My last blog post outlined what I believed to be some of the major issues influencing North American League of Legends team’s lack of international competitive success. The problem has to do with bad player development which I broke down into two parts, solo queue, and amateur leagues.
Solo queue in NA is worse than the other major regions because of ping and level of play. Ping is that hardest to solve due to it largely being influenced by the team’s distance from the server location. The teams are all based in the LA area whereas the server is located near Chicago. A solution that addresses both aspects of solo queue can be a permanent adaption to a band aid fix some pros came up with a while ago, in-house games.
In-house games or “in-houses” were custom private games were pros would play with each other at set times instead of getting matched with random players online. A way to make this more permanent would be the creation of an LA based private server for the pros. This private server would be invitation only and have a limited number of users. A curated player base means the level of play would be much higher than regular solo queue. The server being based in LA means that the ping would be super low for most of these elite players. Wait time issues are common for low population servers. If this private server was only active during certain times of day then everyone would all have to log in at once which reduces wait times. This solution obviously doesn’t fix the problems for the general public, but it’s the professional players that have the most to lose and notice the negative aspects of solo queue the most.
The other aspect of player development was team play. I previously mentioned how Cloud9 is the only NA team that has a reliable source of amateur talent and a reliable method to train these amateur players. If teams want to find the same success Cloud9 did, then they need to start investing more resources into their Academy teams or start using other methods to find and develop amateur talent.
Thankfully, there’s already a well-established method for players of almost any traditional sport to prep themselves for a professional team, and that’s through colleges. Collegiate esports is a fast-growing scene with over 150 schools already offering scholarships to people to play on not just League of Legends teams, but many other big esports titles. Currently, the level of play for these teams is high, but not quite good enough to be considered a feeding system into professional teams. If the collegiate scene continues to follow the trend it’s on, then that could change sooner than people think.
It’s up to the collegiate scene to attract the better amateur talents before pro teams can take them seriously. The more the scene grows, the bigger the scholarship offers are going to get, which will attract even better players and raise the overall level of competition to a point where the professional teams will have to take it seriously. A lot of the players on the academy team rosters have never played on a team before or played on teams that were temporarily created to take part in a small-scale tournament. Players that go through the collegiate system have a lot more experience with structure and teamwork compared to a lot of other amateur players. These are obviously very attractive qualities for pro teams looking for an amateur to invest in.
A good way for colleges to start attracting better players is to invest in experienced coaches and analysts. There are some players in collegiate who see it as a fall back option if they can’t get on a professional team and don’t feel as challenged. These players want to improve and having competent coaching staff is the best way for a player to improve on a team. Basically, “if you build it, they will come”.
Although it’s the colleges job to create the best collegiate players they can, an active effort by the professional League of Legends community to further legitimize collegiate esports would help both parties. There was recently a bill passed in California that allows athletes to profit off use of their likeness. This opens doors for professional teams and endemic sponsors to promote college players and build awareness for the collegiate scene. If the collegiate and professional League of Legends scene work together, they can speed up the creation of an amateur talent farm system.
A small private server and an active effort to grow collegiate esports are both generally low-cost solutions. Colleges are already finding their esports programs to be worth the set up cost. The extra costs these colleges would incur are labor costs for the coaches and scholarships for the players. All of these hinge on esports’ ability to be profitable for all parties involved. I believe that these systems are long lasting solutions that only improve and become even more profitable with time. There is no quick fix that will propel North America to competitive success. These are the growing pains that come with such a new and fast-growing sport and the quicker it’s realized that systematic changes need to be made, the sooner we can see our favorite teams hoist the Summoners Cup.