In Defense Of Phreak

In the previous week of NA LCS action, Riot aired a segment during its live broadcast with David “Phreak” Turley giving his opinion on the current rankings of every NA LCS AD carry that’s seen action on the rift this split. The tier list has drawn polarizing reactions from Redditors, coaches, and players.

“Never mind, just saw Phreak’s tier list. There is a new low.” – Parth, Team Solo Mid Head Coach

“what is this a joke?” – Dyrus, Delta Fox Top Laner/ex-Team Solo Mid Top Laner

Several people have been critical of Phreak’s ratings. His opinion hasn’t been well-received or regarded kindly. But it doesn’t deserve this much scrutiny.

For one thing, this isn’t Phreak’s first rodeo. He gets paid to form opinions and defend them with accurate analysis. As Dot Esports’ Aaron Mickunas explains, the tier lists will force analysts “to research and keep themselves up-to-date as possible when it comes to talking League.”  Given that Phreak himself has gone on the record to explain his thought process and defend his opinion several times on Reddit, it’s clear that Phreak did his homework and has made it clear this is his opinion, not Riot’s official view. But that still wasn’t good enough to bring the discussion to a satisfying close.

Cabramaravilla at Blitz Esports recently shared his view on the controversial list. To be fair, he provides a fair counter-point to consider in contrast with the numbers: outside elements that you can’t find on a stat sheet. His thought process looks similar to Around the NFL’s Gregg Rosenthal, one of my favorite writers who gives a fair analysis of every starting NFL quarterback during the season based heavily around a thorough review of tape. While I agree that context behind the numbers is important, I don’t necessarily agree with attributing performance to minor details like roster turnover or champion selection.

Suggesting that Arrow’s performance is the direct product of Phoenix1’s early instability at jungle and support while Doublelift wasn’t producing numbers with the resources he was given due to his pick is absurd. That’s like saying an NFL quarterback couldn’t make a routine throw because he wasn’t wearing gloves. It’s black or white with no shade of grey: They’re either performing at a high level or they’re not up to par.

If you’re looking for context with the numbers, then you should compare the stat sheets with the tape for clarity. I believe Phreak did just that and kept it in mind when forming this list. Apollo and Piglet being ranked highly is fair given that, at the time, neither of them were the main reasons behind their teams’ struggles while Arrow and WildTurtle were further down the list as a reflection of their sluggish starts despite strong performances in spring.

Now, if I’m Phreak and I’m thinking about my tier list this week, Arrow and WildTurtle would have my attention but I need to see more games before I consider making a change. Knowing that Phoenix1 plays TSM and that FlyQuest plays Counter Logic Gaming, I’ll be watching to see how they fare against two of the strongest bot lanes in the region.

For a tier list that has a fair amount of fundamental basis, research, and reasonable judgment for the time it aired to receive this much flack is nearly jaw-dropping. Where was the uproar over Caps’s tier list for EU LCS midlaners?

Where was the basis for Caps’s opinion? Does it make sense to be angry at Phreak for basing his opinion off what players have done in summer to that point and backing his argument with numbers and video, while Caps can simply say “I chose to put myself highest” and have it be taken as the gospel truth?

I can understand being upset at a tier list you don’t agree with, but I can’t understand having no concerns with a current player creating a tier list that could potentially create conflicts of interest and reek with personal bias, let alone someone who hasn’t done his homework or can’t logically defend his opinion.

That’s why we loved James “Dash” Patterson at Worlds two years ago when he forced analysts like Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles and Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi at the desk to expand and defend their viewpoints when they were challenged. Great analysts come prepared to answer almost anything and justify it with evidence. You may not like the way Phreak ranked the players, but you can’t dismiss the list just because you don’t agree with it. If he hadn’t put any effort into ranking the players with numbers and tape available for this split only, there would be plausible concern and legitimate critique. But that isn’t the case.

The most important aspect of analysis is to generate discussion. Analysis uses known facts to build a case and challenges readers to think critically with every resource available. It gets fans talking to other fans about the game and its players. It gives stories for every NA LCS team extra juice. The past week of NA LCS action and Rift Rivals have gone a long way to put a spotlight on the bot lane and it’s thanks in part to Phreak.

This is the kind of quality we should come to expect from Riot as the NA LCS continues to take steps toward legitimacy as a sport. E-sports may never be on the same level as traditional sports, but with dedicated analysts preparing developed opinions and presenting them as fact, e-sports will earn the respect it deserves.

The bottom line is that analysts aren’t supposed to have only popular opinions. Analysts shouldn’t be afraid to discuss “worrying trends” or critique player performance because that’s their job. Unpopular opinions with analysts will happen, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard their opinion because we don’t like what they have to say.

Even the most unpopular opinion that has a solid foundation in research with a well-written and defended opinion deserves a modicum of respect. Regardless of how you feel about Phreak’s tier list or Phreak himself, we should openly encourage him to continue to deliver engaging content provided he continues to form his thoughts through extensive research and thorough, sound explanation.

In that regard, I commend Phreak for doing his job and doing it well.

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