|Typical Adventurer's League Party, with a Human|
The room description had several "death cultists" laying on the floor playing dead as if they were ritually murdered, a single smoldering torch on the ground in the center of a chalk diagram. The characters entered warily, and weren't surprised as the cultists clumsily got to their feet to attack (roll initiative). The first player to go used a cantrip to douse the single flame, plunging the room into darkness. The human cultists were now hopelessly outmatched because the entire player group were dark vision lurkers, and I remembered I was imprisoned in 5E's equivalent of purgatory - the Adventurer's League.
One of my Adventurer's League tables is completely overrun with mutants. 3 Aasimars (angel-blooded humans), a deep gnome, a half-orc, and a shadar-kai. If you mostly play original D&D, those race names are a bunch of word salad, but I assure you they've been added to the game the past few editions. My other bi-weekly adventurer's league party includes a Tabaxi (cat-person), a dragonborn, and a turtle-man (plus a few "normal races"). Even my home game has a pair of Aasimar and a deep gnome (recently deceased). The monsters have become the player characters.
I know any grief I'm feeling due to my time with Adventurer's League (AL) is self-inflicted. It's meant as no disparagement to the players, they come from a different culture. I've found the AL players to be funny, sociable, well-versed in rules knowledge, tactical, and gracious to welcome public dungeon masters. My complaint here, and it's one of subjective taste, is the AL rules encourage players to create adventuring parties full of these mutants and monsters.
I complain about the Forgotten Realms, but I'm not even sure the problem is the Realms as much as it's the Adventurer's League itself. As a player, your goal is to devise an interesting and effective character, within the rules. By my count, there are more than 55 legal races in Adventurer's League, including such well known stalwarts as Triton, Kenku, Ghostwise Halfling, Earth Genasi, Deep Gnome, Firbolg, and Scourge Aasimar. As a dungeon master, when you sit down to run a game for a public table, expect the party to be motley denizens from the Mos Eisley Cantina.
I'm sure this is a knee-jerk get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-kids moment on my part, I'm willing to own that. My context for a good D&D game setting is the Village of Hommlet, or the Keep on the Borderlands. A proper D&D setting is faux-European fantasy, where the forces of civilization, humanity, strive against Chaos. The home base is a haven of civilization on the edge of more dangerous borderlands or wilds. Proper D&D settings are human-centric and have a historical texture to them. Dark Ages or Medieval Europe with a patina of magic and some monsters; non-human races are present but rare. Many places will view them with suspicion as dangerous outsiders. Greyhawk is still my platonic ideal for the perfect D&D setting.
When an AL player sits down with a "Shadar-Kai Shadow Sorcerer" there's no point in even asking them what they're doing in a large human city; the players haven't considered it. (Shadar-Kai are obscure death elves that live in remote corners of a different plane of existence, the Shadowfell. Apparently also to be found lurking in your local tavern with a sign, "will adventure for gold"). The culture is about players assembling races and classes because the mechanical bits sound cool.
I'm running a lot of 5E to make the game intuitive. I can sit down with an OSR rules set and natively know if a particular fight or combat is difficult or easy when designing my own stuff. I've got my 10,000 hours behind the screen with first edition games. 5E manages to be both swingy and grindy at the same time. Running many games and many combats is helping me internalize encounter design. I guess at the end of the day I'm interested in working on my own adventures and home-brew, and this is a good way to see a lot of the game system in action. I've volunteered to run every high level adventure I can (Tier 3 in AL terms). Despite this tirade it's still great fun.
But I part ways with the 5E aesthetic around race and class. For Adventurer's League, you have to embrace the silliness and recognize the players are going to be the D&D equivalent of The Munsters or The Addam's Family, two 60's sitcom TV shows. Actually, The Munsters is a good analogy - if some fool shows up with an actual human character, the "Marilyn Munster" of the table, it's not uncommon for the rest of the group to shake their heads sadly about their poor under-talented compatriot. "Low end of the gene pool, that one, and no dark vision, either".
My next home campaign needs to be Greyhawk.