Along with the franchising of the North American LCS, Riot is introducing an Academy League for the 2018 season. This league is replacing the North American Challenger Series of previous years. Each LCS organization is required to support an Academy roster alongside their primary team, which will compete in the “minor league.”
While this move is not a huge change for North American League of Legends, Riot has stated slightly different goals for this Academy League compared to the Challenger Series:
“At its core, Academy League is a service for organizations to develop in-house talent–unlike its high-stakes predecessor, the Challenger Series, whose focus was to promote new teams to the NA LCS.”
The Academy League is not necessarily designed to be competitive in the same way Challenger Series was. It is a space for organizations to focus on bringing in players and coaches to season them into LCS talents.
STRUCTURE and RULES
The Academy League will run parallel to the NA LCS. For every Saturday and Sunday LCS match-up there will be a Thursday or Friday Academy match. For example, since TSM and Team Liquid’s LCS teams face off in week one, their Academy teams also face off in week one. Academy League is a best-of-one double round robin, just like the LCS. Riot will broadcast Friday’s Academy series, but Thursday’s will only be available as VODs. The entire schedule is published on their website.
In order to keep the Academy League true to its goals, Riot has implemented a few roster restrictions. Every organization has to lock in their active roster each Wednesday, then set starters by 1:00pm for Academy, and 12:00pm for LCS, each game day. Riot kept roster changes relatively flexible, because they “felt it would be detrimental for player development if it was difficult for players to move between the starting Academy and LCS rosters.”
In addition, Academy teams have veteran and import player limits. For the 2018 Spring Split, Academy teams can only start up to three veterans and one non-resident. Riot was torn between expanding North America’s rising stars and continuing to support established talents through the chaos of the franchising off-season. Moving forward, Academy teams will be restricted to two veterans.
They define a veteran as “if the player has started over 50% of eligible regular season games over the course of the last two splits of professional, Worlds-eligible League of Legends competition (i.e. NA LCS, EU LCS, etc).” Riot believes veterans bring several benefits to Academy teams. They allow LCS organizations to field a couple of solid substitutes for their bench. Veterans on Academy teams can also help influence young players in and out of the game. Import players can use the Academy to “get acclimated to NA esports, as well as learn English and deal with the transition of living in a new country.”
Academy Team Rosters (previous team-recent achievement)
OpTic Academy (OPTA)
Dhokla – Sin Gaming – 4th place 2017 Oceanic Pro League Summer
Kadir – ÇİLEKLER – 8th place 2017 Turkish Championship League Summer
Palafox – Team Ocean – 1st place 2017 NA Scouting Grounds
Andy – Zenith eSports – 2nd place 2016 Carbon Winter Invitational
Winter – Team Mountain – 3rd place 2017 NA Scouting Grounds
OpTic’s roster-building strategy did not carry over as much from their LCS roster. While Dhokla most recently competed in Australia, he is North American, along with Palafox, Andy and Winter. Kadir, from the Netherlands, is the only technical non-resident.
This Academy squad seems to truly be about developing young talent, as these players have hardly anything on their resume coming into 2018. Hopefully the OpTic LCS team gels better than predicted, because none of these players appear ready to take the main stage just yet.
TL Academy (TLA)
RepiV – NA Solo Queue – Challenger
Hard – Echo Fox – 10th place 2016 NA LCS Summer
Mickey – Team Liquid – 9th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Shoryu – NA Solo Queue – Challenger
Joey – CLG sub- 3rd place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Liquid’s Academy team centers around Korean mid laner Mickey, who TL brought on towards the end of Summer Split. Hard has some LCS experience as a starter and substitute, while Joey was a substitute for CLG under Aphromoo. He did get to start a couple of times during the Spring Split.
RepiV (previously Viper) and Shoryu are essentially solo queue talents, although RepiV was Liquid’s top lane substitute for most of last year. This Academy roster provides Mickey, Hard and Joey as substitutes if Xmithie, Pobelter or Olleh do not pan out. However, it is mostly a testing ground for RepiV and Shoryu.
FlyQuest Academy (FQA)
Ngo – University of Toronto – 2nd place 2017 uLoL Collegiate Series
Shrimp – Team Dignitas – 4th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Keane – Team Dignitas – 4th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Erry – University of Toronto – 2nd place 2017 uLoL Collegiate Series
JayJ – University of Toronto – 2nd place 2017 uLoL Collegiate Series
FlyQuest is the only Academy roster to bring on collegiate talent for Spring Split. Ngo (aka iMysterious or Gaow Gaiy), Erry and JayJ played together on the University of Toronto uLoL team last year. The team took second place in North America, but this will be their first test in the minor league.
Keane and Shrimp join FQA from a disbanded Team Dignitas, which took fourth place in the LCS last summer. They are, arguably, the strongest duo out of any Academy line-up. Their mid-jungle synergy should provide FlyQuest with a sturdy anchor to develop the Toronto trio.
TSM Academy (TSMA)
Brandini – Echo Fox – 8th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Grig – Echo Fox sub- 8th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Ablazeolive – Team Mountain – 3rd place 2017 NA Scouting Grounds
MrRalleZ – TSM sub – 1st place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Shady – Phoenix1 sub – 10th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
TSM’s Academy roster is not nearly as threatening as their LCS line-up. MrRalleZ carries over from last year as a tenured substitute AD Carry. Playing under Zven should expand the veteran’s repertoire even further, after training with Doublelift last year.
Brandini, Grig and Shady have each gotten a small share of LCS experience, but mostly acted as substitutes for their respective teams. Ablazeolive has played in the Challenger Series, but is mostly known as a versatile solo queue mid laner. These individuals should be able to go toe-to-toe with most in the Academy League, but synergy may take time to develop.
