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Power Disparity in Pro League of Legends

I’m a pretty casual player of League of Legends, a game that boasts a playerbase of around 27 million players active daily. The game is played with 2 teams of 5 players each, and whoever makes it across the map and destroys the other team’s base wins. The game is also pretty popular as an esport, with the World Championships Finals happening tomorrow ,October 29th ( at the time of writing). Winning the finals not only earns you a hefty prize, but also recognition – it’s a once in a lifetime experience where you compete with the best players in the world. This has been so important for some pro players that they’ve delayed school in order to pursue their dream of becoming the best. With an event so important to the players, it is imperative that they prepare. Currently, Asian teams, namely Korean teams, are viewed to have some of the best League players in the world. In fact, in the last three years the Championship trophy has gone home exclusively with Korean teams, and this year will be no different, with two Korean teams slated to compete in the Finals tomorrow.

Many European and American teams have gone to Korea to “bootcamp,” in order to hold scrimmages with Korean teams, and also to better access other Asian teams. Recently there has been quite a bit of controversy over the scrimmages, as Korean teams were accused of not playing to their full potential or deliberately losing the match. This was very interesting to me, since it was mentioned in the book that status or perceived status can affect bargaining outcomes. Why would teams agree to scrimmage each other in the first place? To try to discern some type of strategy from the other, and to keep trying to improve at the game. However, why in the world would a very good team play a lesser team? If both teams played to their full potential, the team that is less skilled at the game would benefit more, because they could see all the strategies that make the better team more successful. The better team would be able to learn less from their opponent, because beating them means nothing when they aren’t hard to beat.

Western teams typically view Asian teams as better, and Asian teams typically view Western teams as worse. A Korean team would usually have no reason to play against a Western team for practice, as they could name several good partners that they could potentially play with. Their belief that Western teams are of lower – status is made even worse when they consider the other potential options that Western teams can practice against. Western teams also treat Asian teams as higher status, and we’ll see that this ends up tipping the scales in Asian teams’ favor. A dominant strategy for Asian teams would be to play a little worse than they usually would to avoid leaking too much information to a less skilled team, while Western teams have no choice but to play as well as they can (and leaking strategies at the same time), lest they be refused scrimmages in the future, which they do not want since they value playing against Asian teams very highly. The power that Asian teams have in the outcomes of these scrimmages not only lies in their ability to play League of Legends well, but also in how each side views each other. By leveraging their power, Asian teams benefit a lot more from scrimmages.

Korean bootcamp :

Some discussion on why the controversy exists: (translated Korean article)


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October 2016