Everyone wants to play on the big stage.
If you’re a professional League of Legends player in North America, then LCS is the place to prove your worth. The road there is a thorny one, but up until now, it wasn’t hard enough to discourage new players from trying to achieve their dream. Yet with the recent influx of talent in the NA LCS, is this dream more distant than ever before?
Let’s say you’re an up-and-coming pro in North America. You’re not exactly a prodigy, but you’re one of the top players in Challenger, and everyone agrees you show a lot of promise. Sure, you could use more stage experience—but who couldn’t? You start thinking that you might make it, you might really make this League thing into a career.
So you assemble four like-minded individuals—every one of them as promising as you are—get the backing of a few people in the scene, maybe even get a coach. All with the goal of grinding your way through the Challenger Series and reaching the promised land of the NA LCS. It’s a good story. A story that’s bound to get you thousands of fans were you to succeed. And it’s also a story of Team Gates, the dead last team in the Challenger League.
At some point, Challenger Series stopped being a place to cultivate talent and turned into a cutthroat competition where old pros were trying to make it back into the LCS. The biggest offender was last year’s Cloud9 Challenger that fielded the roster of five seasoned veterans, including a world-class shot caller. Of course, this wasn’t anything new, and many other organizations tried to do the same thing. But FlyQuest set an example of what Challenger teams needed to do if they want to succeed.
A Worrying Mismatch
This season that wasn’t enough. If you were to look at the stacked lineups of GCU and eUnited a year or two ago, it’d be almost unthinkable that they’d fail to make it out of Challenger Series. It’d be equally unthinkable to see juggernauts like Team EnVyUs and Liquid drop down all the way to the Promotion tournament. Yet here they were.
Their presence created a worrying mismatch. Challenger lineups that consisted of rookies and struggling LCS pros had to face battle-hardened veterans, some of which were arguably the best in their roles. When you pit superstars like LirA or Doublelift against Challenger players, it’s clear who’s going to come out on top. And sure, some games were close but in the end, LCS teams still managed to win by a landslide.
This is largely the unfortunate consequence of the most stacked NA LCS Split to date. The top of the ladder might not have improved that much, but it’s the rapid growth of mid and bottom-tier teams that forced EnVyUs and Liquid to fight for their spots. It comes as no surprise that Challenger Series teams with worse practice and less time to hone their synergy couldn’t stand up to these big shots.
So what exactly is this a problem? Shouldn’t the best possible teams play in the LCS to begin with? Well, you would be hard-pressed to find someone that argued otherwise. But as the stakes get higher and the Promotion tournament becomes more competitive, few Challenger teams will be inclined to take risks. And that means fewer promising rookies and more recycled LCS pros.
Of course, talented newcomers could still find ways onto LCS teams, but to even get on their radar, these players need some way to reliably show off their skill. With NA Solo Queue meaning less and less as seasons go by, Challenger Series is one of the few places where new players can attract the attention of established orgs. Combine that with the fact that team owners are already turning to other regions in search of new recruits, and it’s easy to see how this situation can stump competitive growth.
It’s not that North America doesn’t have any talent either—players like Biofrost, Dardoch, and Smoothie have long proven this statement wrong. But this talent won’t keep appearing out of nowhere. At some point, you have to ask yourself where exactly should promising players go to prove their worth? And how should they get there if Challenger Series is no longer an answer?
What do you think about the state of the NA LCS and Challenger Series? Share your opinion in the comments!
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