This is a non-spoiler review for all 10 episodes of Players’ first season on Paramount+.
The series will premiere Thursday, June 16 with three episodes. Following the premiere, new episodes will drop weekly on Thursdays.
It is absolutely not a requirement that you have a working knowledge of either League of Legends or esports to enjoy Players, the new “mockumentary” from American Vandal creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault. The story is so impeccably executed that explanations are either hidden within the show’s deft design or easily available via context clues. Therefore, we hope, nothing will prevent you from enjoying this mischievous and moving look at professional gamers which, like the superb American Vandal, is only a gentle parody, never going full comedy, allowing for both dark humor and drama to team up and rock your world.
When people think “mockumentary,” their minds often go to two heavy-hitters of the genre: The Christopher Guest ensemble comedies — which began with This is Spinal Tap and journeyed through Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show — and TV comedy The Office (UK or US, and the many shows that spawned in its wake). And while those are all excellent projects, capable of dropping big emotional moments into the laughs, Yacenda and Perrault bring the format into less satirical waters. Part of the joke — because, yes, it’s still funny as hell — is how seriously everyone takes the subject. Whether it’s the teen sleuths in American Vandal or the members of League of Legends pro team Fugitive, the absurdity is their backdrop. It’s their sandbox, and no one feels like a caricature.
Also like American Vandal (can you tell we also recommend this show?), Players will suck you in, make you care about the characters, and often level you with hard-hitting moments of heart and vulnerability. You’ll follow Fugitive as they try to capture their first-ever championship after years of close calls. Fugitive co-founder and 27-year-old veteran Creamcheese (Misha Brooks) is an aggressively boastful star who’s living the bro-life of his dreams, often masking his tucked-away insecurities with juvenile posturing. Brooks, this show’s best discovery, is mesmerizing as a trash talker who’s both a self-aggrandizing twit and also a loyal friend to the end. At first, Creamcheese is a lot to take. As the center of the story in many ways, he almost feels like a hurdle for the series, but that in itself is a comment on how, in many ways, he acts as an obstacle to his own success.
Given this… can you guess which character you’ll come to desperately care about? Yacenda and Perrault know how to craft fully rounded individuals, complete with multitudes and depth, stripping away the facades they use like armor. They did it before with teens and social media and now they’re bringing it into the world of success and celebrity, with the point being that esports is still such a niche world that’s hard to understand for most people that it’s easy to create several ” big fish in a small pond” scenarios, which then only adds to some of the comedy because of how seriously the characters take their very special, exclusive world. The final trick, of course, is that we, the viewers, will become just as invested.
Creeamcheese’s ego takes a big hit when Fugitive’s corporate owner brings in a teen streaming prodigy, Organizm (Da’Jour Jones), who is concernedly obsessed with playing League of Legends and is practically non-communicative with the rest of his team — especially Creamcheese , who’s the “Support” to Organizm’s “ADC” (this will all make sense even if you’re not familiar with team roles). The easy story here is that Creamcheese needs to accept his new, better teammate and take the massive ego check but, like all good sagas, it’s not that simple. Organization has work to do too. It’s not enough to just be the best solo player; he’s got some Top Gun-type growing to achieve.
The main arc of Players Creamcheese and Organizm and how their dynamic affects Fugitive Gaming as a whole, but there are other wonderful tales woven into the tapestry. There’s former team member, now team coach, Braxton (Ely Henry), team manager April (Holly Chou), “Jungler” Nightfall (Youngbin Chung), and former members Guru (Moses Storm) and Forsite (Peter Thurnwald), both of whom represent big moments of betrayal for Creamcheese. The season traces the origins of Fugitive and how this ragtag pro team formed out of the ashes of Creamcheese’s ruptured family situation, almost constructing a surrogate family around him.
Players uses the documentary format exceptionally, while also leaving room for many surprises in the story. Each episode represents either a player or a big moment in the team’s history, and the first three — “Creamcheese,” “Organizm,” and “Braxton” — set up the story nicely while also dipping a toe into Team Fugitive history. Also, because of the tournament aspect involved, some of the best parts of Players rip from tried-and-true sports dramas. At one point, Braxton motivates his team by lifting some of Gene Hackman’s lines from Hoosiers and while that’s meant to be funny, because of the dichotomy between “real sports” and esports, the essence of it is closer to the bone than you might naturally takes on.
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