The grand finale of the 2017 NA LCS Summer Split ended with Team SoloMid defeating Immortals. Although fans of Immortals would have liked their favorite team to have done better, there is no denying that both teams have performed exceptionally throughout the split and deserved to be on the finals. However, unlike TSM that has always been the favorite, IMT appeared out of the blue especially when compared to their less than stellar performance in the previous split.
At a glance, the two teams that met at the finals couldn't be any more different - Everyone expected TSM to make it to the finals once again, as they haven't missed the finals since 2013. On the other hand, while IMT did well enough to be another favorite, it wasn’t the case until this very split. However, there was one similarity that I could find in between these two teams.
Neither IMT nor TSM changed their roster during the split. In fact, they didn't even send out their substitute players for the entire split. The same five players have played throughout the entire match schedule all the way to the finals. Of course, they aren't the only teams that played with the same five for the entire split. However, it should be a good evidence of how a certain pattern that I could find in many other NA LCS teams may be detrimental to their performance - That is, being prone to change their roster in the middle of split.
■ The case against ‘ad-hoc’ roster changes
In Korea, it's very rare to found a team dramatically changing the roster in the middle of split. Of course, every region has their own characteristics, and just because Korea isn’t doing something that doesn’t mean that it’s correct. Still, roster changes in the middle of split can't be good for a team game, and LCK teams only change the players in the middle of split in inevitable circumstances that often involves bigger problems than having poor performances.
So, coming into LCS after covering LCK for many years, it was strange to see this kind of roster changes. A team would have a player replaced with someone else, while that replaced player would easily find a place to go within NA LCS. It wasn't usual from my experience, and nor it was to many Korean players playing in NA LCS.
When I asked Korean players about whether that sounds okay, they were generally negative about it. Of course, it might be because they - and I - are used to how things work in LCK. However, we all agreed that having a stable roster should result in better teamwork and, in turn, better performance. When Dardoch left Counter Logic Gaming for Team Liquid, Omargod had to fill in for the team. However, while he did beyond what everyone expected, he himself mentioned how he could have done better with more practice as a team. The fact that CLG's teamwork often was shaky during the split gives more weight to this argument.
Of course, all this might be subjective, and there are different ways to improve a team's performance. However, the reason why I'm bringing this up is because I believe this is a 'problem' that NA LCS needs to fix in order to improve overall as a region.
■ Why is this a problem again?
Let's imagine that you became a pro player in a NA LCS (Congratulations!), and now you need to set a goal. There are two common goals that players mention when asked about their goals - They often bring up wanting to place their team higher up on the leaderboard, but their personal goal is often more personal - being the star player. To be frank, I'd put more value on making myself the star player rather than helping my team to get better.
"Wait, isn't League of Legends supposed to be a team game?" you might ask, but no matter how much a game emphasizes teamwork, there is a player that often shined alone in a team otherwise unremarkable. It's easier to 'carry' yourself rather than the whole team. In fact, with how easy it is to get onboard a new team, it has to be easier to go to a team with better teammates than to make a team better. With how often the roster changes, teamwork never stays coherent enough to begin with.
The end result looks grim: With less emphasis on teamwork, the overall performance of the entire region gets worse.
Let's go back to more tangible reasons. Frequent roster changes can only mean that the organizations often attribute bad performances to the problems of individual players. Aside from a few exceptions, it looks like most NA LCS teams believe that players are just interchangeable pieces of puzzle that can be swapped at will to make them fit 'better'. The end result that organizations often strive for is just having the best-looking outcome from the five pieces of puzzle that they have.
Unfortunately, when a 'piece of puzzle' doesn't fit, there's only one option left do with it: Throw it away. Afterwards, it becomes the matter of finding a 'better' piece, which often devolves down to looking elsewhere to find a 'proven' player elsewhere as it's not easy to find a piece that they haven't tried but is also proven to be a good player. That's why the most rosters are filled with the two - maximum - import players, and that leaves less space for rookies to compete in NA LCS.
This results in a vicious cycle where a team's poor performance is blamed on individual players that gets replaced with 'proven' players, and it is unlikely for teams to try their luck with new players. So, it becomes very difficult to find a rookie player in NA LCS.
■ To sum up...
Let's do a quick review.
In NA LCS, roster changes and even team rebuilds happen too often. There's nothing wrong with doing those in between splits, but I just couldn't understand why it would happen so often during the middle of a split in NA LCS.
From what I could tell, it felt like the teams put too much emphasis on individual performances. Instead of trying to maximize team performance through teamwork, it seems to me that teams are only trying to do basic arithmetic - replacing the 'weakest link' and hoping that the 'newest link' would do better than their previous option.
This results in teams being reliant on imports, and too many times we see 'new' NA LCS players being a player from another region or another team. Since the roster changes can happen any time, players also focus on improving themselves rather than their teamwork.
■ No more jokes
Another thing that I was curious about was how 'NA LUL' was a widespread meme even among NA fans. It's not unusual to see players making fatal mistakes that can even cost them a game, but I didn't think that the fans will be that dismissive of their own region.
As much as Korean fans get 'passionate' about teams and pros doing worse, it's very hard to find local fans making fun of their entire region. I admit that the LCK fans did get 'heated up' after being defeated at the Rift Rivals, but it would be very hard pressed to find fans dismissing the entire region.
Being good at playing League has no relation to physical differences. Just because Korea is dominant in League, that doesn't mean that Koreans are born to be good at games. It's just that Koreans had a head start from StarCraft that also involves thousands of netcafes and how games are one of the most popular hobbies in Korea. It's just the matter of having a better infrastructure earlier than others.
Whether it be easily changing rosters in the middle of a season, or being a region where even the local fans are prone to make fun of, I could have just let it slide. However, the reason why I wrote this article was because I wanted NA LCS teams to be
After IMT brought Coach SSONG on board, they learned how to play as a single entity and what it means to play for the team. TSM played with the same roster for a long time, with Bjergsen on his fifth year with the team. Both of these teams have shown exceptional teamwork and teamfights stemming from that teamwork, and they both made it to the finals of NA LCS.
League of Legends can be said to be a game where five players compete against another five. However, on a professional level, League of Legends becomes a game where a team competes against another team. Even without changing players, a team can get better with the same players.
Instead of looking for a panacea or that elusive 'final piece', what the teams should do is to find a way to make the five players play as a single entity - as a team. That's how teams have found success even without THE best players, and that's how, in my opinion, things should be. To become a better league, or at least to become a league that tries their best, NA LCS might need some changes.