By Petar Vukobrat
January 11, 2020
For the North American LCS, 2019 kind of flew under the radar. It’s not to say it was uneventful, but rather it lacked in spectacle and excitement. Franchising didn’t change much as far as the viewing experience is concerned. But, it was still natural to expect more than what we got in 2018. With a whole season behind their belts, the 10 North American permanent partners had all the right tools during the 2019 LCS season. They put the LCS on the map to make the region a worthy challenger on the international stage.
But, for a wide variety of reasons, that never happened. The teams at the top remained there through incremental roster changes and/or coaching staff improvements, the many gatekeepers who occupied the middle of the standings plateaued a long time ago. They showed little to no improvement. The few bottom-tier dwellers struggled as much as they did in the past.
Despite this, the last 12 months gave us a much deeper understanding not just of the teams and players, but also about the region and how competitive and deep (talent-wise) it is. Many challengers stepped into the spotlight and have found varying amounts of success. Many lessons can be learned through a deeper analysis of what happened (and that which didn’t and yet should have).
There is not a team in North America that doesn’t stand something to gain from analyzing what they did and when things went awry. There’s still a lot of room to grow for all 10 LCS permanent partners.
So, without any further ado, let’s start our 2019 LCS season year in review!
The 2019 LCS season was, in many ways, another year defined by Team Liquid’s success. They weren’t always perfect in execution, but whenever the going got rough, Liquid dug deep and found an avenue towards success.
The LCS isn’t the most competitive region around, but it still has a couple of top-tier challengers. Liquid dropped a couple of games along the way, but they won both splits regardless of whom they were up against in the finals.
They are a team brimming with talent. Even though they’re not the most flexible, they’re staggeringly good and well-rounded in their fundamentals. No one out there could challenge them on home soil in a Best of 5. Even when their backs against the wall, they persevered and never panicked. That’s a true hallmark of a champion and one of the many virtues Liquid possesses.
They also became the first team in the history of the region to win four splits in a row, a spectacular accomplishment in every regard. Watching them dominate for such a long time wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world. However, it was still a fantastic run that garnered them a fair bit of (well-deserved) respect and acclaim.
For the future, one must hope for a slightly more competitive fight at the very top of the region. We’re all yearning for some exciting new narratives. It’s about time for the LCS status quo to change, at least ever so slightly.
Hopefully Team SoloMid, Cloud9, Evil Geniuses and Counter Logic Gaming can compete and bring the fight to Team Liquid come Spring Split.
The second year of franchising didn’t offer us anything new. Liquid won, Team SoloMid and Cloud9 challenged to the best of their ability, and a couple of other teams surged for brief periods. In the end, everything resolved as everyone expected. This doesn’t mean top-tier play was absent, but rather excitement and intrigue lacked throughout the regular season.
We were rarely surprised, if ever. If you were looking for exciting narratives, engaging story-lines and unexpected twists and turns, you probably didn’t tune in every Saturday and Sunday to the North American LCS.
For the LCS to flourish and further develop, this needs to change. This isn’t the result of anyone’s unassailable North American super team. It is rather a top-heavy region that’s unbalanced talent-wise. The teams at the top have the biggest budgets to scoop up the best players.
Assembling a top-tier team is always a challenge. In North America, it is a challenge that can easily be overcome by throwing money at the problem.
First, North American teams must start developing young, native talent. Recycling the same players won’t yield any results. The formula must change. The sooner it does, the better. Without it, the LCS is doomed as far as international competitiveness goes. The region itself (and the many teams within it) will never reach its maximum potential unless huge changes occur.
Unfortunately, based on what we know and announcements, 2020 doesn’t look like the year of sweeping changes. It’s the opposite. Little to no effort has been made when it comes to the fostering of native talent. A good number of old LCS pros will still compete. If not in the LCS, then in Academy. Heck, nearly 50% of the 2020 LCS player base consists of imports. It’s as if things are only getting worse.
No one’s asking, “what’s wrong with the LCS?” That’s primarily because we all know the answer, and we knew it for years. Every time North America disappoints on the international stage, there’s a bevy of online discussion regarding the many problems plaguing the region.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that none of these issues (the same ones that keep popping up) are getting resolved. Maybe that wouldn’t be a problem if other regions weren’t working so hard and improving at such a staggering pace.
But because that’s the case, North American teams find themselves in a very peculiar position. Some of them surely want to improve. Yet they’re incapable of making the right moves and getting the job done.
Many things need to change for North America to leave a mark on the international stage. No band-aid fix will suffice. It’ll take years of hard work, but it’s a worthwhile effort.
In the end, the 2019 LCS season didn’t bring anything new or exciting. There were certainly a few standout moments, like the two split finals with Team SoloMid and Cloud9, along with Liquid’s monumental upset over Invictus Gaming at the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational. These spectacular moments fail to balance things out. They were quick flashes of excitement in an otherwise unimpressive season.
Unimpressive, that is, if you expected more from the LCS. Franchising was supposed to usher in a different kind of philosophy, one that favors native talent over subpar imports, but such a thing didn’t happen, for a multitude of reasons. Things are arguably worse than ever. Regardless of the way you slice it, the long-term picture isn’t particularly optimistic now.
If, on the other hand, you wanted to watch familiar faces clash in a familiar setting, then you were probably satisfied once all was said and done.
The 2019 LCS season left a bitter taste in one’s mouth primarily because there’s a lot of potential present in North America. We’ve seen what Cloud9 can do internationally. Even Liquid gave us a similar (albeit short-lived) glimpse into a future in which the LCS stands on even footing with the rest of the world of competitive League. What will it take for North America to step up? Even if such a day comes, will it be too late?