Korean imports aren’t a silver bullet
Here it comes, another rant/article based mostly on hunches that I have regarding the League of Legends scene. I will put a disclaimer up front, I do not have any hard evidence that the mindset I will be describing within this post is is, in fact, how owners/coaches/players feel, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not far off. There has been a trend in League for the last several years where a struggling team will throw money at an aging Korean player in exchange for a season of play. The reaction that most teams have where they feel picking up a proven Korean player is understandable, a good player anywhere in the world is still a good player (as we recently saw at MSI), and yes, the Korean LCK has been the most dominant region in international play for many years now, but simply picking a player from a successful team in hopes of him turning the fortunes of your own team is a terrible tactic. Why do so many teams keep falling into this trap after seeing other teams fail using the vary same idea unsuccessfully before them?
Since we are still early on in this tirade I would like to make it very clear, I do not blame any player from any region leaving to play on another team. Whatever the reason may be, money, travel, new teammates, desire to win, ANY reason for a player to move from one region to another is completely acceptable in my mind. It is on the shoulders of the organizations to decide who they would like in their lineup and where they are getting those players from. Whew, okay, lets move on to the first point.
One reason that most foreign players do not deliver at the same level they had on their previous team is that the original team is letting the player go for a reason. Not all players are past their prime, some move on because the team has evolved around them and they no longer fit with their teammates in the same way they used to, another common reason players leave is that they want to play with a specific player and are presented that opportunity. Also, money is a factor which can never be left out when discussing a player’s movement to a new team. For many players, esports is less of a career and more a “get what you can” proposition, many having future plans no where near the esports scene. If a player is only playing because they are good at the moment and do not see themselves moving into another position once they are no longer able to keep up with the meta, I don’t think anyone can blame them for taking a higher paying job (but I am getting sidetracked, that is another rant for another day). Many Korean exports come to teams in other regions because they are no longer the best option for their team back home. This seems to have been the case for many exports like former world champion Piglet who is currently on a 4th place team in the North American LCS after being a world champion on SKT-T1. It is arguable that Piglet is not the reason why the team has placed force (many NA fans would simply blame that on the curse), but clearly the mindset many teams have of “if I get a Korean they will dominate” is a fallacy. There are several players who have made the migration and been successful (look at GBM who often seems to completely outclass his NA opponents in the midlane), but NRG is not the split champs, not even top 4 by the end of Spring 2016, so the argument still stands.
Another reason why many Korean exports do not live up to the very high potential they displayed while playing in the LCK is they are not given all the tools to succeed by their new organizations. Korean League of Legends organizations are very calculated, require immense practice and time committal, and have complete support staffs which dwarf those of any other region, the level of discipline and money required to turn out the top teams in the world year after year is something that is both not fully understood by other regions, but in many cases the commitment seems too high risk. Korean players do not play better simply because they are from Korea, they play better because they are groomed to play at a higher level than the rest of the world. The players who do not survive that grooming process are typically the players who end up outside of the LCK, and, in turn, in other regions. They arrive to fans and teams who welcome them with open arms and high hopes, but unfortunately most of the tools required to make them thrive in the new environment are nowhere to be found.
This brings up one more point (yes, after I make this point I will get off my soapbox and free you from this schizophrenic mess of an article): Players in ANY region could play at the top level in League, but nearly every team outside of Korea refuses to put in the necessary work and resources. Why do you think so many teams “bootcamp” in Korea? Why do so many LMS and LPL teams try desperately to scrim against the LCK teams? I would like to suggest that it gives them a taste of that lifestyle, but the lifestyle is attainable as a team if you were simply to model and execute in the same way LCK organizations do. The teams within the LCK change often because there is so much fierce competition within their League ecosystem, but how do the little teams compete with giants? They commit to the regiment and go all in. If other regions (looking at you EU and NA) really want to improve and be competitive on the world stage, they need to truly make the commitment to being the best organization possible, top to bottom. A player or 2 will not completely change your team’s destiny, especially if those players aren’t driven to continue reaching for their fullest potential.