North America stinks League of Legends. That feeling, which has been in conflict for years, was the center of attention in Worlds 2019 when not a single team from the region qualified for the knockout round.
The overwhelming reaction of NA fans to that debacle was not disappointment or anger, it was resignation. This time, they not only had bad luck, they legitimately did not deserve a place among the eight best teams in the world.
After the tournament, Riot has tried to change some of his league rules to help the LCS. Many of these changes are welcome, but not enough. If Riot wants to fix the LCS, he has to get rid of the import rule.
Why have an import rule?
The import rule did not stop these types.
Formally, the import rule was called interregional movement policy (PMI). It was first instituted in September 2014 and governs how many players from other regions can have a team operating in one of Riot's authorized leagues, including the LCS, LEC, LCK and LPL, on its active list. The policy was further improved in 2016, making it more stringent.
The curious thing about the original policy was that after its implementation, the competitive policy League The world saw the biggest change in its group of players. The two finalists in Worlds that year were the sister teams Samsung White and Blue. But after Riot dissolved the structure of the sister team, the 10 headlines on both sides moved from the South Korean LCK to the LPL of China, part of what is now known as the Korean exodus.
Riot saw him coming and wanted to stop him. When creating the IMP, the company's reasoning was not fairness or competitive integrity: it was to preserve "preserve regional identity," according to a statement given by electronic sports manager Nick Allen at the time.
Riot did not want to kill the movement between regions, but he wanted to make sure that the native players of those regions had the opportunity to prosper. The company recently doubled at that point, saying it wants to "foster talent through the NA system." With import restrictions, teams are theoretically forced to develop local talent from the bases of players on which they are based.
But that has not happened, in the least.
It should have already worked
Is this the last good NA player?
If the import rule is designed to promote the various bases of regional players and give aspiring solo tail talent a way to become professionals, it has not worked. There is no promising young generation of NA talents. It has been years since NA has produced a world-class player in a position other than the jungle and support. Even young players like the Tanner Damonte and Cody Sun Clutch combination have been on the LCS charts since 2016.
If the import rule was supposed to support an influx of American talent, it would have worked. And Riot's other ideas, such as Scouting Grounds, a good effort, but a poor substitute for a real secondary competition like EU Masters, are half measures that have not yet produced safe results. Some of those players may still succeed, but so far, none have left their mark.
Compare this to the LPL, which also has a fetish to import Koreans, but has developed stars like Yu "Jackeylove" Wen-bo and complementary pieces like Lin "Lwx" Wei-Xiang. The LPL can do that because there are many League players in China, so much that Riot had to create a second high elo server.
In Europe, regional leagues emerged from the land, fed by a large base of willing players. Many of these competitions occur outside of Riot's reach. Could Riot dump a lot of money in NA and create similar-looking competitions? Sure, but that wouldn't be much if the players weren't there. Trying to follow the LEC model in the LCS is a terrible idea.
Worst part? The import rule could be harming players that are supposed to protect.
Import restrictions are bad for NA players
It is not "unfortunate," as Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng said, if it happens every year.
If Riot removed the import restrictions tomorrow, the answer for some teams would be to sign a team full of Korean, Chinese or European players. We know this because that is what happened in the Overwatch League, which wisely abandoned the import rules because they make no sense.
In the process, some North American players would be either initiated in the initial list or completely abandoned from the LCS team. Isn't that a bad thing?
Only if you think you pamper them, let them play badly and win in the LCS without teeth before being eviscerated in MSI and Worlds, is it a good solution. NA's failures in international tournaments destroy the legitimacy of the league, teams and players. No one looks good right now, including Riot's LCS leadership.
A more even playing field would create a better and stronger LCS, one in which North American players really have to fight for the places on the list instead of simply receiving roles because of where they were born. Ping low is just one of the reasons why players start camp in Korea. The practice environment is better because players and games are better. That's why LPL professionals send their internet signals through the Yellow Sea to compete in Korea's solo queue.
The best performances of the American squads would attract even more attention and income to the league, which is beneficial for all players. And if the concern really is whether native players will be excluded in some way, then there is also a simple answer to that: the expansion of the list. Give NA players roles in which they can train and improve. But if they are not good enough to be on stage, they should not be there.
All the way
Doinb speaks fluently Mandarin and married a girl from China. Who cares where he was born?
Since Worlds, Riot has made several efforts to help the LCS. NA remains one of its most important regions from the point of view of audience, sponsorship and income. It's great news that the region was so interested in Worlds this year even though the three teams crashed and burned. Riot now allows NA players to leave the Tournament Realm, which will improve the practice environment, and even loosened import restrictions in a strange and hyperspecific way only for the LCS.
But none of these rules would help NA more than completely eliminate the import restriction. And to be clear, the rule must be removed from the application to any global league, including the LEC, LCK and LPL. We are already in one of the strongest periods for professionals League play and this change would only make the landscape more competitive and interesting.
And it is not that all teams immediately resort to the importation of Korean, Chinese or European professionals. There is more than one way to form a team, and local NA talents would find a home somewhere. When they do, they would be better prepared to succeed than in the past.
The LCK players who left during the Korena exodus changed the landscape of League. The last two world champions, both LPL teams, were built around the Korean star imports that came as part of the exodus. They assimilated their Korean comrades perfectly, as if they were native children. One can only wonder when an NA team can do the same.
All photos through Riot Games.