The Failure of North America at the Season 9 League of Legends World Championship – Part 1

Back in September I outlined in a blog post how this upcoming League of Legends tournament was set to be one of the most exciting tournaments in professional LoL(League of Legends) to date. The main reason being that Europe and North America* were coming into this tournament with the best teams both regions have ever been able to produce. Despite this, NA failed to make it out of groups and had some of the worst results that the region has ever seen. For context, the tournament has 4 groups with each group playing a double round robin. The top two teams from each group advance to the playoffs. Even NA’s most consistent international performer, Cloud9, failed to make it out of groups for the first time in years. What happened? North America imports more players than any other region. They have the most money and can afford the most elite players with many former world champions playing in NA. The issue isn’t necessarily bad rosters, the issue is bad player development. Cultivating talent has been a huge issue in NA for a long time. Bad player development, in my opinion, is one of the biggest reasons for NA’s poor international performances

In a lot of esports titles, and League of Legends especially, there are two ways to develop talent, playing on a professional team, or playing “solo queue”. Solo queue references the game mode that is accessible to everyone, you log in and are paired with random players from around the region to play a game. Solo, meaning you’re playing by yourself, and queue references the waiting you must go through before the game finds teammates for you. North America is lacking in both aspects of player development. I’ll start off by addressing solo queue.

The population of the NA solo queue server is roughly half that of Europe, Korea is even larger. China also has a massive player base, but it’s split up into multiple servers. This means that out of the 4 major regions, NA has the smallest local talent pool. Almost every professional player will agree that even the quality of the games played on the NA server is much lower than that of any other major region. Before any major international tournament, NA teams will travel to Korea or Europe to start practicing or “boot camping”. One of the biggest reasons for the boot camping is that the quality of solo queue is just that much better.

The location of the NA server is somewhere near Chicago reduces the average ping across the country but the professional teams are all located in Los Angeles which gets around 60 ping. To put that into perspective, Korean teams get 5 and the teams in Europe get around 15. Ping is important because it translates to how long it takes the server to receive your input (mouse or keyboard click) and then how long it takes for the server to send the signal back. When professional players play on stage, the ping is virtually zero as they’re playing on a local server. Professional esports players have reaction times comparable to professional traditional sport athletes. These esports professionals play the game at such a fast pace that high ping drastically effects the players ability to perform at their top level.

Other than ping, the thing that affects the quality of solo queue is the quality of the play. Pro players of all regions complain about how unskilled, lackadaisical, and “troll” the players are. Simply, the high-level games on the North American ladder aren’t nearly as competitive. This is obviously very frustrating to someone who uses solo queue to hone skills they’re being paid to hone.

Here’s G2 Perkz’ thought’s on NA solo queue. Perkz is a European player from the team G2. G2 were considered by some to be the #1 team going into the current world championships. (language warning)

Now let’s talk about the other method of player development, professional team play. North America currently has what it calls the “Academy League”. This is a league that hosts the “B team” / “2nd string” / “junior varsity” players for each of the franchise organizations. The only team to successfully utilize their Academy team to develop players for their main roster is Cloud9. No other team has been able to replicate their results. Almost every single player on the current main Cloud9 roster has at one point played on their Academy roster. This league was started and even named “Academy” because the goal was to develop players. The Academy league remains the place where the best players in NA go to prove themselves and try make it on a starting roster.

If NA has a built-in league to develop amateurs, why doesn’t it work? Why does NA continue to fill half their rosters with imported talent when each team has an amateur roster to pull from? Because it’s too risky for the teams. Currently, the North American LCS league has each team play two games per week during the regular season. This presents a problem for the amateurs. Due to how few games are played before playoffs, each game has more consequence. Teams can’t risk playing an unproven player when just a couple losses can determine so much of the team’s future.

Stage experience is also very important. Playing in your room by yourself is so much different than playing the game live in front of an audience. Stage experience is so valuable and yet there’s so little of it that teams are more comfortable giving stage experience to a proven import than to a local amateur. Korea, the most dominant region, plays their regular season games in a Bo3 format for both matches compared to NA’s Bo1. This means that a Korean pro gets at least twice the stage experience than a North American player in the same amount of time. The reason why NA doesn’t use a Bo3 format is due to one thing, money. Viewership numbers in a Bo1 format are higher than when the NA league was in a Bo3 format.

If NA wants to become a formidable opponent in international tournaments, they need to address the issues of their solo queue and invest in a talent farming system that they can rely on. My next blog post will outline potential solutions to both of these issues.

*The North American league consists of Canada and the US. Mexico plays in the LAS

Published by Patrick McCarthy

An esports professional wanting to share my thoughts on this exciting space.

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