Players Season 1 Spoiler Review: League Of Legends Makes For An Entertaining And Compelling Sports Doc

Heavy spoilers ahead for the first season of "Players."

"Players" is another winning mockumentary from the team behind "American Vandal," this time taking the very serious genre of sports documentary and aiming it at the very self-serious but quite absurd professional "League of Legends" scene.

While those without an ounce of knowledge or interest in e-sport or "League of Legends" may find the esoteric jokes and lingo confusing, the show manages to find the universal within its niche world. This results in a compelling, often exhilarating, always funny mockumentary that captures the joys and the bizarre of e-sports.

The show centers around the fictional Fugitive Gaming, once one of the most exciting pro teams in the "League of Legends" scene that has fallen from grace so hard they are now the butt of every joke — mostly due to the giant ego and lack of leadership skills of the team's leader and co-founder, Creamcheese, formerly known as Nutmilk (Misha Brooks). Things escalate when Fugitive's clueless rich owner gives a multi-million dollar contract to teen sensation Organizm (Da'Jour Jones) and promotes him to the main team without any training or preparation. With personalities clashing, the show follows Fugitive's attempts to finally make it to the top of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS).

The Last Dance of e-sports

What made Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda's "American Vandal" work was that it wasn't just a funny parody, it was a genuinely thrilling true crime mockumentary. For "Players," the duo brings the same level of care to their "The Last Dance of e-sports" concept, bringing the excitement, the compelling character stories, the disappointments, and the thrills of following a sports team and just exchanging basketballs for keyboards.

Watching Organizm and Creamcheese slowly learn to respect one another and communicate in order to give the team wins is a joy to watch, with the editing and framing expertly building tension during the matches like you're watching "The Last Dance" or "Formula 1: Drive to Survive." The only quip with the sports aspect of the show is that pro-"League of Legends" play is hard to stage, and as exciting as it can be to see Fugitive execute an elaborate play and make it to the other team's Nexus, the show doesn't spend too much time on the actual gameplay for non-experts to properly follow that happens on the screen.

Though the season takes a bit to get going, it improves vastly once the story focuses on the LCS season. Episode 9, which deals with the LCS finals, is sports anime at its best, using flashbacks, and post-game interviews serving as characters' inner thoughts for one exhilarating half-an-hour of TV. The show even avoids obvious mishaps like blaming a romantic interest for the team's past failures by making it all about Creamcheese's own insecurities and the price of fame, rather than interpersonal relationships — while also delivering an excellent use of Britney Spears' "Oops!... I Did It Again." Sadly, while episode 9 delivers a fantastic climax to the season, the actual finale deflates most of the tension and the hype of the previous episode by being mostly a set-up for a second season that hasn't been announced.

There's no i in team

Like with "American Vandal," casting is key to the success of "Players," with a healthy mix of actual pro players and lesser-known actors comprising the cast. The standout performer is without a doubt Misha Brooks as Creamcheese, who starts out as your typical egocentric bro who dismisses everyone else as being worse than him, but quickly grows into one of the best and most nuanced characters of 2022. Brooks brings a great balance of juvenile and bro-ie toxicity with a deep sense of loyalty and enough hidden insecurities that make you want to punch Creamcheese in the face, then give him a hug. The climax of his character arc, particularly tying his sense of loyalty and longing for the right teammate after being burnt in the past to the in-game character of Yuumi is a stroke of genius that shows how much the writers know and understand "League of Legends."

The show also captures the unique juxtaposition in gaming of players being treated like rock stars on stage, while otherwise being completely anonymous in the outside world. One of the most poignant episodes of the season just follows Creamcheese as he goes to his high school reunion hoping to get an ego boost, but absolutely no one bats an eye at his achievements, instead giving all the attention to another classmate who lost a lot of weight since high school.

A gift for fans

What makes "Players" stand out as a sports show is how it understands this is a weird, absurd subculture that also means a lot to millions of people, and that juxtaposition allows for plenty of comedy and also emotion. Because of its mockumentary approach, "Players" has a healthy mix of actual teams and players, with fictional ones. Surprisingly, the show integrates Futigive into the real history of LCS quite seamlessly and without many contradictions. There are parallels between the characters, like Creamcheese essentially being an amalgamation of Doublelift and IWD, and Fugitive following the basic story of the real TSM team. 

There is a specificity to the show's portrayal of e-sports that makes it a gift to those familiar with that scene, but also a bit daunting to those who are not (don't worry though, the show makes an effort to explain everything important if only through context). From the personalities to faithful recreations of the game — from actual strategies and plays being used, to recreating a game client from 2015 for flashback scenes — to the use of the infamous "Silver Scrapes" song or even just a pro team weather ridiculous leather jackets on stage.

"Players" also nails the huge change in the LCS scene from its initial grassroots origins of buddies playing games together in their living room going to tournaments, to becoming a commercialized industry with an emphasis on sponsors and billionaire owners. At its best, "Players" shows "League of Legends" to be a unique platform where friendships can become legends, but also a horrible place where business reigns supreme. That being said, it does feel like a missed opportunity for the show not to dive too deep into the bigotry and toxicity that is so commonplace in gaming.

The cream cheese that holds together the show's bagel

It would have been quite easy for "Players" to just treat e-sports as a thing nerds do, and mock the players in cruel ways — and the first trailer did seem malicious in its comedy — but thankfully, the show is quite hilarious.

And not only is it funny due to its sharply written script and jokes, but because it understands the inherent absurdity of e-sports becoming the biggest sport in the world despite it still being about watching teenagers sitting around desks playing silly video games. From the very first episode when we're introduced to characters named Creamcheese (formerly Nutmilk) and BGOLBKTOFWTR (Big Old Bucket Of Water) and the characters refer to them as legends to be worshipped, the show nails the juxtaposition between absurd and self-serious. And also, if you think those names are too ridiculous, there are actual pro gamers named "ppgod" and "fudge."

Indeed, the humor works because everyone in the show takes what they do incredibly seriously. The best jokes revolve around the gasps and horror looks on the teammates that have to watch one of their own choose to play with characters like Heimerdinger, or when Creamcheese bets the entire final match on a floating cat that does basically nothing, but somehow serves as the perfect metaphor for his character arc.

"Players," just like "Arcane" before it, could have easily been cheap cash grabs for "League of Legends" fans. But just like the former, "Players" managed to rise above its premise to become a poignant, charming, endearing, thrilling, hilarious sports mockumentary about the biggest sports in the world.

"Players" is now streaming on Paramount+.