I sat in stunned silence and felt my heart sink as I watched LMQ destroy the Nexus of a defeated Dignitas, and as a fan all I had were questions. How could they have fallen so far? How could it happen so fast? What is going to happen now? The Dignitas that looked so dominant at the start of the split has been looking very shaky in past weeks. Winning only two games out of their past ten with neither coming against a playoff squad has many fans wondering if Dignitas will once again miss the World Championship.
The cycle is nothing new for fans of the organization which are already accustomed to strong starts and faltering finishes. Daniel “Spellsy” Biery and Derek “Kathix” Adams do an amazing job explaining why that is worrying in their article on Dignitas in the second half of a split, but this split brought a whole new wave of promise and disappointment to the team. The addition of Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaha and Danny “Shiphtur” Le to the team gave fans high hopes for the squad at the start of the split, yet as it ends the results seem to be the same. The question that needs to be asked is why.
Why The Fuss?
For the amount of praise the team was given around the beginning of this split, you would think they had greatly improved from the split before, but that actually isn’t the case. The team won thirteen games during the Summer Split which was only a single game more than the spring.
Now this could be explained by saying the competition improved, which it most certainly did, as can be seen in the standings. Their 12-16 record got them 4th place in the spring split, but going 13-15 resulted in a 6th place finish this split, grabbing them the final play-off berth.
However, considering Dignitas got what lolesports dubbed, the most notable talent acquisition in LCS history, is stronger oppostition the only reason for their fall? They were the team that benefitted most from off season transactions in terms of player acquisitions, so if other teams improved more the players only have themselves to blame.Yes, Dignitas saw their opposition in the NA LCS improve this split, but is that the only reason for their shortcoming?
At the end of the spring split where they finished fourth, they were a full six games behind third place CLG(18 wins to their 12) and were only one win ahead of the fifth place Curse. This had them in a position as “best of the worst;” they were never seriously considered to be a top three team, despite being on top of league at the start much like this split Instead, Dignitas was considered to be a step above many of the lower ranked teams in the LCS.
The thing to consider is in the Spring Split the league had three “tiers”: The top (TSM/C9), the middle (CLG) and the rest (Dignitas and below). Nobody expected anyone to beat teams above their tier, and the standings were relatively well understood throughout the split. It was important for Dignitas to improve since Worlds only allows three teams from each region.
The Summer Split changed the tiers thanks to the top tier rapidly expanded to a cycling group of five teams, including Dignitas. The bottom two teams had their own tier as they were universally considered weak in comparison with the rest of the league and Curse was seen as somewhere in the middle. Finally, DIG was given serious consideration as a top squad in North America, and they proved why at the beginning of the split by winning 7 of their first 10 games. Seeing them start so strong two splits in a row only to struggle towards the end caused me to ask what is wrong with the team everyone loves so much. Why can’t they seem to finish strong?
Friendship not Business
The most apparent issue with Dignitas that could be preventing them from success is the very reason the fans love them so much. Many fans love the teams where everyone is friends and they work together to become the best. The easy going and fun-loving personalities of some of the players have captivated large groups of fans and drawn them towards the Dignitas organization.
The stories of friendship prevailing through hardships and rising to greatness are inspirational and motivational; it is no shock fans love these types of stories, but friendships can make victory difficult. When asked about their method of shot calling in game, both Zion and jungler Alberto “Crumbzz” Rengifo insisted it was a democratic team effort where all voices have a say in separate episodes of Summoning Insight, the popular OnGamers League talk show done by Thooorin and MonteChristo. In an interview conducted by Thooorin with Michael “Imaqtpie” Santana, the dynamic of the team is explained brilliantly by Imaqtpie himself:
“It’s like, at the beginning of the season we’re always just so chill. It’s like we got to second or third place alright we’re doing excellent let’s not change anything, and then at the end of the season it’s like wait a minute… Even though we make it by some act of god to like fourth place… We don’t do anything special and we somehow make it to fourth place in most things… It’s always good to want more than that but our problem is we are too friendly with each other. We do ok and we’re like “great work everyone lets wrap it up”” – Imaqtpie
The reality is being the best at anything takes hard work and dedication to improving, which sometimes require a level of objectivity hard to reach when personal relationships are involved. The subject is complicated, as can be quickly spotted by the thousands of articles already written on the implications of personal relationships within the confines of the workplace. Many suggest bosses and employees shouldn’t be friends for many reasons that are applicable to League of Legends and team Dignitas.
The first reason friendship is detrimental to a team is the issue of decision making. Many critics of the team would suggest that a lack of “shot calling” or good decision making is one of the main flaws of Dignitas. Decision making is a process that is complicated by friendship. Everyone in a group has a part in deciding what movie to see or where to go for dinner; while that is brilliant for socialization, it isn’t the ideal form of communication for making decisions quickly in a high pressure environment. This is what is needed in a game of competitive League, decisions need to be made incredibly quickly and executed flawlessly in order to emerge victorious. Teams would benefit more from a singular leadership style than the democratic style used by teams that are “friends”.
