5 Mistakes Riot Made with the Season 3 LCS
In my last article I expounded on the virtues of Riot’s Season 3 LCS plans. I basked in the glory of consistent schedules, gazed dreamily at the free HD streams, and swooned at the idea of two playoffs per season due to the midseason break. Basically I acted like a 21 year old man who had just received a collector’s edition “My Little Pony” set. Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.
But in reality, no one gave me any MLP merchandise, and so I’m still cranky. Riot made some awesome decisions – no one will argue that. But is the LCS perfect? Not even close. Let’s look at 5 mistakes that Riot made with Season 3, and the ways each error will make you weep a thousand angry tears.
1. It isn’t really international
One of the big things most fans hoped for with the LCS is that it would normalize League of Legends eSports. In the past, you had different leagues, tournaments, and events happening all over the place. The system was so complex only Sherlock Holmes could make sense of it. There were MLG/IEM/IPL events, Korean leagues (i.e. OGN), and Garena Leagues, not to mention events hosted by gaming organizations themselves. If you were really dedicated you could make sense of most events that took place under the “Challenger Circuit” umbrella. But for other events, it was pretty much just like flipping a coin. Sometimes it might make sense, sometimes it might not.
The Season 3 LCS was Riot’s chance to finally unify the entire scene into proper regional leagues. And they did…sort of. NA and EU teams are finally joined into leagues that follow a consistent schedule. There is even an all-star cross-region match planned. But what about Korea? China? Taiwan? And all of the rest of the AS region? Riot has indicated that AS players will be included in the All-Star events that take place midseason, but that’s it. Outside of midseason those players don’t exist.
If the quality of AS teams was drastically inferior, or maybe if none of them had cool pillows like Dyrus, I might understand Riot not making them a priority. But time after time organizations like TPA and Azubu have set the trends in professional play. Not to mention that Koreans practically invented eSports. Leaving the region to its own devices hurts the legitimacy of the LCS. It also makes it less likely for NA and EU fans to follow the AS scene as it requires more effort to track by comparison. Riot has let the AS leagues do their own thing for quite some time, and the scene has thrived. But now it’s time to re-integrate for the sake of the fans.
2. The former industry players get benched
Once the LCS commences, it’s going to become the dominant LoL eSport event in both the NA and EU. That’s pretty much a 100% guarantee considering Riot has the best pro teams on contracts, as well as the majority of the prize money. I’ll even put a bottle of whiskey on the line. So, what happens to the MLG’s and IPL’s of the world? I guess it’s time to eat some stale bread instead of all the caviar.
While Riot is throwing them a bone by hosting a few LCS matches at the various MLG/IPL etc. events, it’s clear that these guys are going to be bit players. The Challenger Series lives on, but it is an amateur competition – teams will be competing in the hope of being promoted upwards to the LCS. That means fewer fans will have the time to watch Challenger matches, and more importantly that fewer advertisers will be interested in spending their dollars on Challenger events. I’m no Time Lord, but that doesn’t sound like something with a bright future to me. If I was running a LoL event for MLG etc., I would be looking at alternative games to swap in – perhaps Garbage Truck Simulator 2011. Yeah. That sounds good.
3. It stifles innovation
One of the great things about professional team sports is that even if you aren’t Kobe Bryant or Lionel Messi, if you have above-average talent and a strong work ethic you can find somewhere to play. Substitutes, practice squads and reserve squads are all over the place. These “backups” are ideal training grounds for younger players, as well as candidates for the pro teams to practice against and with. Unfortunately Riot missed this memo, and has banned pro organizations in the NA and EU from sponsoring these reserve-type squads.
In reality, these B squads represent a wide-ranging concept, from the famous “La Masia” soccer academy in Barcelona to the “B” squads around the world. The point is, a symbiotic relationship is created between proven professionals and upcoming stars. Pros need someone to practice against who won’t use that knowledge against them in a real match, and young players need real experience playing at the professional level. If LoL eSports were a game of Jenga, Riot would be pulling all the chinks out of the bottom and still expecting the top to float. All of the amateur players of today are moving upward to become the pros of tomorrow. Let’s help them get there.
4. It ignores the uninitiated audience
When I first heard that the LCS was offering free HD streams, I rejoiced. My future self could relax on the couch with a beer safely in hand, enjoying the fruits of someone else’s backbreaking labor. Welcome to America. But then I realized something (no, not pity for the laborer). If Riot is focusing its efforts on perfecting HD streaming, how exactly does it plan on reaching new audiences? How is my neighbor going to stumble on a link to the HD stream of an LCS playoff match? We’re trying to grow eSports here, not hide ourselves in basements. We need the LCS to be broadcast on cable television. We need random folks to find matches while they are cable surfing on a Friday night. We need commercial advertisers to take eSports seriously enough to invest money and resources. That’s how a sport grows commercially in the modern era.
Like it or not, television is the consumption method of choice for the mainstream. HD streams will be amazing, and probably convince more fans of League of Legends that eSports are worth watching. But it’s time for eSports to look outside the pre-existing target audience. Let’s utilize TV to our advantage.
5. NA Fans can’t attend the matches live
OK this one is really dependent on personal preference, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Watching matches from home is cool. But why can’t I see it live? Live sporting events have been awesome since way before the Romans built the Colosseum, which was, oh, 2,000 years ago. Someone explain to me why Riot is spitting in the face of thousands of years of spectator sport knowledge. If I’m sitting in my living room naked holding a sign that says “Eat that ‘Boy top lane GG!!” while wearing a Teemo hat, I have serious issues. If I do that at a pro sporting event, I’m just another guy in the crowd. I want to be naked in your crowds Riot. LET ME BE THERE!
Just to clarify, the EU Stadium in Cologne will support at least small crowds. Only NA folks are left out in the cold on this issue.
Put down your pitchforks (temporarily)
I know this comes off as harsh towards Riot. The fact is I think the Season 3 LCS is incredibly awesome, and is going to take eSports above and beyond what most NA and EU fans expect. But at the same time, I don’t think any company is above constructive criticism. I don’t just want Riot to succeed with LoL, I want eSports to become mainstream. When Riot fixes some of the mistakes listed above, we will be one step closer to that goal. And I think that honestly, that is what Riot wants too. Here’s hoping that we get there together.