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Paramount Plus’ new series “Players” is heartwarming, cringe-inducing, inspiring, sensible-chuckle-funny and almost certainly lacking in broader appeal for anyone who doesn’t play or watch League of Legends.

From the creators of “American Vandal,” Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, “Players” is a mockumentary that follows a North American esports team, Fugitive Gaming. The show centers on the dynamic between veteran pro, Creamcheese, and the young, fiery and ambitious newcomer, Organizm.

It’s safe to say the tension between Creamcheese and Organizm does a lot of the show’s heavy-lifting. Outside of a standard “underdog-team-wants-to-beat-the-best” plot arc that develops across the ten episodes, it’s the sparks flying between Creamcheese and Organizm that keep the viewer invested. Both performances were excellent, and Misha Brooks’ portrayal of the simultaneously cocky and insecure Creamcheese deserves extra praise.

Creamcheese’s brand of irritating gamer with a penchant for cringe and occasional empathy-inducing bouts of sincerity harken back to the godfather of the mockumentary, “The Office,” and Steve Carell’s Michael Scott. While the archetype may not be wholly original, the little adaptations that make the character model fit into a League of Legends pro were deftly done.

In terms of other memorable performances, Organizm’s brother Rudy stole every scene he appeared in. A proxy for the viewers who don’t “get” esports, Rudy is a former DIII basketball player who falls into the world of gaming by acting as Organizm’s manager. Thanks to Rudy, I will now forever see Baron Nashor as the d*ck of Grimace from McDonald’s.

Aside from Creamcheese and Organizm, the rest of Fugitive’s roster is filled out by plucky and forgettable side characters, most of whom are piloted by real-life League of Legends pros or amateurs. Nightfall, played by League of Legends amateur Youngbin Chung, deserves heaps of credit for crushing his scenes in spite of no prior acting experience (I am now a Nightfall stan). Otherwise, the decision to employ real-life pros as actors was a bit of a head-scratcher that didn’t end up having too much bearing on the show.

In a similar vein, the other cameos were a mixed bag. The casters and analysts associated with professional NA League of Legends did a phenomenal job doing… well, their jobs. Other cameos, like those from OfflineTV, a group of content creators based out of Los Angeles who are closely associated with the League esports community, felt a little shoehorned. The mix of real and fictional characters gave “Players” a bit of an esports “Entourage” feeling.

Verdict

“Players” is unapologetic about its connection to League of Legends. In some ways, that’s good. For instance, I found that the actual in-game footage was usually accurate. Highlights were highlights. Mistakes were mistakes. And if there were occasional “hmmm” moments, my suspension of disbelief was not overly taxed.

“Players” is a show that did its research, both about League of Legends and the esports scene surrounding it.

Unfortunately, League of Legends is not basketball or football or hockey. It is proprietary, owned and operated by Riot Games, who had a hefty role in the creation of the show. The specter of Riot clung to the show and surfaced during every cinematic, in-game moment or close-up of a SteelSeries chair. “Players” often felt like an exceptionally well produced segment for the LCS, not a discreet show with mainstream appeal.

In some ways, “Players” lacks the fresh originality of “American Vandal,” replaced instead with the novelty of being an esports comedy. The moments of levity come from the absurdity of professional esports. There’s really very little need to get creative when you can pull that much inspiration from real life. That’s not to say the show isn’t funny or lacks polish or memorable characters, just that it leans heavily on the idea of being “that show about League of Legends.”

Even with careful bouts of exposition giving enough context that your mom could still watch and (mostly) follow along, the extent of fan service for gamers and esports fans felt like the undercurrent to the whole series. Cameos, inside jokes and vague allusions to the real League of Legends esports scene are sprinkled throughout the first season of “Players.” It’s enough that it feels like to get the most out of the series, you have to play League or at least game.

Luckily a whole lot of people do.

“Players” premieres June 16 on Paramount Plus.