With the start of the LEC and the injection of new teams, players and management, there has been a tonne of hype. Dramatic off-season changes, new ‘super teams’ and the return of fan favourites Origen have given us all questions: Will the old guard remain dominant? Which super team will come out on top? Who will step up and who, will fall down? It is expected that coming off the best European Worlds run in years, hopes for the LEC would be high. In this article I seek to examine the validity of the hype and temper rampant excitement.
Let’s start with the premise, while the rebrand has been exciting and the new style of the LEC is gorgeous, it doesn’t follow that the level of competition would improve to match it. While the extent of the rebrand has been greater for the LEC than franchising was in NA, I will be using the NA LCS’s first year of franchising as a comparison indicative of some of the struggles we might face in the LEC this year.
The Level of Competition:
The first challenge will be ensuring that the league is competitive, it’s no secret that viewership is often attracted to games involving the big brands such as FNC or G2 and competitive games that have a real impact on the standings. In the past the vast majority of LCS splits encountered the issue that there was a clear upper, middle and bottom tier of team. This meant that whilst there were a few incredible games between titans, a good number of the games were one-sided stomps, with clearly better teams taking the victory. In theory franchising should help to combat this over time but in the short term? I hold the belief that the first split of the LEC will not be any different and that it is quite likely that summer follows the same trend.
Why? Because there have been a multitude of roster changes, and new teams have entered the league. They will need time to flesh out their play style, gel as a roster and ensure the behind the scenes infrastructure is in place to ensure team development. It would not surprise me if the newer teams were the ones that found themselves falling short of play offs for these reasons. It would at this point be fair to point out that teams such as Excel and SK surpassed many expectations in the first weekend of the LEC. However, I would ask people to remember that it is often the case that new and unknown organisations pick up their wins in the early weeks of the split, whilst the established teams are still adjusting to their own changes. Indeed reality kicked in pretty quickly to SK whom after defeating a struggling week one FNC lost the fastest game of the LEC so far up against MSF, a long established playoff’s contender in the old EU LCS.
I would love for the new teams, to make play offs, to alter the landscape of the LEC and build themselves a fanbase and reputation. I just don’t think it’s fair to expect that off the bat. Teams like FNC and G2 whose staff have guided them through multiple domestic finals and international events have an advantage behind the scenes and potentially in the quality of player their brands allowed them to attract. For these reasons despite my hopes for their success I do not expect the league to become more competitive immediately despite last years strong showing.
This is a view that is supported by the reality of the first year of franchising in NA. The structure of the league remaining very much the same with GGS sitting near the bottom of the table throughout and Team Liquid, firmly in first place at the end of both splits. There was however one glaring exception that gives me hope that the level of competition may improve faster than I predict and that is 100 Thieves. 100 Thieves had a fantastic inaugural split/year making it to a domestic final and the World Championships. Whether or not the success they found is repeatable is yet to be seen but this exception does little to buck the trend that the NA LCS retained the upper, middle and lower tiers of its league.
Franchising, National Leagues and the Future:
As I alluded to earlier, I firmly believe that the future is bright for competition in the LEC and that over time the quality of all the teams is bound to improve. This is partially due to franchising and partially down to the success of the national leagues. We’ll look at franchising first. The benefits of franchising are already making themselves felt with the rebranded LEC attracting sponsors such as KIA, Shell and Alienware for the league. This means that the LEC will receive more funding overall and that the teams in turn will get a share of that. This will mean more money to improve infrastructure and better wages for players. The other effect that franchising will have is the removal of relegation allowing teams to more easily attract sponsors as their brand and security is no longer dependant upon success. In the past teams that got promoted into the LCS were faced with the challenge of being unestablished, they didn’t have the same level of infrastructure, access to top level practice partners and time to adjust. With the speed of the splits and the threat of relegation new teams were forced to firefight and plug the gaps to try and survive rather than looking at sustainable long-term solutions. This also makes investing in rookie talent less of a liability as they have time to adapt and develop without the looming reality of being jobless or back in challenger at the end of the split. It is on this note of rearing rookie talent that I wish to move onto the national leagues.
The national leagues such as Spains LVP.es or the UK’s LVPUK to name two are growing and becoming more competitive over time. A testament to teams playing in those leagues such as Mad Lion’s, is how many of their players were picked up. Four of the five Mad Lion’s have entered the LEC this year and are finding some early success with Selfmade in particular drawing attention as a potential rising star amongst LEC Jungler’s. These leagues are a great strength of the European scene allowing rookie talent the opportunity to play and be coached as a team, play on stage and garner public exposure. As these leagues go from strength to strength it is only logical that the LEC would as well, with the quality of rookie talent it has access to improving year on year.
To conclude although it would be easy to ride the hype of Europe’s success in 2018, we should expect turbulence. There will be growing pains and challenges for all the teams to work through initially. But with franchising and stronger national leagues as the backbone of the European scene it won’t be long before the LEC is producing a higher standard of team across the board and challenging once again for the World Championship title.