team staff as the new head coach.
This move marks the second time in two years that Jatt’s left the broadcast desk. The first of which being his short transition to the balance team in 2018. In the broader scope of the industry, however, Jatt is one of four popular LoL on-air personalities that have made the switch from full-time desk positions to pursue other projects in the past year.
The great broadcast exodus?
At the end of 2019, former League of Legends Pro League caster Barento “Raz” Mohammad and former League of Legends Champions Korea caster Chris “Papa Smithy” Smith left their staple roles in their respective regions for jobs with LoL organizations. Raz went on to coach Golden Guardians Academy for the 2020 season and Papa Smithy became the GM for 100 Thieves.
Indiana “Froskurinn” Black of the League of Legends European Championship would join them around the same time in a transition to freelance from full-time casting. Even though she still remains a crucial part of the LEC broadcast, she clearly stated that the goal with this move was to open herself up to other projects and focus on personal branding.
In 2018, LEC host Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere and former European analyst Martin “Deficio” Lynge made similar decisions as well. Sjokz went on to expand her hosting horizons as a freelancer, while Deficio became the GM of Origen.
It’s no secret that one of the keys to building a successful career is versatility. Whether it’s honing multiple skills to keep in your professional arsenal or simply picking up a gig on the side, preparing multiple avenues of cash flow and professional development is encouraged in an industry as young as esports.
That said, these personalities were people in the heights of their respective careers and experts of their regions. To make such a career change implies that the opportunities for growth presented to them as on-air talent didn’t align with their long term goals either financially or professionally.
A dead end
In 2016, ex-LoL caster Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles famously spoke up about limitations imposed by Riot onto casters (specifically freelancers) that kept them from earning extra income from personal content. In addition to that, he also fought in favour of fair wages for his peers and denounced Riot for paying casters below the industry standard.
After he was no longer affiliated with Riot, Monte went on to cast Overwatch for nearly three years before joining Cloud9 as a full-time content creator at the end of 2019. While things have improved dramatically for freelance casters since then (they’re allowed to produce their own content and stream on Twitch, for example), these departures may be a sign that there’s still a long way to go.
For casters, analysts, and hosts, the most logical career trajectory falls within the production side of things. A promotion typically involves receiving more responsibility on or for the broadcast in some way shape or form. Even for someone whose lifelong dream involves being a top tier caster, there’s only so much money available in a field like that no matter how good you get.
Jatt, a former pro player in both Guild Wars and League of Legends, was vocal about how his passion for game design was a driving factor in his choice to leave the desk in 2018 to work on League of Legends behind the scenes. When he made the switch top coach, Jatt had this to say to the Washington Post.
“I don’t want to miss out on amazing opportunities.This specific moment in time, at this point in my life, with where Team Liquid is set up and wanting to have a part in a team success within North America and then hopefully a team success on the international stage … that is something that has definitely grinded at me for the past eight years of casting, not being able to have an impact on how we do as a region. So, now I have that, and it’s really exciting.”
For Jatt, who loves League of Legends, he identified that his next career step needed to be in a role where he could be more involved and put his in-game knowledge to the test. When getting paid to talk strategy for an org rather than on the analyst desk, his words will not only hold more influence, but they could also open him up to a wider range of opportunities.
Non-Riot employees like Papa Smithy and Raz didn’t have the same luxury as Jatt to move freely between various internal roles. Especially within the rigid hierarchical structures of the LPL and LCK, and not to mention external factors involved with living in a foreign country, if they wanted stability, they’d need to find it outside of the casting world.
In a similar vein, Frosk and Sjokz continued their on-air work while opening themselves up to find other opportunities. It became clear that their personal and financial interests aligned outside of the LoL esports ecosystem alone.
Regardless of the reasons behind it, the fact that some of LoL’s most iconic voices and minds are leaving may have less of an effect on broadcast quality than it does on aspiring on-air talent. The resources and opportunities for growth are seemingly missing within the field, and the proof is in the pudding.
Images via Riot