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Throughout all of 2020, and a majority of 2021, the League of Legends Championship Series has been played remotely to ensure the safety of all involved parties during the COVID-19 global pandemic. While players, broadcast talent and coaches returned to the LCS studio in California during the second half of the 2021 Summer Split, players testing positive for COVID-19 tests drove everyone online again temporarily.

Now that the playoffs have begun, players are once again in the studio, but the back and forth has taken a toll on some. For those like Team Liquid, who showcased how good they can be while playing in person, head coach Jonas “Kold” Andersen confirmed that playing online negatively influenced his players.

“Especially when you are a seasoned player, when you’re playing in the same environment that you are practicing in, it just doesn’t feel the same way,” said Kold.

Dignitas QNTMPAY analyst Jim Morrison said he agreed. In fact, it’s such an issue that if the playoffs had been offline, Dignitas would have found a different place for all their players to compete from. That way, they could get away from the same practice environment that they saw all season long.

“It’s a different environment,” Morrison said. “The temperature is different, the feel of the computers, the desks, everything is different. It automatically triggers something in your mind to switch you into that competitive mindset.”

Dignitas' Aphromoo smiling after a win during the LCS regular season.
Dignitas’ Aphromoo smiling after a win during the LCS regular season. | Provided by Riot Games

Beyond that, Kold explained how even playing in person doesn’t compare to doing so in front of thousands of fans. That was the plan for the LCS Finals, until surging COVID-19 cases across the U.S. cancelled the Newark, New Jersey event. As someone who previously played competitively, Kold said he understood how gratifying playing on a packed stage can be after spending thousands of hours on practice.

“It’s important for people to understand that these guys are devoting their entire life to the game,” said Kold. “ At least from my own perspective, what really reassured myself as a player that putting all that effort in was worth it was walking on that stage in front of a huge crowd. You can feel the tension and the excitement in the room from fans and I think the players are missing that a bit.”

While some aren’t fans of staying in the same environment, Evil Geniuses’ head coach Peter Dun said he feels differently. In fact, he said there is a slight advantage to online matches because of the nerves attached to playing on stage. While Morrison suggested that playing where you practice can put you out of a competitive mindset, Dun argues it can calm players down.

100 Thieves' Ssumday waiting to play on stage at LCS studio.
100 Thieves’ Ssumday waiting to play on stage at LCS studio. | Provided by Riot Games

“For the first game on stage, I think we were a bit nervous,” said Dun. “But as we went on through the rest of the games you could hear the guys getting comfortable and settled in. I think there’s a slight advantage if you’re online. I feel like because you’re online your nerves are lower because you’re playing where you practice.”

Regardless of what coaches believe, players have had to get comfortable with both remote competition and the live stage experience as the LCS adapts their plans to the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. For all anyone knows, that might be the new normal for the foreseeable future.