A study often cited is one done by Harvard Business Review that suggests teams are so ineffective at decision making companies are better off not having them. Since League is a team game, Dignitas doesn’t have that option, but they can ensure that their decision making process is streamlined so it isn’t bogged down by the problems often associated with a democratic decision making process.
The second issue with a team based on friendship is the difficulty in separating personal and professional matters. Last year, William “Scarra” Li was widely considered to be underperforming, and continued to do so well into the Spring Split of 2014. However there was no talk of replacing him until late in the spring split. Why delay so long on replacing an underperforming player? People may cite his previous form, where he was one of the top mid lane players in North America. There is a reason to wait and see if he can return to it, which is a valid possibility, but for over a year?
The Lack of an Iron Fist
The reality is there is no clear leader on the Dignitas squad. As the coach, Scarra claims he is just there to help them and offer suggestions, in game players are hesitant to appoint a leader to make the calls. Say what you want about Andy “Reginald” Dinh, owner and leader of TSM, but it was always very clear that he was in charge, what he said went and there was no arguing with him. It puts the responsibility squarely on him, if the team made bad decisions they were solely his fault, but it allowed for in-game decision making to be streamlined. Similarly, many Korean teams have hierarchies and a clear chain of command allowing players to focus on playing as the burden of decision making is clearly identified. This clear chain of command, similar to how the business world operates, allows for blame to be placed directly at the feet of one person when mistakes are made. Everyone has clear responsibilities and when those are not executed, the failure is obvious.
Such clarity does not appear to be a case for Dignitas, nobody is at fault for a bad call, nobody is admonished for a poor pick ban phase; not having that clearly defined responsibility allows these mistakes to be made more often as the consequences for the mistake are not as severe as they would be if the whole pick ban phase was one person’s responsibility, or if bad in game calls were the fault of solely one man.
This strong leadership is something Dignitas has never had, there has never been that personality in the Dignitas house that was willing to make the tough decisions and live by the sword. The personalities have always been laid back, fun-loving people who happen to be extremely talented at League of Legends. Being the best team in recent splits has not seemed to have been the number one goal.
I should state again there is nothing inherently wrong with this mentality; it just has the potential to prevent someone from reaching their maximum potential. Nobody in particular is to blame for a bad call, or a pick ban phase, which means the root of the problem is never addressed.
Ensuring people have clear responsibilities is very important in ensuring people know exactly what it is they need to be working on and how that will benefit them and the rest of the team. For example, if someone is not going to be making calls in games, they should not waste any time practicing that skill as they and the team would benefit more from them spending that time improving their mechanics.
Where Does Dignitas go from Here?
This is the question Dignitas the organization needs to ask themselves: what do they want from their League of Legends team? As a monetization vehicle the team is incredibly successful. Scarra and Imaqtpie have incredibly popular streams and are fan favourite personalities that certainly help give the Dignitas Organization its large fan base. However, these personalities might be part of the issue preventing Dignitas from success. It is hard to believe the laid back group that cultivates such a relaxing environment can be harsh enough on each other to really push each towards success. This is why the team has two viable options, they could be like every other team in the league geared only towards winning, or they could just focus on fan interaction and promotion. Roster changes could be done purely based on performance and the organization could use its tremendous marketing power and wealth to attract more top talent like Zion and Shiptur to help make them a world class team. Although as Scarra pointed out, it takes more than talented players to make a great team, but it would certainly be possible for Dignitas to embark down this path.
The question is, do they really want to? Their current roster seems to be more than good enough to comfortably hold a position in the LCS, which implies a long future for the team in its current state. Although they would be hard pressed to make a real run for the top spot, they would perform well enough to maintain a large fan base, especially off the backs of some of their more lovable players. This second option is much less stressful for the players and plays into the current strengths of the the Dignitas lineup.
By taking this path, Dignitas would never have to ruin the friendships that so many fans love, never mess with the laid back attitude the team employs and simply enjoy being a marketing vehicle for gaming related equipment. The team would be monetarily successful; the players could continue to enjoy a long career and their day in the spotlight as lovable personalities instead of top competitors. This is a luxury not afforded to most teams, many players quickly drop out of popularity when they are no longer considered the best and therefore most teams have to consistently strive to be number one in order to hold a position in the hearts of fans. This is the biggest strength of this Dignitas team, their personalities have allowed them to become anomalies in the scene more in line with popular streamers like Sky, the comedic league streamer whose fans adore him for his personality instead of incredible mechanics, instead of streamers like Doublelift, the all-star ADC on CLG.
This split it looked like the organization might really be trying to go for the top spot, but if it fails you can’t help but wonder if they will just be content with things the way they are. Armies of fans and mountains of revenue have a way of changing people and their priorities. With the current lineup things can’t really change, and to tamper with that lineup would ruin the success they already have; we may have to wait for the completion of the play-offs before we get to see the direction in which Dignitas wants to go. Their series against TSM this weekend is sure to be exciting and will hold answers to many of the questions Dignitas fans are currently asking, including where they will go from here.