The entire time I watched Players, a new Paramount Plus show about competitive League of Legends, I kept feeling like something was just a little off.
Players is a mockumentary about Fugitive Gaming, a fictional team that’s a member of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), the North American wing of professional League of Legends esports. Much of the show revolves around the relationship between Creamcheese (Misha Brooks), a brash veteran who has been a star of the team since its founding, and Organizm (Da’Jour Jones), an inscrutable rookie who promises to be one of the best-ever players. (American Vandal creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault are the minds behind Players.)
You may have watched a lot of sports stories exploring this type of dynamic, and Players faithfully hits many of the marks you might expect. I’ve been following the LCS for years, and I was excited to watch a sports show in an esports setting. But the show has a few issues that make it hard to tell who it was made for, and the fictional events can feel less exciting than what already happens in the league.
Players frequently relies on crass humor, and I wish it hadn’t. Creamcheese often makes rude or insensitive jokes with a mischievous grin on his face, but they usually fall flat. There’s an extended bit about a player peeing in bottles so they could play more League of Legends. I get that the show focuses on socially awkward people, but the juvenile humor seems antiquated in a show that also celebrates what’s actually cool about esports. By contrast, many dramatic moments land, especially later on — I found myself pulling for Creamcheese through some difficult times — and I wish the writers had leaned into that angle more.
While Fugitive Gaming is a fictional team, they compete in a world that has many of the hallmarks of the real LCS — and that never stopped feeling weird to me. Actual LCS casters (basically sports announcers but for esports) call matches in the show and are interviewed for the “documentary” about Fugitive Gaming. Longtime League of Legends fans will recognize cameos from Scarra, LilyPichu, and a few other well-known figures in the broader LCS community, and they all act as if Fugitive does, in fact, exist.
It was odd watching Fugitive compete against actual LCS teams
The oddest part was watching Fugitive compete against actual LCS teams that have made-up players. Without the real rosters, each with their own histories and storylines not unlike what Fugitive goes through in the show, most matches just didn’t have the stakes I feel when watching even the worst LCS teams play each other.
I also think the show could have used a different format than a mockumentary. It’s not hard to find documentary-style shows made by LCS teams on YouTube right now. Some of those shows are published on a weekly basis, meaning they provide a deep (albeit biased) look at a team’s successes and struggles in a way that feels more immediate than Players’ scripted drama.
Frankly, the events in Players don’t come close to some of the truly wild stuff that has already happened in the LCS just this year. At the recent midyear international tournament, Europe’s representative went on a stunning winning streak but lost in the semifinals. In the US, one of the LCS’s most prestigious teams, TSM, just announced the results of an investigation into its founder, owner, and CEO. And because many LCS players, personalities, and fans are Extremely Online, drama can quickly take on a life of its own in the form of memes, discussion videos, and huge Reddit threads.
I found myself enjoying Players by the end
Even still, I found myself enjoying Players by the end, and I became invested in the fate of Fugitive. Despite my criticisms of the attempt to plop the team into the real world, a lot of the show felt true to life all the same. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of a larger-than-life streamer character, who was essentially an annoying clickbait YouTube thumbnail come to life.
If you’re interested in learning more about esports, Players is a decent way to get a sense for the League of Legends community. But, in its attempt to skewer the scene with awkward humor, it becomes an awkward hybrid itself, one that never leans fully enough into either drama or jokes.
Players debuts today, June 16th, on Paramount Plus. The first three episodes will be available to start, and future episodes will premiere weekly. The season has 10 episodes.