Whenever fans or talent scouts look at how they can improve their team’s roster between seasons, the dreaded import rule rears its ugly head. The import rule states that a team can possess no more than two players from outside its home region. This rule has been both a necessity and a troublesome thorn.
The import rule has been a key governing rule for League of Legends. It allows teams to grow stronger through foreign talent, while remaining reliant on domestic talent pools. With the recent developments of franchising and the wealth of talent displayed at 2018’s Mid-Season Invitational, is it time to reconsider Riot’s approach to imported talent?
Stating the obvious
Before getting into the nitty-gritty about why it may be time for the rule to go away, we have to acknowledge the obvious points of why it is active in the first place.
The limit to the number of foreign players on a team certainly seems like a necessity considering the alternative. Any team with the necessary funds would be able to immediately stack a roster featuring some of the best talent money can buy. Regions like North America, Europe, and China would quickly become filled with foreign talent. The competition in these regions would shift from the talent of that region to the capital that region possesses.
With the import rule, teams must rely on their own region’s domestic talent pool. Domestic talent can more easily flourish and shine under the two-import system. The import rule also preserves a sense of competitive parity, as the talent competing in a region will be more or less representative of the region’s overall talent.
Consider the following
The import rule has always been deemed a necessity, especially in the wild west of the early competitive League of Legends. Those days are now long over and the era of franchising has begun. Franchising brings an entirely new approach to how teams build and manage their rosters. In this new day and age, shouldn’t the rules that govern also change? Is it finally time to say goodbye to the import rule?
The franchising model adds much-needed stability and longevity to the participating organizations within the LCS by eliminating the risk of relegation. The various teams involved are now allowed to view their development beyond the scope of one or two splits. Because of this, more focus can be put on the long-term cohesion and synergy of talents within a team instead of individual players. With organizations being more concerned with the overall consistency rather than the immediate payoff of a roster, it seems silly to limit the talent a team can sign as long as all the teams are able to compete at an equal level.
While the level of parity between organizations would certainly come into question, one could argue that this is already an issue when looking at the NA LCS’ NBA involvement. Teams that draw massive investment from the deep pockets of the NBA will have a more long-term financial advantage over the other teams that do not. If this is the case, the parity within a franchised league like the NA LCS is already off-set and won’t change with the addition of more non-domestic talent.
On the subject of parity, the competition at the international stage could also be leveled. Large and small regions alike have always struggled to keep up with the juggernaut that is Korean esports. With an open import policy, regions such as NA and EU would potentially be able to win an international event while smaller regions would have an even greater chance at competing on a level equal to their peers.
For those concerned about the fate of domestic talent, the Academy system would function just as it should. Teams would all field domestic rosters in a second-tier scene. If the domestic talent is worthy enough, they should easily be able to move towards the first-tier LCS stage.
Watching the Overwatchmen
If you wanted to see an esports franchise without any import barriers, look no further than the Overwatch League. The Overwatch League, which started its inaugural season in January 2018, took an interesting approach to their franchise by allowing teams to have as much non-domestic talent as they would like. Some teams opted for full Korean rosters (London, New York, Seoul), while others decided to mix Korean, European, and North American talent.
Several spectators expected the teams with the highest concentration of Korean talent to run the Overwatch League. Surprisingly, this was not the case. Instead of awesome mechanical firepower, it became clear that coaching, team synergy, and adaptability were the factors to determine the strength of an Overwatch League team.
The Philadelphia Fusion are a perfect example of this principle. While their team does feature a plethora of Korean talent, the rest of their roster is packed with international superstars from Israel, various European countries, and Russia. Through strong coaching and team synergies, the Fusion have become a force to be reckoned with within the Overwatch League.
Contrasting this point, we look at the London Spitfire and Seoul Dynasty. London and Seoul’s starting rosters for the season featured a variable who’s who of world-class Korean talent. Though many placed London and Seoul as favorites to win the season championship due to their overwhelming talent, it may no longer be the case due to their recent performance struggles and internal issues. The Spitfire and the Dynasty have experienced numerous struggles on stage. While other teams have been improving since Stage 1, London and Seoul have not made much progress towards bettering their play.
If Riot were to apply the Overwatch League’s approach to their LCS franchises, teams would be able to elevate themselves to new heights thanks to the access of a global talent pool. Similarly to Overwatch League, the emphasis would shift from raw mechanical talent to superior coaching and team synergy. As demonstrated at this year’s Mid-Season Invitational, there is a wealth of extremely talented players outside of Korea. If Riot were to lift the restrictions on imports, fans would be able to see only the best of the best participate on a stage deserving of such talent.
Some may not agree with the sentiment that Riot should do away with the import rule. The rule forces teams to focus more on the development and growth of their own region’s talent instead of relying on the talent of another region. However, League of Legends and esports are no longer new frontiers. Over the years, the landscape has changed and it may be time for the LCS to make changes as well.
Featured Image courtesy of Riot Games. Images courtesy of LoL Esports Flickr and Blizzard Entertainment