LEC Franchising – Will They Remain a Top-Heavy Region?
If there’s one thing that makes competitive League of Legends so engaging and worth following, it is the never-ending storylines that grab your attention. You have team-specific stories that become part of a much larger narrative — one that encompasses the entire region, then you add cross-region rivalry, and finally, you add the international stage to the mix.
We don’t tune in every weekend to watch competitive League of Legends just for the top-tier gameplay. We tune in because of the many narratives that get us glued to our seats. We tune in because of the storylines — the sensational triumphs and crushing defeats.
We always gravitate toward a good story, and that holds true for all forms of entertainment.
These small nuggets develop on a weekly basis in competitive League, much like in traditional sports. It’s as if we’re watching a TV show, and we’re getting up to twelve hours of entertainment every single week, and that’s just from a single region.
Furthermore, competitive League of Legends is most exciting when there is uncertainty. That’s exactly why the 2018 LEC regular season was so thrilling. Sure, you could predict the final outcome with a fair bit of certainty, but the road to the end was anything but predictable.
Teams had incredible ups and downs. Misfits went on a 10-game winning streak only to lose almost every single match afterward. G2 Esports fumbled once the meta shifted away from funneling. Meanwhile, Schalke 04 and Team Vitality were constantly hovering near the top of the table.
In the end, things resolved in an expected manner. Fnatic and G2 Esports at the top, with a third contender emerging from a slew of tiebreakers.
When it comes to competitive League, most regions are very top-heavy, and the LEC is no exception. In fact, you could argue that it is the biggest “offender.”
While that might hold true for most traditional sports as well, it feels as though esports took it to a completely different level.
Before delving any further, let’s deconstruct the average LEC standings.
Top of the Table
With the LEC, there’s always a clear top of the table with two or, at best, three teams that have a stronghold of the region.
The following image sums things up perfectly.
Only three teams have become champions throughout the region’s history. That’s six years, and twelve splits — twelve chances for different teams to be crowned champions. But alas, Fnatic reigns supreme with seven titles. G2 Esports comes in second with four. Alliance has just one.
That’s not exactly an accident. These teams have been dominating the region since their inception. They’re well rounded, and they have stellar coaches, analysts, and players. Even when they take in a rookie, they have the right tools at their disposal in order to mold him into a superstar — as we’ve seen multiple times in the past.
Becoming the best is “easy.” Remaining at the top is a completely different beast though, and it’s a testament to the strengths, tenacity, and resilience of both Fnatic and G2 Esports that they’ve been able to remain at the top for so long.
Even when they fall from grace (like 2016 Fnatic), they always manage to bounce back within a split or two.
So coming into 2019 — or any year — it’s not a matter of, “how will things develop,” but rather, “how quickly will these titans reach the top.”
The Dark Horses
Then we have a couple of teams that could be deemed as dark horses, gatekeepers, or simply “middle-of-the-pack.” These teams aren’t mediocre — far from it, but they don’t have what it takes to be at the top, so they occupy the next available spot.
These contenders sometimes reach the LEC peak, but they never stay there.
Case in point, Misfits Gaming were running rampant with their 10-game winning streak at the last summer split, but once they had to adapt and overcome adversity, they started dropping games. Their final win-loss record was 12-7, meaning they only won two games after their dominant five-week run.
These teams have a ton of potential, but something always gets in the way. Teams like Misfits, Team Vitality, Schalke 04, and perhaps even Splyce occupy this part of the LEC. They have bursts of success, and some adapt faster to the meta than others, but they’re not complete teams.
Misfits are the most well-rounded of the bunch. Vitality has their staple “carnivorous” early-game focused playstyle (and only that). Splyce doesn’t want to engage before the forty-minute mark. Schalke is solid all-around but not great at anything in particular.
That’s not enough to take down either Fnatic or G2 Esports as they have tools and win conditions for all stages of the game and can also play from behind, but it is enough to keep them near the top. Depending on the meta and the way things develop, these teams can often upset the status quo, but in the end, things always shake out as expected.
Their short bursts of excellence are insufficient, and they often last just long enough to give you false hope. That said, it is because of these teams that the majority of narratives are created. Misfits being Fnatic’s kryptonite, Splyce’s dangerous late-game team fighting, Vitality’s incredibly dominant early game prowess, and so on.
2018 was arguably the best and most exciting year in LEC history; even though the end result shocked no one, it was an absolutely thrilling ride from start to finish. In the end, the three best EU teams did represent the region at Worlds, and even though Vitality seemed like an unlikely candidate, they had a unique take on the game which garnered worldwide recognition.
One can only hope that this trend of strong “gatekeepers” continues in 2019.
The Bottom of the Table
Finally, we always have two or three bottom-tier teams. These teams also have surges of brilliance, but they’re only present to make lives more complicated for teams in the middle. This might seem overly harsh, but it’s the truth.
These teams are the Team ROCCATs, OpTic Gamings, and Golden Guardians of the world. It’s not that these teams aren’t trying, or that they don’t deserve to be in the LEC/LCS, but rather that they can’t compete with the sheer amount of talent present at the top of the table.
Competitive League is most engaging when these teams actually have some synergy and when they have something unique to offer. Although it’s rare, it does happen from time to time.
Again, those resurgences and unexpected upswings only last two or three weeks. After that, these teams fall into their “rightful” place.
Before a split begins, you can always predict which teams will fall under this category and nine times out of ten, you’ll be correct.
Many fans hoped that with the LEC franchising, there wouldn’t be any weak links — but we’re still not there yet.
Giants Gaming, ROCCAT, and H2K were replaced by exceL Esports, SK Gaming, and Rogue. None of these teams are abysmal per se, but they’re the “spiritual heirs” to the perennial LEC bottom-tier teams. Even though they have ample financial backing, the chances of them reaching the top are next to none.
The Times Are a-Changin’
The European region, with its immense potential and deep talent pool, only has a set number of professional players getting the opportunity to play in the LEC. Until 2019, not a lot of rookies got the chance to participate, but that’s changing.
The best players gravitate toward the best organizations — that’s perfectly reasonable, but as a result, all the best talent gets stacked at the very top. Since there’s only a set number of top-tier talent available, we only get a couple of top-tier teams.
There’s only one Rasmus “Caps” Winther, one Luka “Perkz” Perković, and one Martin “Rekkles” Larsson. Fortunately, franchised teams (permanent partners, rather) are actually willing to give up-and-coming rookies a chance, and that’s incredibly important for the LEC and its future.
With new faces entering the mix, we’ll see the superstars of tomorrow, and those teams at the top will be challenged sooner rather than later. With competitive League maturing as well, teams will hire competent staff and the gap between the top and the bottom will dwindle. Slowly.
The LEC will remain a top-heavy region for the foreseeable future, but that changes bit by bit every year. With more talent coming in (from abroad as well as solo queue), every middle-of-the-pack team will improve.
That’s already happening with Misfits, who are entering 2019 with a frightening roster. Other teams like Team Vitality are also fielding line-ups that have improved leaps and bounds since they first started playing, so we might actually see a new champion crowned in 2019. Although it’s unlikely, it’s not impossible, and that’s exactly why everyone will be tuning in come January.
Thanks to LEC franchising, every organization will have a ton of financial backing, so it won’t just be a matter of “who can buy the best players,” but rather “who can develop talent in the best possible way.”
These “new kids on the block” will eventually become strong enough to compete with the likes of Caps and Perkz. When that happens, the LEC will enter a new era — an era when it won’t be a top-heavy region.There’s finally hope that things can change. Taking these small steps toward that future has made the LEC a must-watch region for next year.