CLG Academy (CLGA)
Fallenbandit – CLG Academy – 5th place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Omargod – CLG – 3rd place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Tuesday – CLG Academy – 5th place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Zag – CLG Academy – 5th place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Fill – CLG Academy – 5th place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
CLG is the only team that already had a reasonable sister team playing in the Challenger Series. They simply carried over their entire roster from Summer Split and re-added Omargod.
It is hard to say whether this line-up’s synergy will overcome the raw talent of some of these other rosters. Omargod is the closest to a veteran on the team, due to his LCS experience last split. Maybe he will be the leader to elevate the rest of CLGA into a threat.
100 Academy (100A)
Kaizen – Team Ocean – 1st place 2017 NA Scouting Grounds
Levi – GIGABYTE Marines – 1st place 2017 Garena Premier League Summer
Linsanity – Team Cloud – 4th place 2017 NA Scouting Grounds
Rikara – Gold Coin United – 1st place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Whyin – Gold Coin United sub – 1st place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
100 Thieves put together a creative Academy roster for 2018. Everyone will focus on Levi, the aggressive GPL superstar jungler, but there is more to 100A. Rikara and Whyin played together last summer on Gold Coin United. Linsanity has been a touted solo queue mid laner for years now.
Most importantly, Levi and Linsanity could be 100 Thieves’ answer to Meteos and Ryu’s retirement. With a split or two of experience together, Levi and Linsanity could fill Meteos and Ryu’s roles without needing to change out Ssumday, Cody Sun or Aphromoo.
GGS Academy (GGA)
Jenkins – NA Solo Queue – Challenger
Potluck – eUnited sub – 2nd place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Bobqin – eUnited sub – 2nd place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Jurassiq – NA Solo Queue – Challenger
Xpecial – Phoenix1 – 10th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Golden Guardians used the same mentality to construct their Academy team as their LCS team. Xpecial acts as the long-term veteran shot-caller who will develop four young North American talents. Hai assumes that role on GG’s main line-up.
Jenkins, Potluck, Bobqin and Jurassiq are relatively unknown quantities. No one can really comment on how effective they may be. However, if Xpecial proves to be better than Matt, then he just may get the starting spot. It also might not be out of the question for Jenkins or Jurassiq to see some starts, depending on Lourlo and Deftly’s performances.
C9 Academy (C9A)
League – Team Cloud – 4th place 2017 NA Scouting Grounds
Wiggily – Tempo Storm – 3rd/4th place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Goldenglue – Team Liquid – 9th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Keith – Echo Fox – 8th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Zeyzal – eUnited – 2nd place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Fans should be pleased with Cloud9’s Academy off-season, despite questionable LCS pick-ups. Goldenglue and Keith have previously had starting LCS roles, even if they were weak points for those teams. Wiggily and Zeyzal showed promise in last year’s Challenger Series.
League is the most questionable addition, but C9 worked with him at Scouting Grounds and obviously see something in him worth developing. As long as these personalities mix, C9 Academy should be fairly competitive. All of these players need a bit of development before promoting into the LCS.
EF Academy (FOXA)
Allorim – Phoenix1 sub – 10th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
TheOddOrange – Team Gates – 6th place 2017 NA Challenger Spring
Damonte – Echo Fox sub – 8th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Lost – Legacy Esports – 3rd place 2017 Oceanic Pro League Summer
Papa Chau – eUnited sub – 2nd place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Echo Fox brings together five players with limited professional experience. Allorim and Damonte were substitutes for LCS teams, while Papa Chau subbed for eUnited. TheOddOrange has played in the NA Challenger Series, and Lost started in the OPL.
EF Academy is probably the weakest-looking out of the bunch. None of these players have much prior history or synergy together. Damonte previously played for Echo Fox, but he did not see many starting opportunities. Even parts of last year’s Delta Fox/Stream Dream Team might have been valuable for developing raw talent.
Clutch Academy (CGA)
Maxtrobo – Tempo Storm sub – 3rd/4th place 2017 NA Challenger Summer
Moon – FlyQuest – 7th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Sun – NA Solo Queue – Challenger
Piglet – Team Liquid – 9th place 2017 NA LCS Summer
Vulcan – Team Ocean – 1st place 2017 NA Scouting Grounds
Piglet returns to the minor league as part of Clutch Gaming Academy. He is joined by Moon and three rookies. Vulcan had a decent showcase at Scouting Grounds, and Maxtrobo and Sun have consistently maintained high Challenger solo queue rankings.
Clutch Gaming is smart to bring on Moon and Piglet as substitutes for LiRa and Apollo. These two duos would be interchangeable while still starting two or fewer non-residents. LiRa and Apollo were more consistent in Summer Split, but Moon and Piglet showed high ceilings in Spring Split. Hopefully, they are also able to lead this squad in the Academy League.
Expectations for 2018
Based on the rosters that these organizations have fielded, the 2018 Academy League should be much better for developing new North American players. Less than 10 percent of these players are imports. Close to 30 percent of these players have started in a major competitive league (LCS, LCK, etc.). Many of these players will have their professional debut in the Academy League, and others will finally get a chance to have a starting position in the minor league.
There are still a few players, such as Levi, Xpecial, Piglet and Keane, who have opportunities to rotate into the NA LCS this year. If they are able to prove themselves as leaders, and the rosters can conform to import limits, then they could be promoted. For now, though, they will need to focus on growth and development.
Academy League may not be as competitive as the Challenger Series was previously. It may be more of a training ground for players and coaches to condition and mature. Teams are going to have difficulty synergizing immediately. Some players may find they are unable to work well in a team environment. Nonetheless, 2018 will be full of growth, and the Academy League will be a huge part in continuing that growth for years to come.
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