Review: Players (2022)

To be perfectly honest, I am not much of a fan of E-sports. Nothing against the games or industry. I have played some of them and follow several announcers, gamers, and personalities from the E-sports world. It was simply a matter of never becoming particularly involved or enthusiastic about the industry. Again, more of a me thing than a judgment call on E-sports. Accordingly, I was not sure if I was the intended, or even an, audience for the new Paramount+ series Players, a mockumentary series about E-sports in the vein of ESPN/Sportscenter style documentaries. However, upon learning that the people behind the American Vandal series were involved, I knew I had to, at the very least, give this new show a chance.

While American Vandal was obviously mocking the Netflix style murder/crime/mystery miniseries (which added a whole another layer of meta to the satire), Players is a parody of the sports miniseries and documentaries of ESPN, Sportscenter, and, also, Netflix. Following the exploits of Fugitive, a fake competitive e-sports team in the League of Legends Championship series (an actual real world e-sports league and competition), Players focuses its narrative around the various members of the team with each member taking centerstage in an episode along with an episode or two relating background and history of how Fugitive became a competitive team on the professional circuit. Within this narrative framework, we also see the various types of personalities (players, personalities, influencers, streamers, etc.) that are part of the overall e-sports world, the business and finance that has taken interest in the emerging market, and a general view of the ins and outs of the e-sports industry.

What happens when parody holds no difference to reality?

While I thoroughly enjoy this show, and we can see that there is certainly a high production level across the board, it does not quite meet the bar set by its predecessor, American Vandal. The main issue, for me at least, is that Players never reaches the same level of absurdity played straight that made both seasons of American Vandal so entertaining and humorous. The level of investigation and analysis into basic high school pranks that leaches into larger themes of isolation, social media, self worth, etc. all played perfectly straight reaches level of ridiculousness that somehow remain fully grounded and, in a sense, almost wholesome in its application.

However, the characters and events in Players never actually seem exaggerated or hyperbolic as they did in past productions from these people. To be fair, that is mostly the nature of e-sports. All these personalities and companies and situations do exist, and, in many cases, reality is seemingly more ridiculous than the fantasy of the show. This is not to say the show is bad or cheap or not worth the watch; far from it in fact. There is, as stated before, a high production value. The cast certainly play their roles well. The dialogue and story is believable and works well within the construct. Overall the show is entertaining and engaging without having knowledge or experience with e-sports or the specific league of the show.

Serious athletes.

The only real issue holding this show back, besides the nature of the subject matter, is that American Vandal exists. Without the comparison, Players would be a solid mockumentary that at times reaches a certain level of satire and analysis but mostly skates by on being a well produced and entertaining show. Not the worst outcome especially for a newer streaming site. Unfortunately, American Vandal does exist, so we are aware of what this team can do when all the elements align and the right subject matter is chosen.

Even so, I would still recommend this series. As stated, it is well produced and executed and the people behind the scenes are either gamers themselves or did their due diligence. For a humorous viewing of the growing industry of e-sports, there is really no better or more honest option.

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