Anatomy of the Perfect Clip

Curator's Note

Okay, I'll admit it, Gangplank (the pirate) and Alistar (the bull) are unlikely lane partners. Some might point out that it's probably staged (look how Gangplank stumbles drunkenly instead of running away). And it's not exactly professional-level play. So why, just last week, was it the most popular YouTube clip within a community of five million daily players? Survivorship bias be damned, let me tell you what makes this clip so great.

1) To the unitiated it's pure slapstick, a sight gag that almost anyone can appreciate. If you don't know how League of Legends works in general, or how the typical bottom lane operates more specifically, it just looks like an anthropomorphic bull ran right into sniper fire. The action is hectic but human-readable. A taste like this might be enough to start someone from the general public down their fandom career path to Garry Crawford's category of the "Interested" (2003, 228-230).

2) While this clip's concept and editing are derivative of another League gag video, it couples character design to the comical audio mixing of Dion's "My Heart Will Go On." Essentially, a pirate-themed character escapes an enemy who summons tidal waves while losing his partner (an acute match for Titanic's ending). It also fits into wider memes about Gangplank, who is generally considered to be ridiculous.

3) With insider knowledge, this clip becomes the epitome of League's most contentious player dynamic: the relationship between a support and her carry. Briefly, Alistar (the bull) is a support character whose job in lane is to protect a "carry"—in this case, the pirate Gangplank. A support spends her pitiful income on vision wards that cut space out of the fog of war, and she never takes potential gold from her partner. This is because the carry is weak in the early game, but incredibly strong in the late game. This unique role assignment serves as a convenient bridge between eSports appreciation and fandom for American football (carries are like quarterbacks).

At the extreme of the support's responsibilities is this: If the carry might die, a support should attempt self-sacrifice. In the clip, Alistar executes split-second timing to cast a Flash spell into the sniper's bullet. It's a shining moment for the support, who rarely gets a chance to make big plays. And to those in the know, it's as touching as it is hilarious.


I'd love to further emphasize a point you mention in section 2 - that the editing and structure of the video "are derivative of another League gag video." Firstly, I think the negative connotation earned from the word "derivative," is possibly misleading. My argument would be that the video actually benefits hugely from having this nearly identical structure. It essentially sets up the "Sacrifice" genre of game highlights to be the Harlem Shake of video game culture. This video has all the benefits and pleasure of a Harlem Shake video, actually. Due to the similar structure and telling title of the video, the viewer knows that Alistar will sacrifice himself, so the focus becomes on the how and the when. This creates a fairly comical rise in tension as we see both the Gangplank player's mistakes that lead him to lose so much health, and the "Bubble" move from the mermaid character, Nami, land onto the bull character, Alistar, which freezes him in place and appears to make any sacrifice he could make to block the sniper shot impossible. So when the bubble ends with just enough time for Alistar to use the flash ability and block the Sniper shot in exact moment that the music swells it provides that sort of ridiculous, orgasmic payoff that one gets from watching a creative Harlem Shake video “drop.” This serves to make this clip additionally enjoyable to those already familiar with the previous "Lee Sin Sacrifice" League of Legends video entry, and to make it so enjoyable to re-watch. Perhaps it will even establish this format as a tradition that will transcend League of Legends and become a common video game culture clip meme. Secondly, I think that for section 3, there is even more dark comedy at play for the insider player viewer that you could have dug into had you had more words to spare. The fact that the Gangplank is playing so poorly and that he is so low on health certainly raises doubt as to whether or not the sacrifice was indeed even the right call. While of course you're correct that typically, the support should sacrifice themselves for the AD Carry, the clear skill difference here between the two certainly leads me to believe Gangplank may have died more than Alistar previously in the match, making him worth actually less gold to the other team than Alistar was. While that part may be just speculation on my part, additionally, Alistar had to use his Flash spell, which cannot be cast again for close to three minutes, to perform the sacrifice, making it even more questionable as to whether or not it was "worth," as some League of Legends players say. All of this makes the clip even more hilariously tragic to the insider viewer. I also love your point about how the unique role assignment of the duo has that neat relation to football, as well as your points in Section 1 about why this clip is universally enjoyable, which I think sort of ties in with my structural points earlier. The Titanic analysis also made me smile. This is a great write-up, Simon. I enjoyed it.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.