Riot Games Head of Esports Wants Fewer Imported Players in LCS

by in League of Legends | Nov, 18th 2019

North America has never won a League of Legends LCS title. I mean, it’s a fact. There’s only been one non-Asian team that has won so far. That was Season 1’s Fnatic out of Europe. John Needham recently spoke to The Shotcaller about an opinion he has on LCS Esports.

So, who is John Needham? He’s the head of esports at Riot Games. I don’t blame him for the opinion of the LCS, either. Has any of those big-money contracts or imported players paid off for the NA teams yet?

What’s The Rule?

According to the rule on LCS imports, a League of Legends team must have at least three players on the team that are residents of the region they’re playing in. That sounds reasonable until you understand this has been undercut for years now.

Instead, North American teams import players from the Legends Champion Korea (LCK) scene at incredible costs. We recently discussed this. One Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon allegedly signed a two-year contract extension with Dignitas for $2.3 million.

Teams are importing these players and keep them on the roster for at least two years. Now that player can become a resident (earn resident status), and bypass that rule. Now it’s a squad of “American” players for the LCS.

John Needham Speaks on the LCS and Imports

John Needham spoke to The Shotcaller about this:

“We consider the regional leagues to be our talent for the way we develop professionals. We had 15 rookies start and come up out of the European Regional Leagues. That kind of framework has really worked for us. It’s great because the EU (has) zero imports. We are competing on the biggest stages in the world for esports and that’s something that I’m hoping to replicate in all of our leagues around the world. (North America) will be next. We’re really going to try to figure out how we can foster talent through the NA system.”

The global head of esports of Riot Games pointed out that, unlike the LCS, the EU has zero imports, and instead focuses on the quality and skill of their home-grown players. There are so many good players in North America’s League of Legends scene.

I don’t just mean pro players, either. There are worthy Challenger players and focused League of Legends streamers that could probably have an eye kept on them.

That quote says quite a lot about how he feels, too. It sounds like League of Legends wants to make this a stricter system, to ultimately grow each region’s powerhouse teams. What does this mean, though? Let’s say that it works.

Would that mean fewer Korean/Chinese/Taiwanese teams get through to the world stage? At first, I don’t think that would help matters all that much. We still must produce and foster growth in our scene.

Perhaps one of the problems might be respected. I can’t say what someone else thinks, but I can speculate. Maybe the other regions don’t feel NA players are on their level. It could have been in part, our fault. By always relying on LCS imports from other areas (and failing), the North American scene feels weaker.

The NA Dream Isn’t Just a Dream

It is not the first time we’ve discussed this on Esports Talk. Our very own Petar made his thoughts clear on the issues with the NA Dream. Merely changing the rule isn’t going to be enough, though. I want to see an NA team take the cup finally. I do.

But the problem seems to be that our organizations and team owners aren’t willing to put in the work or time it takes to see these players get ready. Instead, they mess up once, or make a bad call and replaced by someone who has a proven track record.

Perhaps the LCS could take some lessons from the LPL (League of Legends Pro League). In it, there’s a system to develop rookie talent and have them contacted by esports organizations around the time they hit Challenger. There’s lots of talk about esports organizations creating headquarters and training facilities, too.

This problem isn’t just going to go away overnight magically. Only “not allowing imported players” won’t be the solution to the NA problem. North American squads are going to need to reach out to potential players and help them grow.

Is it risky to invest in unproven players? Of course, it is. That’s the nature of esports, though. Every team isn’t going to have a Huni or a JackeyLove on it. Why not foster our talent? Speaking of JackeyLove, he joked about this in an interview, according to “Just import more players” is their solution to getting a winning NA squad.

I don’t believe that North American players aren’t capable. Sure, the Korean and Chinese teams are incredibly impressive. But we must believe in our teams and help them grow. Throw those mountains of cash at players on our homefront. If the North American teams start doing this now, I believe the next season or two could begin to show growth and improvement.

Believe in the NA Dream.


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