Champions Queue is something that came to the North American region this year, giving an opportunity to the top players in the region to play on low ping with a prize pool as well.
At the 2022 Inven Global Esports Conference, we invited Kim "Olleh" Joo-sung, Samuel "Lourlo" Jackson, and Matthew "Cubby" Samuelson to chat with our very own Daniel “Quest” Kwon about the Champions Queue.
The session began with some icebreakers, as the panels talked about how Evil Geniuses did at MSI. Olleh said that Evil Geniuses did better than he expected while Lourlo said that he was impressed with the rookies of EG doing well, although he thought they could have done better. Cubby spoke about how NA can improve going into Worlds based on how Evil Geniuses did on the international stage.
From there, they started to talk about Champions Queue. Champions Queue is an exclusive server on NA, hosted on a private Discord server designed for the best NA players — pros, academy players, former pros, prospects, etc. on the west coast. There is a prize pool for the top players as well.
Quest: In the early days there was hype, but everyone just kind of stopped playing. Why is that?
Olleh: There are many reasons. Some people complained that the enemy team has five LCS [players], but we only have two LCS [players] and two random dudes. Some guys don't want to play with this guy, because he makes [expletive] shotcalls. Some just say 'I don't want to communicate, and just want to play solo queue.' Everyone has different reasons.
Quest: How is it flawed? What are some of the biggest complaints you have about Champion’s Queue?
Lourlo: Recently, the MMR system kind of changed. The prior MMR system was simply +10 for wins -5 for losses, so actual matchmaking was really hard. Sometimes it was four [Team Liquid] players vs four amateur players out of pure RNG. Now the top end of the champion queue, like CoreJJ, Dhokla, Zven, if you beat them with a lower team, you get rewarded and you won’t lose much. That’s the difference between now and the last split.
To me, the Champions Queue is a no-brainer. This MMR change is beneficial because there’s low ping, you’re playing against the best players, there’s a prize pool, etc. It’s a server made for competitors, so if you want to improve yourself to the best, you should participate.
Cubby: I still think the Champions Queue had a lot of wins. It’s the most successful in-house server we ever had in NA. I think that some of the issues that happened were compounding. One of the issues people ran into on the back half was that not enough people were queuing up.
I remember watching the first two weeks of games and game quality was way up compared to solo queue. There was a lot of excitement with the pros in Champions Queue. It ended up running out, and as the season approached the end, less people queued up and more issues arose. That’s kind of how we ended up where we’re at.
Lourlo: I also think with the MMR system, with the run for Worlds, more players are going to be a bit more competitive in summer than spring. Because Worlds is more important than MSI in general. I expect more people to queue up and really try hard in the summer. There still are a lot of players in Korea, the season hasn’t even started yet, but just last night, there were six games going on at once. Even with a bunch of technical difficulties, there were a lot of players showing up. I’m excited to see if it keeps going.
Quest: How do invitations to Champions Queue actually work?
Cubby: I know that for pro level, if you’re in the LCS, Academy, or a Latin American team, you automatically get an invite as a player. For the amateur side, 16 teams qualify for the main event. If you’re in one of those 16 teams, you get an invite. In terms of bonus invites, those are just one-offs. If you’re a coach that was an ex-pro, you get invited. There are more players that are looking to get an exception as well, such as imports who can’t play in the amateur tournaments, but are good enough.
Quest: Do you think there needs to be more of those one-off invites?
Lourlo: It’s tricky with something like that. It’s really hard to say because people who are trying to compete will go through academy or amateur for the most part. I think something like this is always quality over quantity. If you start adding a bunch of one-offs, it’s just going to turn into a solo queue type of vibe, and I think they should keep it as competitive as possible. But I think there could be a better system in the future that could find people who aren’t in amateur or academy that want to compete, but I don’t think that there are that many people. The top-end ladder players are probably already in it.
Quest: Olleh, I know you were very vocal about the “grind culture” because it isn't there in NA compared to Korea.
Olleh: Actually, I was talking to Danny when he came to Korea for MSI. He actually played a lot of games in solo queue and reached Challenger very early. He really loved playing in KR solo queue because people played well and made him want to play more games. Maybe it's just that people don't have as much passion to play in NA, or maybe the server just simply sucks. [Laughs]
In NA or EU, they just fly to Korea and spam games. They like to play in KR solo queue compared to their own servers. For me, it could be two things. One is maybe people are just lazy, but at the same time, it could be just that the server sucks. [Laughs] Maybe that's why people don't play.
