At the 2020 World Championship, North America had the worst performance by the region to date. Team SoloMid went down in history as the first number one seed from a major region to end the tournament winless. FlyQuest and Team Liquid both failed to make it of groups. Those results reignited the conversation about North America as a region and its weaknesses.
In the offseason, LCS teams went big with the high-profile signings. Out of the ten teams competing in the 2021 LCS season, only Dignitas is starting a fully American roster. It might look like the LCS teams are making the same mistakes as before, but according to G2 Esports’ Carlos “Ocelote” Rodríguez, this might actually be good for the region. The CEO went as far as to say that the LCS has a massive advantage over Europe.
Back in November, Ocelote joined Esportmaniacos’ stream and discussed the transfer of Luka “Perkz” Perković to Cloud9 among other things. As expected, Ocelote got asked about his opinion about the LCS as a region and the future of the European players transferring there.
“Long term, North America will always have a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is that North America has a player base smaller than Europe’s,” Ocelote said. “In the same way that China has better players than the rest of the world just because of its player base. North America will always be a step behind, but the American investors are smarter and more aggressive.”
In 2019, North America had approximately 1.2 million players. These are players based in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In comparison, the EU West server had 2 million, and this is at least a difference on 800,000 players that still doesn’t include all players in the European region as a whole. China, that has multiple servers including a super server for pro players, has over 100 million players. The Korean server, considered the most competitive server in the world, hosts around 2.2 million players.
The player base size limits the amount of talent that goes directly into the LCS, but with the right investment, this issue could be reversed in the near future.
The problem is that teams are investing big to get quick results. If a roster doesn’t make it to Worlds on its first year together, it will most likely get disbanded in the offseason. This approach makes for highly unstable teams that don’t get enough time to fully understand how to work together. Even in a team makes it to Worlds, it will likely go through big changes, and the best example of this are FlyQuest and Team Liquid.
In most cases, the Academy teams are not functional for the purposes of the main LCS team. Meaning that most teams don’t even consider benching players, because there are no optimal replacements available to them. In the LCK, organizations sign players under the title of “trainees.” These are full-time players that are training hoping to get a promotion. T1’s top laner Kim “Canna” Chang-dong used to be a trainee until he was promoted in early 2020. This figure doesn’t exist in North America, so teams are not developing that young talent in-house, unlike the top Korean teams.
The main difference between North America and the rest of the major regions is the lack of a solid amateur scene. In Europe, almost every country has a national league where big and small organizations compete. These players gain good experience and are more than ready by the time they are signed by a big team to play in the LEC.
In China, the LDL unites LPL Academy teams and amateur organizations. The influx of rookies is such that the LPL had to limit the amount of rookie players each organization could sign. Until this year, the LCK had Challengers Korea, a circuit that brought up such teams as reigning world champion DAMWON Gaming. Even in Latin America, a region with roughly 800,00 players in two servers combined, several countries have their own national leagues with several amateur teams competing.
All of these scenes are possible because of tournament organizers and player base sizes. In these regions, the path to pro is clear. That’s not the case in North America.
So far, the only way to make it to the LCS seems to be the annual Scouting Grounds event. While the event has provided a start to some big names, it’s still not enough. In most cases, the players that get drafted there will have one or two splits of play before getting dropped. In most cases, these players have no experience being part of a team or following a schedule. And not every player drafted will even be signed to a team.
There’s a second source of talent that thus far hasn’t been fully explored, and that’s the collegiate circuit. Golden Guardians signed two former Maryville University players, top laner Ethan “Iconic” Wilkinson and jungler Aiden “Niles” Tidwell. The Maryville esports program is one of several in the United States, and these programs are nurturing future professional talent the same way traditional sports programs do.
Collegiate play is a great opportunity for players to compete in a structured environment and also continue their education. It seems like collegiate and the new amateur scene are the future for North American talent as they try to earn a spot in the LCS.
In 2021, Riot Games and the LCS will be promoting a revamped amateur scene. This new circuit will see Academy teams as well as amateur teams competing against each other. An organized amateur scene is the first step in the right direction. The issues for the LCS won’t be solved overnight, but the future for the region could be looking brighter than ever if things can continue moving in a positive direction.
The League of Legends Championship Series, also known as LCS, is the top North American League of Legends competition. The LCS is divided into two splits, spring and summer, with ten teams competing in each split for the title. At the end of the year, three teams from the league will qualify for the annual World Championship event. To date, no LCS team has won the World Championship.
There are 10 professional teams currently competing in the LCS. Each team owns a franchise slot, and partners directly with League of Legends developer Riot Games. These franchise slots are permanent, so participating teams can never be demoted from the league. The 10 teams are as follows: