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League of Legends

Betting on Yourself: The Fascinating Development in Player Decision Making in Europe

LEC 2021 Summer Split Start Date

Recently, Tim “Nemesis” Lipovšek gave his thoughts about returning to professional play. After being released from Fnatic, the Slovenian mid laner has primarily been focusing on content creation. Surprisingly, he said that he would only return if it was with a top-tier organization.

It’s worked out fairly well for him, seeing a 200% increase in his average concurrent viewership numbers in 2021. The interest in his potential return to the competitive League of Legends stage has increased as well, as fans are witnessing a different version of the player.

While some of it may be a result of Fnatic’s failures this split, his replacement and his relationship with popular League of Legends personality and analyst Nick “LS” De Cesare, it has been fascinating to watch this development.

For years, it was seen that if a player wasn’t competing in the major leagues, there weren’t as good – their value is lesser than that of someone who was in the majors.

That has changed.

The Rise of the ERL

European Regional Leagues have been around for some time but with the introduction of European Masters, their importance has risen. Fans across the globe can watch the “next big things” clash against one another. In seven splits, fans have seen seven different winners, with this split’s winner taking home a grand prize of €40,000. Not only has it become a new way for young talent to prove themselves, its become somewhat of a lucrative business opportunity. Viewership of the event continues to improve, with this year’s finals peaking at 377,000 viewership — a 261% improvement from 2020 Summer. While this can be connected to Karmine Corp, a popular french organization being in the finals and winning the event, the competition aspect and general interest also played a significant portion.

The La Ligue Française has also continued to see interest in their league increase. The French national league continues to find success with their competition as well as providing an entertaining broadcast. Teams are investing quite a bit into the region and it is paying dividends. Karmine Corp are rumored to have sold their prized prospect Adam “Adam” Maanane for €240,000.

Joining an ERL region isn’t seen as a fall from grace anymore. Instead, it is seen as a place to prove to oneself that they are still one of the best in Europe. It helped reshape the career of players like Adam “LIDER” Ilyasov but has also confirmed that other careers may be done.

Simply Waiting

And now there is the approach to simply just waiting — like Juš “Crownshot” Marušič. After watching his offers fall through, he decided against the ERL path and instead elected to bet on himself. Without a contract tying him down, he would follow the Nemesis path and turn on his stream. Due to his relationship to popular personalities in the streaming space, along with his own brand, he found success. He was averaging roughly 1,200 concurrent viewers a stream. He would also announce that he was on his way to Korea to continue practicing.

Team Vitality would make a surprising change in their marksman position and bring in the veteran. The season wouldn’t be a glamourous return story. Vitality still experienced struggles and Crownshot would somewhat underperform in matches. But, again, the decision worked out for him.

Even though he joined a perceived struggling organization, the blame wouldn’t necessarily fall onto his shoulders for their failures. He would be playing with house money given the situation and if they performed better, it was to his credit. If they did not see significant improvement, something is wrong with the coaching staff.

He played his cards well.

Needing Organizations to Accept Blame 

Recently, organizations have been announcing surprising changes with some of the best prospects coming out of the ERLs. Team Vitality is expected to move on from Mathias “Szygenda” Jensen after one split and Aljoša “Milica” Kovandžić. Excel Esports are also expected to move on from Paweł “Czekolad” Szczepanik after one split.

While the argument could be made that the team is looking to compete immediately — as Team Vitality is expected to bring in “better” talent for a potential spot at Worlds, it still doesn’t sit well. Especially with Spring runner-ups Rogue primarily featuring developed talent, watching players potentially better be thrown to the side is frustrating. Players are not given the resources and the time needed to truly show their stuff. Organizations having incredibly short attention spans not only damages the state of their company but also has damaged the trajectories of their talent.

More importantly, the people making these moves still stay with the team afterwards. Team Vitality is expected to announce a new coaching staff however their general manager remains. Excel’s head coach, Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool has been with the lineup since November of 2019 and hasn’t found the right formula despite some aggressive offseasons. A player can sometimes not be the player teams expected. Other times, the coach isn’t getting the best out of them.

One of the biggest questions owners of organizations have to face is knowing when to move on versus when to continue to trial. Some organizations are able to figure things out right away while other organizations truly do need time to tell. And right now, it does not feel as if some organizations are correctly answering the question and players are paying the price for this.

Understanding Your Value in the Market

Until an esports organization is able to confirm their ability to development, mold and utilize talent to the same level as the rare few, players should take advantage of the opportunities available to them and search for a better fit. This has been a refreshing viewpoint from players — even if only a limited amount of players may ever see the true reward on this risk.

Players like LIDER, Lucas “Saken” Fayard, Andrei “Orome” Popa and Crownshot have re-shaped their careers by taking advantage of the opportunities around them. It’s also helping create the much-needed esports market correction from the introduction of franchising.

While the clear end goal is to compete in the LEC and represent the region at worlds, there’s also the understanding of what players need to do to protect their own bag. What we have seen in recent history from players has been a great step forward and should be recognized as such. Because not only is it better for the player, it can improve the health of the region.

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