Two years ago, I was always within rank 10 in NA solo queue, but I kind of lost my motivation to play, because I felt that I was learning nothing playing solo queue. It's kind of connected — you grind hard, but one day you feel that grinding doesn't help improve your performance, so you stop grinding. That infects other people.
If 50 LCS players all spam champions queue after their scrims, the quality of the game will be insane. three TL, three 100 Thieves, four Cloud9 all in one game — every game will be great. But now, there are only a few LCS players, some academy players — them combined is only like 10-12 players. I felt hopeless. I just hope something changes for summer.
Lourlo: It all comes down to participation. Olleh was saying, if more top-level players are playing, the quality will be better. I know some top-level players don't want to play because they don't want to show certain picks, certain ways of communication, things they're practicing. I understand that too. I don't think the top-level players need to be playing the full five or six hour blocks.
For someone like me, setting a good example and participating every now and then for a few games every night would go a long way to keep the server life sustainable. That goes for everyone in every bracket in LCS, Academy, and amateur. There are over 300 players in the Champions Queue server, and it doesn't have to be everyone participating at every single moment that it's open, but just keeping at least five-plus games every night is moreso doable than not.
Quest: All three of you want more players to play Champions Queue, right? Is the $400,000 incentive not enough? Because based on what I've observed of Champions Queue, people try hard in the beginning, but players that aren't near the top 10 just seem to give up.
Olleh: How about four million?
Cubby: Olleh knows he's a grinder.
Olleh: Then literally everyone will want to play.
Cubby: We've never seen a prize like this in solo queue before in the first place. I think the other prizes Riot used to give out were the jackets, the trophies for Challenger players, the backpacks…
Lourlo: I came to the scene at TL in 2016. It was before franchising. At least from my perspective, the salaries were never this crazy. To see something like this coming up and people not truly taking advantage of it is mind-blowing to me. If I were 17 again and was one of the younger players trying to come up, I would be willing to play any top player in any situation. To me, it's absolutely crazy. It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity. You're getting a chance to win a lot of money, you're also going to get a chance to play with all the LCS and academy players, all the top players in the region. Why wouldn't you play?
I think a lot of the amateur players are playing. It goes the same with Academy players. There's a good opportunity to improve and get more disciplined practice rather than just playing solo queue or doing 1v1s outside of scrims.
There are other forms of practice, other than just playing solo queue or Champions queue. When I was playing pro, I would play a ton of 1v1s against FakeGod or Darshan after scrims.
I know that there are different ways to practice, but for me, it feels that people are not taking this opportunity seriously enough. At least just giving it the time it deserves. There's a lot of money on the table, low ping, just so many opportunities they could get out of this. I just hope it keeps growing.
Cubby: I think there's a lot of incentive. Monetary, there's never been a prize like this, but also if you want this to be your job, what better way to practice than going into Champions Queue?
I've always advocated for drills and 1v1s, I think that's really good practice, but I think that Riot has put a lot of effort and support in the Champs Queue. The Champs Queue prize is bigger than the prize money for amateur events playing as a team. I know Riot puts a lot more money and support for the amateurs on the operational side, but you have so much more opportunity to make money and succeed as an LCS or Academy player in Champions Queue than players that want to make it there. Obviously, amateur players can access the Champions Queue, but we haven't seen any of them get very close to the top of the ladder, which is probably a good thing. I think the one player that did get close got picked up instantly.
I know from talking to coaches and helping players learn how to find teams during the offseason, on the amateur side of things, the coaches now say, 'We want you to get into Champions Queue and see how well you do there.' It's a huge priority for them now in how they actually scout players now, because they get their POVs, comms, everything. This is the new center and hub now.
Quest: With a lot of the flaws, there were improvements. MMR system got improved. What else changed?
Olleh: I don’t know. Only MMR?
Cubby: MMR could actually fix the entire thing. The way they used to do it, you could face all TL players. There are always funny screenshots being shared like four TL players against an amateur team. They're still prioritizing finding a game, and once you've found a game, they balance the team from MMR.
Lourlo: When it was dying, it was the end of spring, and a lot of players just wanted breaks. Ideally, I hoped a few more games would be played, when Olleh and I were like the only ones playing, and that was kind of a failure in that regard. But I think Champions Queue will have much more success in the summer.
I think Champions Queue will work. The only way to actually bring hope to it is to actually believe in it.
