Seemingly every year, the LCS community gets into a debate about importing players from other regions. North America’s League of Legends scene has always pulled talent from around the world, and the Import Rule has evolved over time. Several factors impact the discussion—domestic talent and talent development, salaries and buyouts, and league rules and regulations. How should the value of LCS imports be measured?
Different people will point to different metrics, but pro players’ value to the LCS comes down to three key factors: success, popularity and tenure. Players that win obviously have high value, and elevate the players around them. Popular players also bring value to team branding and their popularity spills over into the popularity of the LCS brand as a whole. Finally, players that can stick around over the years, especially on the same team, bring qualitative value to the table. Brands, rivalries, narratives, etc. take time to build, and players that can stand the test of time generally add to those elements in ways short-term players do not.
How are these factors measured, and where do current import players fall within the paradigm? Success is easy to measure. Assign a value to which place they finish and add them up. Tenure is also easy. Just add up the splits or years played in the LCS. Popularity is a bit more nebulous, but as long as it’s consistent and measurable, then it can help distribute the players.
For this ranking, success was measured with the lowest number being best. First place earns one point, second place two points, etc. If the player moved to Academy, then winning Academy League counted as seven points, second place eight points, etc. There were no penalties for being teamless, as tenure was another metric. Non-LCS events were not included, as this study is specifically about LCS imports’ value within the LCS. Tenure was measured in years, with one split equal to half a year.
Popularity was measured in Twitter followers. There are many other platforms and ways to measure popularity, but Twitter is a pretty standard North American social media platform regularly used in esports. The assumption is that the most popular players will have higher Twitter followers. All of these measurements were taken during the franchise era (2018 to present), because the roster requirements regarding non-residents has essentially remained the same. The teams participating in the LCS have also essentially remained the same.
Once all LCS imports were measured for each metric, the numbers were averaged and standard deviations were calculated. Using these statistics, the players were stratified into tiers. Those tiers were assigned a value, then those values were averaged, culminating in an overall value grade. Within each grade, players with exceptional contributions that fell outside of these metrics were taken into consideration for their final rank. Here is how they fell.
Bjergsen stands above the pack as the only S+ tier player, in terms of value to the LCS. The man is Z-tier with 1.3 million Twitter followers (three times second place, 11 times the mean), has been in the LCS the entire franchise era and averages third-fourth place over that time. He is a no-brainer as the face of the league, despite being a non-resident when he first joined.
Jensen has had a successful career in the LCS. He has gained a following, won titles and been in several finals. The Bjergsen-Jensen rivalry makes sense when you factor in their tenure and fandom. Bjergsen is still a tier above in terms of popularity, but Jensen has actually had higher levels of success in the franchise era.
Perkz is a special case, because he only played one year in North America, which is considered D-tier. However, his huge Twitter following and success while here boosts him to S-tier in terms of value to the LCS. There is a reason he was so hyped by the broadcast when he transferred to Cloud9.
Zven, Huni and Svenskeren make up the rest of the S-tier imports. They all maintain over 150,000 Twitter followers and have found consistent success here. All three have played in North America all four years since franchising. They are mainstays in the LCS for a reason.
Impact, Ssumday, and PowerofEvil make up most of A-tier as solid contributors. They have all been in the LCS for the past four years, but have slightly less success and popularity than the S-tier players. If they can string together a few more title runs and meme more on Twitter, then they can easily break into S-tier in the near future.
CoreJJ is A-tier in terms of holistic value quantified by these metrics, because he had less than 100,000 followers on Twitter (somehow) and missed the first year of franchising in North America. The man has averaged third place over three years, which is very good. He obviously has value outside of this exploration, because off the Rift he is involved in the Player Association and hosts in-houses in the offseason. Not to mention his numerous All-Pro awards. In the next couple of years, CoreJJ will easily climb this list and become S-tier.
