At first, I was skeptical of the effectiveness of the Play In stage when it was introduced back in the Mid Season invitational (MSI) of 2017. It gave the impression of a watered down version of the International Wild Card events, that prioritized being succinct over quality competition. When comparing the Play Ins to their predecessors, they fell short in the number of games played and the amount of teams that participated in Bo5 series. Nevertheless, it then became clear that the Play Ins had a much more significant objective to fulfill, exposure.
What the IWC tournaments lacked in coverage, the Play Ins made up for tenfold. Seamlessly incorporating wild card teams into Worlds and MSI brought them before a new, broader audience. Shining the spotlight on emerging regions proved extremely rewarding for the more talented ones, in addition to causing two reactions among the LoL Esports community; the recognition of up and coming regional teams and the desire of importing wild card players to NA and EU.
One of these players was Đỗ Duy “Levi” Khánh, who had a low-key debut on the international stage during the All Star 2016. It was until MSI 2017 that his play really started turning heads. His mastery of champions like Lee Sin and Kha’Zix left spectators in awe. As a part of GIGABYTE Marines (GAM), a team hailing from South East Asia (SEA), he was able to take North America’s Team SoloMid to five games and eventually qualify for the group stage.
As a result of their favorable performance at MSI, the GIGABYTE Marines were able to automatically qualify for the 2017 World Championship. They again showed their prowess on the international stage, coming up with innovative strategies and trading blow for blow with their opponents. Ultimately, they failed to advance past the group stage, but unlike many teams from emerging regions, they didn’t go unnoticed. GAM established themselves and their region as a force to be reckoned with and as a true contender at international competitions.
Thanks to Levi’s popularity, not only domestically but also abroad, he was voted in to make an appearance at the 2017 All Star Event. Once again, South East Asia proved to be the bane of NA, eliminating them from the group stage and moving forwards to the knockout stage. Levi closed out his season with yet another impressive performance and with his future as bright as ever.
After approximately a year multiple stellar performances at a plethora of tournaments, Levi finally found his way to NA and onto the academy team of 100 Thieves, one of four new organizations joining the NA LCS for the 2018 season. 100 Thieves was heavily lauded for this acquisition, even if it was, to the surprise of many, for an academy roster. Yet Levi’s move to NA wasn’t as improvable or bizarre as it seemed, it wasn’t a matter of How? or Why? but rather When?
It’s clear that as emerging regions develop and grow, their level of play and skill increases. Thanks to the introduction of the Play In stage, these more talented regions were given a chance to be recognized internationally. The GIGABYTE Marines were one of the few teams that consistently performed well during the Play Ins at MSI and they carried that momentum into Worlds. With them showing that they were on the same level as top NA teams, it was only a matter of time for North American organizations to start looking for talent beyond Korea and Europe. In some situations, importing a star player from an emerging region can be more valuable than acquiring an unproven one from KR or EU.
Furthermore, moving from an emerging region to a premier region can be incredibly beneficial for players on an individual level. Premier regions are known to have superior team and league infrastructure, better salaries, bigger audiences, and all in all give players more career safety and more opportunities for their future. The sheer influx of money coming into the NA LCS is enough to make any player want to join.
However, even though it’s unlikely, importing talent from emerging regions could become problematic if it turns into a trend. In regions where talent is scarce, the departure of multiple of their star players could mean a decline in that region’s skill, leading it’s development and growth to stagnate. Nevertheless, it could also serve as motivation for other players within the region to elevate their game and show off internationally, with the hopes of being picked up by an NA org.
The Play In stage opened a door for top teams of emerging regions to make waves at international events. Levi’s move to NA could be the first of many originating from an outstanding performance in this stage. Regardless of whether this becomes a trend or not, the acquisition of Levi shows that NA organizations are beginning to recognize the capabilities of emerging regions and are willing to invest in their players, in addition to proving the usefulness of the Play Ins.