There's a lot of good that can come from champions queue in the summer. The MMR change is a huge change leading into it. Like Cubby said, there were a lot of flaws in balancing the teams. With Worlds coming up, more players will participate.
We'll see how sustainable it can be, but I do think these are the steps in the right direction. Another thing that can be added is duo queue. It'll give more incentives for pros to queue up and build synergy or try different things.
Quest: A while ago, when I talked to Keria, he said that the concept of Champions Queue wouldn't work well in Korea. What are your thoughts?
Lourlo: I thought of it a lot. I think the biggest thing for Korea, there are more competitive players. There are many more people that are trying to get to the top. The biggest thing that really sticks for me is the ping. With the people really trying to compete on the west coast server having the chance to play on low ping outside of the scrim environment is really huge, while the KR or CN players get to have that consistently. The only other region I could see it actually working is EU, because their ping is kind of flip-floppy. But at the same time, the overall region is just smaller in NA in terms of how many players are trying to be competitive. Things like communication could really help add discipline. Just overall structure too, people adding higher quality games. All this is still in the early stages of growing an ecosystem for NA.
It's not really needed in Korea because they're much more mature in that regard. Something like Champions Queue will hopefully increase the discipline in NA and bring more players to compete in a larger scale.
Olleh: The reason I love Champions Queue is because of the ping, but in Korea and China, the pings already great. Another thing is about the language. In Korea, we have to say 'yo', you need to speak in a more formal way with random people. It's much easier to have conversations in NA, but in Korea people will have a harder time. Another thing is that Korean solo queue is already great. Maybe just the prize. I remember DAMWON Gaming hit top-3, they gave them some bonus, but they got it from the team. What if Riot gave the top Korean solo queue players the champions queue prize money? The server would be on FIRE. Everyone is going to spam the game. EU would love to have Champions Queue, but in Korea, the ping's already great, so they won't really "ask" for it.
Quest: People have been complaining about the current KR solo queue because it's been changing to all mechanics and no macro. What are your thoughts?
Olleh: I actually said this in my own stream. People don't really get how KR solo queue works — it's great after you hit Challenger. Even in challenger, people are still bad. If you have all Challenger players, the quality of the game is really great. If some streamer goes to Korea to play solo queue, they'll meet the hellgate at masters, especially at Diamond. They're going to complain for sure. I also failed several times at Diamond 1, it's literally unplayable at some point. KR solo queue is great because of the top players. They have more of the greater players.
If NA has 20 insane top players, KR might have 40 to 60. The whole server isn't as great as people expect, but there are much more top players.
Quest: Do you think success in Champions Queue will have direct success related to on-stage?
Cubby: Not direct, but it can't hurt. Talking to a lot of coaches and GMs in the space, [I've been told] Champ Queue rank matters. It's kind of different for each org. The org that prioritizes Champ Queue the most is EG, especially looking at the roster decisions they made for their amateur team this split.
The players they picked up did really well in Champs Queue. One specifically is Yukino, he really made a splash in Champs Queue.
If you want to become a pro and be on the path to pro, making it into Champs Queue and playing well there is probably the thing that you can do to help yourself the most right now.
Olleh: When I play Champions Queue, I played against Breezy, the CLG academy support. Before, I didn't know him, but I always was matching with him and I began noticing him. You can get attention from LCS players or streamers more easily if you play many games in Champions Queue with them. And a lot of coaches and scouts watch those games, so it's a really good chance for amateur players to advance.
Quest: What extra steps are there to incentivize players to more actively take part in Champions Queue?
Lourlo: I think the foundation is already there. It's just a timing thing. We'll get to see what happens in summer. I think the MMR change is huge. The foundation of the prize pool, low ping, comms, the chance to play with the top players in the region being there... I think everything's there.
Cubby: Something else that's also great is that it's a big motivator for amateur OQs. The last two OQ signups were 50-70% more. We set the record for the most teams that signed up. Champs Queue is encouraging more players to try to make it there. It's a great spot. It's definitely a privilege. It does fix a big problem, the biggest thing is ping. You can't practice on 60 ping. It's not fun. Playing Jayce on 60 ping is terrible. Hopefully, people being more motivated, we can see even more participation with the new MMR system.
Olleh: I hope the top-tier pro players play more. If there are players that didn’t play Champions Queue at all and win LCS, it won’t be good. Let's say jojopyun spammed Champions Queue and won LCS, then people will think that it actually helps improve performance. But if jojopyun didn't play a single game and still won LCS, people aren't going to care about Champions Queue. The more we play against each other, our region will improve as well.