Froggen stands out, because he has been teamless the last couple of years and did not find much success his last two years in the LCS. However, because he played for so long previously and currently holds the third-largest Twitter-following on this list, Froggen brought serious value to the league and the numbers bear that out.
B-tier sounds worse than it is. In this study, C-tier is considered average, so B-tier players are still above average. None of these players have been in the LCS all of the past four years. Some have higher popularity ratings with less success; others have more success and fewer fans.
Olleh is another surprising name this high on the list. He’s actually been involved in three years of the franchise era of LCS, averaging higher than fourth place. His Twitter followers are low, but his rejoining the league makes a lot more sense after viewing his numbers across all three categories. Olleh has brought more value than many probably remember.
Abbedagge is first on this list in terms of success, seeing as he won the single split he played. His Twitter following is very low (~35,000) and his tenure is the lowest of the entire list. He has potential to climb over the years, as he gains more popularity and builds narratives in North America.
20. BROKEN BLADE
Despite having high success in the LCS, Alphari only played for one year and actually has a C-tier Twitter following. With more time to gain a fandom in North America, Alphari could have become an asset to the league. Unfortunately, one year won’t get him much higher than average in terms of overall value.
As an old-timer in League of Legends scene, sOAZ brings a massive following on Twitter. Otherwise, his one-year tenure and ninth place average finish would put him way lower on this list. Popularity and name value is a powerful thing.
Fenix is a fun player to view in hindsight. He actually made it three years into the franchise era, averaging seventh place roughly, and he only has 25,000 Twitter followers. Fenix hasn’t sent a tweet since September 2020, despite being one of the LCS’ OG imports.
Kobbe and Swordart had similar arcs in the LCS. Both played on TSM–Kobbe one split, Swordart two. Neither gained much of a Twitter presence, but both had B-tier success while here. Kobbe’s following puts him higher on the list and a tier above Swordart by these metrics.
Lira, Crown and Ruin had average success and had more than one year in North America. However, they have absolutely awful Twitter followers to show for it. Otherwise, they might be C-tier.
Piglet is surprisingly D-tier by these metrics. He made it three splits into the franchise era, but moving to Academy and missing playoffs really damaged his success. What an unfortunate end to a long-standing import’s career. In this exploration, Piglet brought value barely above Eika, Newbie and Fly to the LCS post-franchising.
This study is not meant to be a definitive ranking of players’ talent. It is simply one methodology attempting to quantify some aspects of LCS imports’ overall value to the league. Everything was calculated prior to the start of Lock In 2022, so Twitter followers may have changed in the last few weeks.
Twitter followers are just one measure of popularity. Other relevant measures would include other social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.), video and streaming platforms (Twitch, Youtube, etc.), and broadcast viewership. Using the current number of followers is also biased towards current players, as fans will more likely unfollow once the player retires or leaves North America.
Tenure has a minimum (one split) and maximum (four years). Success has, in essence, a minimum (tenth place) and maximum (first place), although, it does take somewhat arbitrary measures to calculate Academy League success. Popularity could be weighted differently in the future, as player grades in this study tended to correlate more with popularity than success or tenure, due to the wide distribution of Twitter followers (0-1.3 million).
This study stayed within the scope of the franchise era for reasons laid out in the introduction. Players who played several years prior to franchising do not have their full career represented in this data, which could positively or negatively impact their grades. MVP and All-Pro awards were also not calculated into the players’ grades, because successful players tend to win those awards anyway.
Ryoma and FBI were treated as imports for this study, because they were non-residents when they first started in the LCS. Since then, the ruleset has changed to grant OCE players residency.
Similarly, Bjergsen, Reignover, Mithy and Ryu have their coaching years and placings included in this data. Since the rules surrounding non-residents do not carry over into coaching, they are most likely positively skewed compared to players who have not coached in North America. On the other hand, their coaching contributions do bring additional value to the LCS that non-coach imports do not contribute.
Images from LoL Esports
How would you rank the LCS imports from the past four years? Want to see the data?