Emerging Talent

Levi’s move to NA could be the first of many emerging region imports

Levi 2
Image taken from the LoL Esports Photos flickr Album.

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?

Levi
Image taken from @100Thieves‘ Twitter.

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.

Dream Teams, Nightmare Event

The ASE 2017 takes a step back from last year

ASE2017
Image taken from @lolesports on Twitter.

With the League of Legends World Championship officially over, the sun is setting on the 2017 LoL competitive scene. But before we can sit back, relax and look forward to the start of the 2018 season, the All Star Event (ASE) looks to wrap up the year by bringing together superstar players and pitting them against each other in a dream team extravaganza. However, even though the event was never intended to have the magnitude and scale of other international tournaments, the ASE 2017 seems to take a step back in all regards when comparing it to last year’s competition.

The games

First up, considerable changes were announced regarding the tournament’s format and the type of games that will be played. The distinctive “fun” game modes have been replaced by standard 5v5s with the hopes of making the tournament more competitive. The All Star teams will be split into two groups and clash in a single Round Robin spanning over two days. The four with the best results will advance to the Bo3 semifinals and the winners of those to the Bo5 finals. The 1v1 competition will remain largely unchanged.

The removal of the fun game modes marks an odd shift of focus, as these were a highlight of the tournament and they stayed true to the casual and more relaxed nature of the event. In addition to that, they were a delight to watch as a fan and pro players really seemed to enjoy them. With them gone, there’s less things that make the ASE stand out from other international events.

The teams

Efforts were made throughout the year to include Wildcard regions (now referred to as emerging regions) at international competitions without the need for an external tournament. This led to the creation of the Play-Ins and has now affected the ASE 2017. In summary, the International Wildcard All Star Event was effectively scrapped and due to this the teams participating in the ASE 2017 were altered.

With the exception of Brazil, Turkey and South East Asia, emerging regions have been removed as a whole from the event. Whether this is good or bad depends on which team you support. Yet, outright denying most emerging regions from even having a chance to qualify to the event is a low blow to their fans and their players. This also further decreases the importance of voting for fans outside of the participating regions.

The prize pool

After it was replaced by the Mid-Season Invitational in 2015, the ASE was meant to put fun and regional pride over big cash outs. Nevertheless, the aforementioned shift to make it a more competitive event doesn’t include the addition of a prize pool or any other incentive of that sort. Pros are compensated for their attendance with the opportunity to gain exposure and grow their personal brand, neither of which pay the bills.

The venue

The event will take place in the NA LCS Studio in Los Angeles, California. While I couldn’t find confirmation on the exact capacity of the venue, I would be surprised if it was fit for more than a 1000 people. The last time All Stars was held in the NA LCS Studio was back in 2015, which, in a way, was the event’s first year of existence. The year after that, All Stars took place in Barcelona, inside the Palau Sant Jordi. This arena has a capacity of 17,000, leaving the NA LCS Studio dwarfed in that metric.

The decision to once again hold the ASE in the NA LCS Studio not only affects the fans attending in person, as acquiring tickets will be harder, but also the ones watching online, since a smaller crowd means less hype. Moreover, games will be split over the Battle Arena and the Battle Theater, and fans cannot switch areas in between games. I’m certain the LOL ESPORTS production team will do a fantastic job running the ASE, but the limited amount of space available to them makes me skeptical of just how good this event will be.

The tickets

As I stated previously, the smaller venue size can cause problems for fans who want to attend the competition in person. Tickets sales went live friday morning and were sold out almost instantly. Furthermore, tickets were split over multiple days. This caused ticket prices to go up, as partaking in the entirety of the event meant spending around $120 USD (4 $30 USD tickets). One would think that because the ASE 2017 is taking place in a Riot owned venue, tickets would have more accessible prices, but that’s simply not the case.

Closing thoughts

By no means will the All Stars 2017 be a bad event. Dream Teams make great narratives and the regional pride aspect adds a unique charm to the tournament, even though Rift Rivals aims to do something very similar. It’s a great opportunity for up and coming star players to develop their personal brand and grow their fan base. Additionally, Riot’s production crew and on air team is top notch, making the best out of a dubious situation.

But with the fun game modes gone, best of 3 semifinals, the exclusion of most of the emerging regions, the small venue, the complicated ticket system and still no prize pool of any sort, the event at best is taking a step back from what we saw last year with little to no innovation to make up for it. Taking a more competitive approach without making proper adjustments feels unjustified and the event itself feels somewhat forced. Hopefully, Riot will take this feedback for next year’s All Star Event and improve on an already spectacular competition instead of taking a step back.