Hi everyone! I’m Jezie, the toplaner for compLexity.Red. We’ve recently failed to qualify for the LCS, falling short in the playoffs finishing 5th/6th. This “blog” might be a little more formal than what readers might be used to, but it’s how I best express ideas, regrettably. Sorry mates!
In writing this piece, I was thinking about what voice I would be able to represent best. I decided that I was neither qualified nor interested in addressing the game League of Legends itself, but that I would be better suited to discuss the logistics at my level of participation: the Challenger scene. Specifically I want to focus on the structure of the scene, the volatility of it, and the aspect of faith.
Riot has been pretty amazing in creating their own e-sports scene. They’ve funded the entire thing, managed all aspects of it, and then brought in the NA Challenger Coke Zero Series. When I saw the introduction of it about half a year ago I was totally excited. At the time I’d been playing for Team Green Forest, chasing a dream which realistically I had no shot of reaching then. We were a sub-par amateur team, sometimes able to scrape a scrim off of an LCS squad but we lacked consistency, strategy and experience. The Coke series seemed to offer a glimmer of legitimacy to what I had been striving to reach for the several months prior; that is to be guaranteed money to play a video game (aside from tournament prize money).
When the numbers were finally released, it became visible to me that this was just another two-part tournament, but with one of the biggest amateur prize pools ever. The NACS uses a fairly common single elimination format, with BO1s followed by BO3s in later rounds. The “regular seasons” are just tournaments. The playoffs are a culmination of the two seasons – a final elite tournament. If an amateur team chooses to only participate in the NACS with no other tournaments/income, they would need to win both splits and the playoffs to even make a minimum wage for the entire team ($6,000 per person over 4 months). That role has essentially been occupied by LMQ from day 1. Teams generally have other sources of income like independent tournaments (ESL, NACL, etc.) and sponsorships, but prize money and the latter of the two sources are really only reserved for the top (8?) Challenger teams, broadly speaking. Even in the NACS, only the top 8 teams get any kind of money.
So in this setup we’ve got a single major tournament that every non-LCS pro player is thinking about, 3 spots that really offer a chance at a real job, and then a subsistence wage being paid to the best Challenger team. The flimsiness of being in the Challenger scene extends its reach to create a volatile league at the bottom of the LCS. As one can see from the recent relegation matches, many players consider quitting the professional scene after each set (regardless of how many chances they’ve actually given it prior). Because even most of the top Challenger teams don’t get a good deal of money, the majority of LCS teams are more afraid of losing than chasing victory. This past weekend has been a complete kerfuffle, players being poached, tears of all kinds being shed, and some considering retirement. What makes it even more volatile is that the top teams that fail in relegation have to not only consider whether or not they want to keep playing, but that their most storied players individually may be picked up. This creates even more difficulty for a Challenger team to stay together.
This really brings me to think about one core trait that the remaining Challenger players have. They take a leap of faith in deciding that they want to strive to be in the LCS. It’s a 7 day a week commitment if you want to have a legitimate chance and also mentally taxing yourself in the time off. As my friend and teammate said, “you’re betting your time.” It’s a total gamble on a short-term period of your life, not just a part time job as the salary and title would suggest. Bill Cosby quotes “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure”, and sadly, when that desire fades in this setting, the walls around it crumble.
Lastly, one additional criticism that I would like to make is at Riot. While they are fostering the growth of something amazing, the infrastructure is not yet in place for the amount of players they are encouraging to strive to become professionals. Recently I, alongside many others, received an e-mail about how the Challenger tier functions, complimenting our skill, etc.. I didn’t really care for it, but then it led me to think about how there is a falsification of faith, especially in the young minds of many League of Legends players. Realistically, 4 of the 28 teams in Challenger right now have a shot at making the top 6 of playoffs (the rest currently still scrimming, or reforming rosters). The rest of these teams are levels below, the discrepancy in skill being much bigger than what is between an LCS team and a NACS team. Yet, they are eagerly anticipating their chance to qualify.
I made it to how far I’ve gotten by a stroke of luck and opportunity and it wasn’t even that far. 20 something teammates that I’ve played with on Team Green Forest have yet to play for a legitimate team. Right now the Challenger scene is just the outskirts of a dream that everyone is chasing. It’s an image that appears sublime. But there is a lack of resources behind the pleasant facade. I only hope that the fervour and arduous attitudes of Challenger players won’t translate into years wasted in retrospect, but instead a successful gamble of time that can only result from an increased infrastructural base for the NACS.