NA Challenger Scene: Almost there…almost…

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I wanted to express my thoughts about the positive and negative aspects of the challenger scene as a whole. A large discrepancy between LCS and challenger is the severe lack of accurate social media coverage regarding challenger teams, its organizations and the tournaments. Because of this, I feel that there are a lot of misconstrued public opinions regarding the scene. I’d like to shed some light on some of the issues that amateur players are faced with, while also elaborating on the changes that immensely improved the challenger scene’s quality of life. It’s important to note that this is solely written in my perspective, and only includes my personal opinions which do not reflect on my organization or anybody else mentioned in this blog.

The start of a new era

Let’s start  off by looking into the past for a moment. In December 2014, Gravity, the team formerly known as Curse Academy made it into the LCS. Curse (now known as Liquid) was required to sell Curse Academy due to Riot’s new sale of sponsorship rule. (http://na.lolesports.com/articles/new-sale-sponsorships-rule) Up until this point, selling an entire LCS spot was mostly unheard of which meant that the monetary value of a team was yet to be determined. Omitting the actual numbers here, but I can confirm that selling an LCS team has now been proven to be quite profitable.

In January 2015, Riot revised the format for the LCS and the challenger series. The most significant change, however, is that the 10th place team in the LCS is automatically relegated and replaced with the top challenger team from the challenger series. With the changes to the format of the LCS and the CS, a new niche market emerged for selling teams and as a result the stakes for both competitions have surged. This chain of events sparked an interest in the challenger scene by big name organizations, namely brand name powerhouses CLG and TSM. To add onto this, new aspiring team owners with deep pockets and goals to create their own version of a super team have surfaced as well. This means that the monetary value of many challenger players has literally doubled.

So what does this mean for the challenger scene as a whole?

I’m stating the obvious here when I say that the spirit of competition is at an all-time high. Players are taking solo queue more seriously, scrim qualities have been steadily improving, people are taking a gap year to try and go pro, etc. Riot’s format changes have given the challenger scene a much needed breath of life. A higher demand for improvement and growth raises the bar for what is expected of both a team and a sponsor. Nowadays, gaming houses are standard, coaches and analysts are deemed necessary, and salary support is incredibly common. To most people, all of these things were considered luxuries 6 months ago. It goes without saying that many challenger players’ team environment standards have been raised by a substantial amount. The fact is that players should want the best for themselves. Think about it like this: They’re putting their lives on hold to pursue a pro gaming career. School, work, and personal life are all set aside so that the players can focus on a risky venture. These people are investing months of time and effort into their team and/or sponsor, and in return should absolutely be aided on their journey. Riot’s new salary for the challenger series participants is a phenomenal stride in the right direction and a great example of the importance of supporting the players. All in all, the infrastructure of our scene has been dramatically upgraded. However, like anything else in the developmental stages, solving old problems often leads to a new set of issues.

Existing problems within the challenger scene

While the expectations for potential sponsors has been vastly broadened, the same can be said for the players. If a sponsor does their best to provide their players with all of the necessary tools to succeed, the players should do their best to make use of all of the resources that are given to them. In other words, the players need to give it their all. Results are expected from not only the sponsor, but also the other team members. “One bad apple spoils the bunch” is the truest statement regarding a team’s environment. I have seen teams fall apart because a player kept showing up late/missing scrims, or because they haven’t spent enough time solo queueing due to pure laziness. The main reasons for this behavior come down to a lack of maturity and responsibility. But this flippant attitude is somewhat expected. We have to remember that more often than not, these players are incredibly young and are still learning what it means to be an adult.

Patience is the key when it comes to fresh talent. Mechanics is only a small portion of what it means to be a good player. A lot of challengers have never had the ‘serious team experience’ which is why challenger teams with a former LCS pro on the roster will almost always have an edge over other teams. Former pros are especially helpful in teaching challenger players how to function on a serious team. Essentially, challenger players must be taught how to communicate and play in a team setting. A lot of players are overlooked or not given the chance to prove themselves due to their lack of experience. However, this mindset is detrimental to the competitive nature of League as a whole. We will never grow as a community until we start investing our resources into developing the newer players. Teams recycling ‘proven’ players is often a short term fix to long term problems.

