On January 22, the winter season of the Turkish Championship League kicked off its tenth year. And you probably didn’t hear about that.
A region that once acted as a critical proving ground for Turkish and European talent looking to break into the LEC has become an unfortunate afterthought. While producing talent that has appeared in major western regions, it doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
It is pretty disappointing. The region was a home for some incredible household names. Rasmus “caPs” Winther called the region home in 2016, getting some valuable stage time with Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir and Dark Passage.
The list of names that appeared in the 2018 summer split quietly stands as one of the more stacked rosters for a minor/wild card region. The team that is always mentioned is the Royal Bandits line-up: Sergen “Broken Blade” Çelik, Can “Closer” Çelik, Felix “Abbedagge” Braun, Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek, Mustafa Kemal “Dumbledoge” Gökseloğlu and coach Ilias “Enatron” Theodorou. But, there were also appearances from Aljoša “Milica” Kovandžić, Volkan “Hades” Dinçer, Marek “Humanoid” Brázda, Fatih “Luger” Güven, İrfan “Armut” Tükek, Nihat “Innaxe” Aliev, Lee “GBM” Chang-seok, Francisco José “Xico” Cruz Antunes, Berk “Mojito” Kocaman and Felix “MagiFelix” Boström.
In that same year, it would be the first year of European Masters. A semi-annual tournament meant to showcase talent from the European regional leagues. It would immediately be taken seriously as Origen would present a line-up featuring household names. If Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, Konstantinos-Napoleon “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou and Choi “inSec” In-seok were playing it in, it had to have some level of importance. Teams would fight for the $40,000 first-place prize and more importantly, it was entertaining. It was more competitive League of Legends featuring up-and-coming names both on the rift and on the broadcast.
It was the perfect complement to a franchised major league in Europe. While organizations may not be able to enter the majors, they could invest into the ERLs. EU Masters would build the hype around teams coming from every minor region. For example, Karmine Corp is shooting to stardom through the Ligue Française de League of Legends.
The TCL would not be included for the EU Masters circuit. While still able to qualify for MSI and Worlds — something ERLs do not offer — it was this huge hit for the region. Same for the League of Legends Continental League.
While Turkish talent still emerge from the region (and Koreans are still imported into the region), the amount of players with EU residency is shrinking. To start the season, there are only three players under this umbrella. In 2018 summer, there were fourteen players. It has led to more focus being on some of the excellent native Turkish talent. However, LCS and LEC teams are picking out top prospects — most of which have thrived in the major leagues. Still, names are being produced — like current Evil Geniuses Academy marksman Muhammed Hasan “Kaori” Şentürk. The problem is that they aren’t staying home.
It is still an important region. It is what makes it somewhat difficult to see the region getting phased out to a degree in terms of importance. Because of the geographic layout, players do still have access to both EUNE and EUW ladders — which means valuable individual practice, limiting the chance of the region dying as a whole.
It could also be argued that this is just the brutal reality of business. The TCL was the beneficiary of the ERLs not being taken seriously for five years. This is a trade-off of EU Masters, resulting in Riot EU’s health going up and Riot Turkey taking a hit. And it has also helped establish new organizations as legitimate business partners for the LEC.
Both the TCL and the lesser followed LCL are struggling to define their purpose for existence. The interest in the leagues as a whole is still there — with the TCL averaging roughly 10,000 concurrent viewers on their Twitch broadcast. But it does not feel like enough. While players have had long careers in the region, it continues to feel as if it is a stepping stone to the major regions. And right now, Riot isn’t doing a lot to incentivize the growth of the region. Unless the region magically becomes a powerhouse, it truly does feel as if the region will bleed out.
Hoping for the best is all you can do at this point. The political nature and business of leagues has created broken the minor regions. The OCE shutting down was just phase one. Monitoring the health of wildcard regions continues to be a volatile ask. And if Riot isn’t able to step in soon, it could have a dramatic impact on the player base.
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