Removing LCS import rule would be fatal mistake for LoL esports

Tactical looks shocked about LCS import rule discussions.Riot Games

Questions around the LCS import rule have exploded into a full-blown battle to keep competitive League of Legends regionalized ⁠— here’s why binning the long-standing Riot Games rule would be a huge mistake for LoL esports.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: the North American LCS is well and truly Riot’s flagship pro League of Legends competition, at least in their eyes.

Yes, eastern conferences like the LPL and LCK reign supreme most years in international events, and Europe has well and truly stamped itself as the big brother when it comes to western achievements. The LCS, however, is the biggest product Riot Games wants to sell when it comes to LoL esports.

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So, Riot often ⁠— needlessly, I’d say ⁠— meddles with the LCS.

The latest conversation has come around the infamous import rule that applies to every pro League comp, and caps the signing of international talent.

It’s no secret most LCS teams are in favor of removing the roster restrictions, or at least overhauling it in some fashion. Whispers suggest LoL powerbrokers are actually considering it too, and toying with new-look rules for 2022.

This move would be a huge, possibly even fatal mistake by Riot Games.

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The LCS import rule -- and NA residents -- have come under the microscope in recent weeks.Riot Games
The LCS import rule and NA residents have come under the microscope in recent weeks.

Scrapping rule won’t fix LCS struggles

This is the most brutal one, but it’s something people seem to forget; no, buying up second-rate international talent won’t buy success for North America.

Unless the entire league suddenly became filled with LCK and LPL rosters, with lineups like G2 Esports and Rogue thrown into the mix, then the overall level just won’t be as good as those Chinese, Korean, and European competitions.

World-class players want to face off against other top talents. Zhuo ‘Knight’ Ding hones his craft against Song ‘Rookie’ Eui-jin — a mouthwatering clash that ended 2–1 just last week — and both get better. Superstars like Heo ‘Showmaker’ Su and Rasmus ‘Caps’ Winther lift the league around them.

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If we lift the import rules, these players won’t just migrate to the LCS.

Most will still stay in their own regions, competing among their compatriots, while second-rate players from those same competitions will be the ones flocking to Los Angeles for big pay checks and guaranteed starting spots.

Now, that’s not going to always be true. The LCS has managed to lure true world-class talent to its American shores before. Luka ‘Perkz’ Perkovic, Jo ‘CoreJJ’ Yong-in, and Barney ‘Alphari’ Morris are just a few examples there.

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Overall, however, the LCS will still remain a tier behind the big dogs.

There's barely any chance LCK and LPL superstars like Rookie would defect, even without the import rules.Riot Games
LCK and LPL superstars like Rookie (pictured) and Showmaker would likely refuse to defect, even with import rules abolished.

Starcraft, Overwatch have left warning

‘Freeing’ orgs and allowing them to build their rosters however they want has been tried before in esports, to less than stellar success.

You only need to take a look at the barren Starcraft scene, or more recently the dying Overwatch League, to see a worrying trend for western development in esports if import signings are left unchecked.

Now, there’s nothing against hoarding the best Korean and Chinese talent. It gets results, and if they’re the best then, of course, you want the best available.

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Except this move often strangles out every other rising star.

Blizzard Entertainment
Many OWL teams are reportedly signing up all-Korean rosters for 2021.

The OWL is now basically Korean and Chinese, with many American orgs electing to move there to build six-man rosters. Squads like New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Boston, and Florida have all gone for mostly-Korean lineups.

Starcraft II had the same result. Korean stars took over — and rightfully so, they were the best — but with no clear path to the top, American talents simply didn’t try to crack the upper echelons of the pro scene. Interest waned, then the scene followed soon after. Now it’s all but defunct.

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Would it be third time’s the charm in League of Legends? Maybe, but history certainly disagrees with scrapping import rules.

Many attribute Starcraft's demise to Korea's dominance in the esport.GHOSTCLAW for Team Liquid
Many attribute Starcraft’s eventual demise to Korea’s dominance in the esport.

Dignitas proving domestic talent can succeed

Finally, amid all the drama and discussion, there’s been a light for the North American talent base: second-placed Dignitas.

The all-domestic roster, led by veteran support Zaqueri ‘aphromoo’ Black, have charged to a 10–5 record behind pacesetters Cloud9. It’s a title challenge no one saw coming at the start of the season, but five weeks in the squad doesn’t look like falling away any time soon.

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The fact DIG leads import-heavy squads like TL, TSM, and EG in the standings has caused many to stop and reconsider the war against the import rule.

While their story is far from over, it does offer another point; there is rich NA talent for the LCS to pull from. They only have to make the effort.

Dignitas have been the shock package so far in the LCS Spring Split.Riot Games
American-heavy Dignitas have been the shock package so far in the LCS Spring Split.

Can there be a compromise?

Absolutely there can be a compromise. In fact, the simplest one is just a relatively minor tweak to the current LCS rule. We only have to look to world football.

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In the Premier League, a league known for hoarding international talent and often billed as the biggest global competition, they have a standing “Homegrown Player Rule.” This works in a similar fashion to LoL’s roster-building restrictions.

The rule: in a squad of 25 players, at least eight must be “homegrown.”

Now, this can be tweaked slightly for League. Instead of two import slots per roster, have it expand to the Academy team too. Across the 10 signed players in each org’s extended squad, at least four must be NA residents.

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Want to play all four in Academy? Well, go for it.

Have a Robert ‘Blaber’ Huang or Edward ‘Tactical’ Ra tearing it up in your development squad? Shift him to the starting LCS lineup, and surround him with ‘imports’ ⁠— exactly like Team Liquid’s lineup looks right now in the old system.

Is this solution perfect? No, far from it; it does, however, keep North American talent in the development pipeline, and let orgs spend big for international stars.

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Ablazeolive playing for Golden Guardians Academy in LCS 2020Riot Games
Rookie North American talents like Ablazeolive are already proving themselves in the LCS this season.

For now, however, it’s just a waiting game for League of Legends fans.

Unfortunately, Riot Games has been relatively quiet about their discussions surrounding the contentious rule. It’s likely we won’t hear anything from the League of Legends powerbrokers until a decision has been made, in favor or against.

We’ll strive to keep you updated on which way Riot Games goes with their upcoming crunch-time decision ⁠— hopefully, they make the right call. The LCS is back this weekend with one last round ahead of Spring Showdown playoffs.

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