“Somebody lock the basement door at mom’s house and don’t let ’em out. I will quit this network if I am ever asked to cover that." - Colin Cowherd, 2015
Over the course of the weekend, Team Liquid’s CSGO division were playing in the ELEAGUE Premier 2018 event, which has a $1m prize pool, and is held in North America. On the morning of the day of the semi-finals, one of their number, Epitácio "TACO" de Melo discovered that his father, presumably in Brazil, had passed away suddenly, which he shared with the world. He also shared his decision to continue to play anyway, as it was what his father would have wanted him to do, and later on he was part of a somewhat surprise victory over Natus Vincere that took Liquid to the Grand Finals.
There, he was not able to overcome the might of Astralis, the Danish behemoth currently casting a long shadow over CSGO, but his story was picked up on by many media outlets, and the outpouring of compassion was instant and genuine. Even in the moments after Astralis had won the trophy, their coach zonic could be seen hugging TACO, a gesture that sums up not only the quality of the man behind the best team in the world, but the level of fraternity felt by most, if not all CSGO pros.
Lightning strikes Liquid twice
Amazingly, this is not the first time tragedy has struck Team Liquid this year. On the 2nd of April, it was reported that Team Liquid’s League of Legends AD carry Yiliang ‘Doublelift’ Peng had lost his father in a brutal murder. As details emerged, the story became ever more grotesque, with the news that the alleged perpetrator was none other than Doublelift’s own brother Yihong, and that his mother had also suffered serious injuries at the hands of her son, having seen her husband slaughtered. The news became public very quickly, with many expecting the player to retreat until his life had returned to something like normalcy.
Incredibly, Doublelift, like TACO, used this truly horrific situation as motivation, and committed to attempting to do his best in the forthcoming Spring Split finals, which he more than managed. Team Liquid, so long known for finishing third or fourth at large events, were the best team at the tournament, and destroyed 100 Thieves in the Grand Finals, meaning Doublelift could enjoy the feeling of victory at what would otherwise have been a uniformly black time in his life.
A quarter of the speed of a trout
Seven days ago, Ryan Lochte was banned for 14 months for a doping violation, as reported by the BBC. To use the exact language that Auntie employed, he was ‘sanctioned by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) for an intravenous infusion. While Lochte was not using a banned substance, athletes cannot usually receive IVs unless related to a hospitalisation or via an exemption. Lochte posted a photo of himself on social media receiving the IV which prompted an investigation.’ (Our emphasis)
For those with short memories, this is a man who claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint whilst in Rio for the Olympics, no doubt aware of how prevalent that can be in Brazil, when in fact the reality was very different. He and his drunken friends had stopped at a gas station, vandalised the facilities, and then fled, before making up their story. So, criminal damage, lying, cowardice, and latterly doping and stupidity can all be added to his list of skills, alongside swimming at a quarter of the speed of the average trout.
Now, we don’t wish to paint all esports players as stoic heroes, in the same way it would be unfair to judge normal humans by the standards Lochte has consistently set and then lowered for himself down the years, but hopefully the message here is clear nonetheless. For those who play, esports means as much, if not more to them than swimming does to one of the most successful athletes in Olympic history.
They will battle through personal adversity and illness, through tragedy and trouble to get to the very top, without the same support a prospective athlete might receive, and knowing there will always be those who cast aspersions based on negative stereotypes. So next time you hear someone unfavourably compare esports to ‘real’ sports, remember TACO and Doublelift, and what they are willing to give in pursuit of glory alongside their team mates, and how that stacks up alongside some of those athletic greats that have so long enjoyed a spot atop a pedestal.