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LCS Team Owners are Behaving like Spoiled Children

Tom Matthiesen

We’ve all come across someone who fits the stereotypical “spoiled kid” bill. In my case, it was in high school. After merging classes I met a girl who had been donated every single thing in her life from her millionaire father. She barely studied for any subject, often asked others if she could copy homework, or if we could perhaps write in large letters on our test and do our work on the side of our desk that’s closest to her. When in our final year it became evident that she would not pass her exams, she merely shrugged and said that she would just ask her dad to get her into a highly expensive private school. Again. My classmates and I, stress-ridden because of the exams, were simply astounded by the indifference and audacity.

TSM reginald c9 jack lcs owners

TSM's Reginald Dinh and Cloud9's Jack Etienne were heavily criticized for their comments. (Photo via Riot Games)

Three weeks ago, I found myself astounded by a similar attitude. In a clip from his LCS talkshow ‘Hotline League’, Travis Gafford revealed he had been hearing rumors that LCS teams had asked Riot Games to remove the import rule. This rule states that no League of Legends team can field more than two players who are originally from another region, with the caveat that a player who has obtained residential status in the new region does not take up an import slot. Its goals: ensuring that teams commit to fostering local talent, as well as ensuring that fans of the region have players from their region, whom they have a shared cultural background, to root for.

Every major region has to abide by the rule. So when the news broke that LCS teams were asking for an exemption from it, I assumed we were talking about two, maybe three team owners who were rolling the dice, flipping a coin to see what they could get from Riot. How wrong I was in my assumption. During press conferences LCS teams gave last week, Gafford gathered the statements from all ten teams on the import rule. It was the perfect moment for the LCS owners to speak out with firm dedication that their prioritized commitment should be to continue developing the terrible state of grassroots League of Legends in NA. That it was time to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and stop acting like they had exhausted all resources to try and elevate the region from the inside out, and actually start investing heavily in the grassroots.

But alas, the tone was different. Only Golden Guardians Head of Esports Hunter Leigh stated that he was not convinced that lifting the import rule entirely would make a difference, but that it was ok to have the discussion. All the other representatives either dodged the topic or said that, combined with investing in North American talent cultivation, the import rules need to be revisited or even that it should be removed entirely.

It’s never enough

My headache grew. It’s a terrible idea. The talent development in the LCS is in a bad state. While the LCS teams all do have an academy roster, a good thing itself, these teams only play against each other over the course of the year. They aren’t regularly exposed to other b-tier teams in any way, shape, or form. Any talent that is not in an academy team has little to no chance to reach the spotlight over the course of the year. The most important event for North American talent to prove themselves in is the Scouting Grounds: a once-in-a-year event in which a handful of players get to perform. Compare this to Europe’s system, where all LEC teams’ academy teams play across several leagues, and you can see how European talent has much more opportunity to be scouted by the big teams.

So what happens if you open the gates for North American teams to import more players? Even less attention will be paid to budding local talent. Instead of investing in a player who now is a 4/10 but who, with proper scouting, could become a 9/10, teams will acquire a 5/10 player, even if that player could realistically only grow to a 7/10. The already poor framework of local talent development would succumb under the weight of international feet trampling the ground chasing promises of glory and fat stacks of cash.

The reason why you can be so sure of this happening is because, to a painfully obvious extent, the LCS already is in such a state. None of the other three major leagues have imported more talent than the LCS has. Last offseason served as the perfect example of the trend. Whereas the LEC’s record-breaking number roster shuffles only included two players that count as imports, the LCS broke its own previously set record and added more than ten players from other regions to the lineups. The LEC, LCK, and LPL all have functional (not perfect, mind you) systems in place where regional talent can find its way to the top. Almost 50% of the starting players in the LCS have been imported, many of them having gained residential status over the years.

C9 Vulcan

Vulcan is a prime example of NA’s still potent talent soil (Photo courtesy Riot Games)

No, the reason why North American League of Legends is falling behind isn’t the newest excuse: an outdated import rule. It is because of the mindset of LCS team owners. For years, they have not competed in a league where they sought to be the best and invest in the long-term health of their region. The LCS has made it a sport to bounce imported talent around until they gain residency status, and then the new batch of international big names can be shipped in. The LCS owners were investing in an entertainment product for entertainment’s sake, whereas the other major regions realized that competition is at the heart of the game.

