Perhaps the biggest debate surrounding professional League of Legends right now is the conversation regarding imported talent in the LCS. Over the course of the past few seasons, North America has been evolving into more and more of an import-heavy league, with domestic players being tossed to the wayside in favor of international talent.
This offseason, that conversation is reaching its boiling point, as domestic players are losing more starting jobs than ever before. Going into 2020, the level at which North America is prioritizing imports is unprecedented.
The biggest criticism of NA as a region is that import slots are only really used on aging veterans from across the globe, effectively turning the LCS into a de facto “retirement home” for players who are past their prime and seeking a huge payday. However, heading into 2020, that narrative seems to be shifting slightly, as teams are using import slots to invest in young international talent.
And while it’s commendable that teams are taking a chance on unproven commodities, North American fans can’t help but feel a little disappointed that those commodities are coming from an international pool of players as opposed to their own backyard. Sure, it’ll be interesting to see how players like Tommy “ry0ma” Le and Jérémy “Eika” Valdenaire perform on the LCS stage, but with players like Tanner “Damonte” Damonte and Eugene “Pobelter” Park left on the sidelines, the level of North American talent actually in the North American scene is quickly dwindling.
The fact that organizations are willing to invest in young talent is most definitely a step in the right direction for North America, but if the region never invests in its own players, the foundation of the league will surely get weaker with time. The more that the league invests into international players, the quicker those players become a staple in the league. Soon after, the LCS will shift to a point where imports are the standard, not the exception. Once those scales tip, it’ll be incredibly difficult for the LCS to turn back.
Leagues across the world have proven that placing stock in domestic players will ultimately result in winning outcomes. It’s not going to happen overnight, but with time, those same pieces of unproven, domestic talent will turn into regional superstars.
Take the LEC, for example. Back in 2014, the league was known as the EU LCS and was achieving consistent results on the international stage during the early phases of competitive League. Fnatic was fresh off a trip to the Worlds semifinals, and with three powerhouse teams coming to Worlds the following season, SK Gaming, Fnatic, and Alliance, the region was poised for yet another solid showing at the World Championship.
But the tides shifted and the rest of the world passed Europe by. Not a single EU LCS team advanced from the Group Stage at Worlds in 2014, and it was time for the league to reassess its strengths.
The following year, Fnatic, alongside an all-European squad named Origen, reached Worlds semifinals, as the teams both featured players in their first full seasons – Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten with Fnatic, and Jesper “Niels” Svenningsen with Origen. Additionally, players like Maurice “Amazing” Stückenschneider and Martin “Rekkles” Larsson had developed into full-fledged European powerhouses, dominating the scene both domestically and internationally. With veteran presences like Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez and Bora “Yellowstar” Kim at the forefront of these two squads, Europe was looking like a real contender for a World title once again, as rookies, prodigies, and seasoned veterans alike were performing incredibly well on the Worlds stage.
The point here is this: when you invest in your own players, you’ll eventually have a sustainable hierarchy of talent that is rooted in its veterans, succeeds with its 2nd and 3rd year sensations, and is kept alive by its pieces of domestic, rookie talent. For years, Europe has been building upon a talent pool that’s kept the league’s ecosystem alive mainly without the help of imported talent. The LEC just took a team of five domestic players in G2 Esports all the way to the finals of the World Championship. When is North America going to be able to say that they’ve done something like that?
The organizations of the LEC, LPL, and LCK don’t have to rely on imports to keep their respective leagues in contention. International players in those regions are simply there to compliment the superstars that the leagues have built on their own soil.
That’s not the case in North America. If anything, imported players are the catalyst for the league’s success. The bulk of NA teams have been placing an emphasis on international players as if they’re going to be the answer to all of their long term problems. The LCS is searching for a quick fix, when in reality, what the league needs is a large-scale rebuild.
Photo Credit: Lolesports, Riot Games, League of Legendsb