One of the most frustrating phases that almost every player goes through is complacency. In fact, this is a recurring theme in the challenger scene. A player starts out in the competitive circuit being fully motivated and ready to make it into the LCS. This is accompanied by an eagerness to scrim as well as a strict regiment of consistent solo queueing. This is what we call the honeymoon phase. The ambitious attitudes often wear off when a team starts to have unsolvable issues.

The biggest mistake I have seen people make when putting together a team is treating the players like pokemon cards. They build their roster without taking the time to evaluate how the team interacts with each other, banking on the players’ individual strengths rather than their ability to mesh together as a unit or not. This is the same old story of many ‘super teams’ that start off strong, and ultimately end up falling apart because the team chemistry is so heavily lacking. The majority of challenger players will usually go through a team, maybe two, maybe three, maybe more, and at that point the drive to succeed starts to dwindle, leading to complacency. The search for success often leads to hopping teams for months, or staying with their current team because they cannot find a better one. Solo queue becomes torture, scrims become a chore, and League loses all the fun factor. Naturally, a player’s growth is halted by these circumstances. It’s emotional and in some cases, heartbreaking being a bystander in these situations. I could list at least 10 challenger players right now that embody exactly what I just described. It’s safe to say that being a challenger scene veteran is not a title to aim for. The worst part is that more often than not, these types of players are seen as washed up or not ‘LCS material’ due to their prolonged stay in the competitive challenger circuit, leading to even more difficulties finding a promising new team. The sad truth is that many players enter into the competitive scene for the wrong reasons, usually because the chance at money and fame is too enticing to pass up. Playing video games for a living sounds great on paper, but the reality is that free time is scarce, personal relationships are difficult to keep in tact, and the game stops being fun when it becomes a full-time job. It’s a vicious cycle that often leaves players asking themselves if trying to make it to the LCS is worth the trouble.

I stated earlier that many challenger players have literally doubled in worth. This is both positive and negative for a number of reasons. The positive side is that challenger series participants are now somewhat compensated for their efforts by Riot and their sponsors. Challengers have suddenly become sought after by big organizations. It’s become common practice to lock down players with a contract and a hefty buyout due to the fact that there are no poaching rules in place for challenger teams. The negative side is that the challenger scene is fickle by nature. With good reason, of course, but still fickle. This means that a lot of players end up contractually obligated to a team they don’t like with a ridiculous buyout that nobody wants to pay. Most organizations simply release the player or sell their contract if things aren’t working out once they find an appropriate replacement and everybody moves on with their lives. However, some team owners are not this agreeable. Several situations come to mind where a player has been forced to continue playing with a team even though the players are not getting along and the team’s future is looking grim. I feel that this is a controversial subject, with the general consensus being that this is unethical by the owners. I won’t delve too far into the nitty gritty details of this particular issue, but it should be noted that this is a recurring problem with no real solution yet.

In conclusion

All things considered, it’s safe to say that the development of the challenger scene is on the right track. We’ve come a long ways from the days of expansion tournaments and BO1s, but we’re not quite there yet. There’s still a lot more room to grow, and I look forward to the next few months to see how the newly formed teams will progress. My hope is that the NACS will become a cutthroat competition with a lot of new talent crawling out of the woodwork. I’m grateful to be a part of this scene, and I wish nothing but the best for my players, and the other hardworking, diligent players that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. I have nothing but respect for the people that work hard and strive to be the best.

Ultimately, the goal I had writing this blog is to hopefully shed some light on the scene and what the players go through trying to make it to the top. I have always felt like there’s simply not enough content surrounding challengers and I think that needs to change. These players are the future talent of our region and they deserve some love too. We take the bad with the good and do the best with what we have, and for that, we should be proud.

Thanks for reading my very first blog post. 🙂

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by samyelias, on May 7, 2015