With leagues such as the CBLoL and even the LFL, the French national league, being able to put up numbers that compete with the LCS, the owners realize that competing entertainment is catching up. They now realize that competing does actually matter. So now, after years of post-Worlds posts saying “We really need to change!” without presenting a robust plan to step up and be that change as a group of LCS owners, they are panicking. Puppy-eyed, but with a bulldog’s growl ready to roar in case they don’t get what they want, they head to daddy Riot to bail them out. The shared sentiment among the team owners became clear in the press conferences: “Make an exception to the rule for us and us alone!”

The audacity is baffling, especially considering the LCS already received a freebie just months ago: the dissolved Oceania Pro League was absorbed into the LCS, meaning OPL players wouldn’t count as imports anymore for LCS teams.

Million dollar babies

As the story developed, fans and pundits voiced their critique. A few of the tantrum-throwing team owners hadn’t heard enough criticism quite yet, though. Andy “Reginald” Dinh, founder of TSM, a team notoriously high on the import supply, took to Twitter and threw a fit. Not only did he spam the word ‘import’ in a childlike manner, reminiscent of the United States’ forty-fifth president, he also chose to attack Cloud9 support Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme in the dumbest way possible.

Regi tweets

Regi’s reply to Vulcan. It has been deleted since.

In his comment, Reginald confirms a) that he thinks no new teams would buy an LCS slot after current teams leave, b) that he thinks Vulcan is not up to par with supports in other leagues. Bonus point c: Reginald speaks degradingly about people who earn minimum wage. Sorry, Reginald, but a) your team is absolutely replaceable and b) Vulcan is, ironically, less replaceable, being an outstanding support player who would easily find a starting position in a team in, for example, the LEC. Reginald has since apologized to Vulcan and wanted to clarify that by saying “minimum wage” he was referring to the 75 thousand dollars per year minimum wage for LCS players. But Regi dear, wasn’t Vulcan supposed to become jobless?

A tantrum that seemed far more out of character—but which unveiled the beliefs buried underneath a PR-trained mask—came from Jack Etienne, founder of Cloud9. On Reddit, Cloud9 supporters voiced their concerns about the import rules. They had become fans of the organization because it was built as a team from North America, sharing their cultural values. Cloud9 is by many standards the most successful LCS team in League of Legends history, and the pride for many fans of the region. To top it off: Cloud9 has been one of the best teams at cultivating talent in the league.

Jack's Reddit comment

Jack went all-in on Reddit but lost the hand he played.

So it came as a surprise that the normally level-headed Jack, in response to a fan expressing that Jack should consider what it would do to the team’s identity if they suddenly became all-Korean, pulled the racism card. No, Jack, you big baby upset that he’s being criticized for wanting to wave the credit card as a solution to everything, this person isn’t being a racist. This fan is invested in your team’s identity and its decade-long ties to the region it has played in. And from your comments on the topic, it seems like this fan is more invested in that than you are.

Show up, grow up

LCS team owners are behaving as if they have done everything they can to squeeze the most out of North American talent soil. They absolutely haven’t. Just weeks after Peter Dun, now Head Coach of Evil Geniuses but previously one of the best scouting coaches Europe had to offer, became invested in the LCS, he stated that there is plenty of talent to cultivate. One can only wonder what the state of the LCS could have been right now if, instead of searching for excuses and bailouts from Riot, team owners had used all that energy to pressure Riot more to build a functional grassroots system. They could have had a system that benefits every team in the league. But no, instead they are looking at low-effort solutions, short-term ‘solutions’ for themselves only.

It is so disappointing after the announcement of the Amateur rosters. The pursuit of an adjustment of the import rule would not just nullify the small steps of progress made this year, but completely ruin the already barebones foundations. If the teams truly want to do something for their region, they take a step back. They have to acknowledge that it’s going to take at least two to three more years of being the weakest of the four major regions and get through the first real growing pains. You have to wait until the plants grow and the fruits are ripe for the plucking. But once they are, the juice can be so, so sweet.

A few months ago I came across a Facebook post from the girl who attended high school with me. She had become a mother to a beautiful little boy. Gone was her I’m-too-good-for-you attitude, as she realized it was now time to be mature and tend to her kids’ needs. It’s high time for LCS teams to realize they operate in a region that is in heavy need of nurturing. They can’t keep pushing existing rules to the limit while neglecting to do the tasks every other major region team has had to deal with and worked through. It’s time to invest in building a robust grassroots scene that will keep the LCS vibrant for years to come, and your organizations have to be at the heart of it. Simply put: grow up.