WarningMight contain spoilers.

This is a beautiful, staggeringly brilliant, and extraordinarily authentic show—a veritable triumph of storytelling. It achieves a jaw-dropping degree of verisimilitude from the first to the last, in everything from the personalities of e-sports to their relationships outside the industry. I had to remind myself over and over that this was a work of a fiction rather than a documentary. It diligently explains the significance of everything shown in the somewhat opaque gameplay segments, too, for those unfamiliar with League of Legends (very slightly diminishing some of the smaller, meme-related jokes in the process).

The characters and their struggles are inordinately engrossing. Just watching them navigate a party is captivating. They’re all perfectly cast: Misha Brooks is a tour de force as Creamcheese, Ely Henry is the heart of both the team and the show as Kyle Braxton, and one could not hope for a better Organizm than Da’Jour Jones. Frugger, the Platonic ideal of a sidekick, is my favourite supporting character thanks to Matt Shively throwing himself into the performance with gusto, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the deliciously insufferable Guru (Moses Storm).

I appreciate the realistic diversity of the show as well. For a story about e-sports, and specifically a game designed to appeal to a certain kind of male audience, Players exercises admirable restraint and never resorts to pandering. I was relieved that Morgan wasn’t responsible for Creamcheese foundering in 2016; it’s easy to imagine how the gaming world would immediately pin the blame on her regardless. Nightfall recounting how he lost his virginity feels slightly out of place, but that’s a minor infraction, all things considered. It rings true that the fans first jeered at him. I’m glad the team eventually stood up for him.

There’s a nearly overwhelming amount of pathos amidst all the immaturity and bluster. It reaches its introspective and melancholy peak as it explores Creamcheese’s unexpectedly affecting history and shows his increasingly uncomfortable and embarrassing attempts to impress his schoolmates at the reunion in ‘Playoffs’, where even Frugger abandons him. The distaste with which he talks about a time when he wasn’t Creamcheese or even Nutmilk, just Trevor, is subtle but masterful.

It’s similarly painful when Kyle looks up from the recording of him losing Mundo Dodgeball—and therefore the debate over selling the team to Nathan Resnick—to ask abstractedly whether the interviewer had a question. The image of Creamcheese going to pieces in the bathroom with his speech from 2016 and the TSM chant playing in his head is brutal; his unvarnished story about thinking Foresite was his Nora brought a lump to my throat.

And then there’s the devastating second half of the finale, ‘Yuumi’, when Organizm quits a Fugitive that he was the key to turning around at last. The hole he leaves behind is clear in their celebrations. It only gets worse as Creamcheese forlornly watches him stream, and as Organizm is repeatedly, incisively asked by the interviewer whether he’s happy now. However, even that seeming betrayal is a justifiable choice given his obsession with improving his skills and lack of concern for others.

Now, to be sure, Players is hardly a tragedy. Creamcheese handing the Toblerone to Organizm warms the heart, as does the two of them enjoying a meal in Philadelphia. Creamcheese only hesitating a second before deciding to listen to the latter for the first time during a match, Rudy coming to genuinely support Organizm, and April’s giant grin when recording Creamcheese after the hot sauce affair are all moving. Her tears of joy when they win later more effectively convey the import of the moment than if it were any of the others, and Resnick and Guru both enthusiastically cheering for Fugitive during the tense base race in the second game of the finals brought a smile to my face.

What’s more, those games are in fact surprisingly exciting at times, even knowing what is bound to happen and witnessing only brief clips here and there. Nightfall taking the Nexus in the aforementioned second match had me on the edge of my seat, and the series as a whole brought back my DotA itch with a vengeance. It’s always inspiring to watch the masters in action and imagine one could be just as good with practice (never mind the reality). And after all, who wouldn’t want to be a famous streamer earning $5 million a year?

Above all, though, the show is absolutely hilarious. To take just a few examples: Organizm’s ‘apology’ in the first episode; the team’s love for Taco Bell and awed reaction to Taco Cantina; Creamcheese declaring Organizm listening to me is my favourite thing he’s ever done; Kyle’s I said to Organizm, “Feels better winning as a team, doesn’t it?”, and then he said, he, I didn’t hear what he said; and Creamcheese declaring himself an expert in Korea on account of having visited it thrice before grudgingly adding that two of his teammates are from there, making it three experts. Let’s not forget the person complaining about Guru taking off his shirt because it’s funny if you’re not in shape, but he was in shape, so it was kind of just, like, annoying. I could go on and on.

Foresite is a cleverly written character. His streak of meanness is kept in check throughout the season until he unleashes it in the finals against Fugitive, when he knows it’ll shatter Creamcheese’s confidence. It’s even more interesting given that he’s the one who prompted the latter’s outburst about Organizm being a good player early on, directly leading to the revitalization of Fugitive.

I feel ambivalent about the ending. Before the second half of the finale, Players could be seen as a solitary marvel: something I craved more of but would have been satisfied with regardless. After Organizm’s departure and with the other championships on the horizon, though, it can no longer be seen as complete, which, it transpires, is rather unfortunate, as another season seems unlikely.

I could not have imagined, in the middle of 2021, that I would soon encounter two of the best shows I had ever seen and both would be based on League of Legends (the other being the immaculate, completely different Arcane ).