When you look at the League Of Legends World Championship regulations, there is a policy that affects the league in a way far removed from its original intent. This policy in question is the six-man roster system.
According to the rule for the World Championships, Riot Games states that only five players are allowed to participate in the starting lineup with a player available for substitution. The teams also require an official coach to participate.
Elaborating on this policy, Riot has explained that ‘Every team must provide an additional player in the case of an emergency or injury. In addition, due to certain regions being able to make use of the substitute player strategically while others cannot, we have ultimately decided to go with the six-man roster.’
Riot Games’ most fundamental reason for implementing the six-man roster policy is to take precautionary action in case of player emergency. However, as of now, the policy is used more often for strategy than what it was originally intended to be used for: safety.
The subject of substitution in LoL is not an unfamiliar one. In the four major regions, the LCK, LPL, LCS, and LES, teams have established six-seven man or even full ten-man double squad rosters; in the LCK, a majority of the teams have a ten-man roster.
Despite all this, when it comes time for teams to head off to international tournaments, they come to the daunting predicament of ‘Who is going to be our sixth player?’. The reason why this is such a difficult task is due to the major difference in Regular Season Roster (Max 10) and International Roster (Max 6). Being unable to bring everyone who has poured their heart and soul into the team - it’s heartbreaking for the whole team. A rational perspective isn’t much brighter; teams invest both time and money into their ten-man rosters only to have all that effort wasted when the team goes international.
It is a sports team’s right to create strong rosters in order to achieve a competitive edge over others. When you look at Soccer, Basketball, Baseball, etc. every single team is eager to expand and better their roster. There are also various strategies and tactics that are only possible with a large roster.
Additionally, a large roster can better prepare teams for injury, a decline in performance, personal issues, etc. Granted, esports tends to have less risk of injury compared to traditional sports. However, the danger is still there. Whether it may be back, neck, or wrist injuries, there are undeniable chronic risks for a professional player in esports.
The required player count for a Soccer team is 11, but a team is allowed to have a maximum of 23. The required player count for Basketball is 5, but a team can have up to 15 players. If you compare League Of Legends to these sports that often come with dangerous physical constant, League is way more generous in that aspect. But, no matter how infrequent the injuries may be in League, the six-man roster is just too limited. Also, League Of Legends is a game which has a strong emphasis on individual roles. How is one substitute player supposed to be able to fit all five positions?
When people working in LoL esports are asked to shed light on this issue, they often say "We are not sure on the exact reason why that policy is implemented." Many people argue that the policy should provide the option for teams to have a maximum of ten players per roster. This way, regions that cannot afford a ten-man roster can stick by their six+ roster. While teams that are eager to build a full ten-man roster can do so freely.
The six-man roster should also be adjusted for the fans. An undeniable byproduct of not being able to 100% utilize a team’s roster is the reduction in entertainment level. At the end of the day, esports is a source of entertainment.
There are 3 factors that have led to this decrease in entertainment. First, the fans are often forced to watch players who are suffering from a drop in performance. Despite Worlds lasting for just a month, a player’s performance can vary immensely during this time frame. Due to the way esports is played, the meta consistently changes. Looking back at the previous World Championships, coaches have said: "Sometimes, there are instances when the meta changes day by day."
Case in point, a key player’s performance suffers at Worlds; the fans have no choice but to keep watching that player play at a suboptimal level. If a substitute of that role was available, the players can take time to recover while the other performs. In essence, by limiting the flexibility of a roster, the possibility of a higher level of entertainment is hindered.
Second, the coaches are unable to fully implement their strategies. Regardless of the sport, a coach has the ability to change the outcome of a match. There is great satisfaction in witnessing a coach’s strategy come into fruition through the players.
C9 Head Coach Reapered explained that "During the regular season, our team implemented a variety of playstyles and strategies. We did not merely execute this through who performs better or worse. It is beyond that. Using the strengths of our individual players, we created a systematic training which involved both strategic and tactical applications. However, we are limited to the six-man roster rule. It is difficult to conduct various strategies and tactics. It is very unfortunate."
Last, injury. Due to personal reasons, a player may not be able to participate in a game. Imagine a top laner being unable to play during Worlds because of personal reasons/injury. However, the sixth player, the substitute, is not a top laner but a jungler. In this case, one of the four players has to fill in a role that is not their specialty. It is safe to say that there is a high chance the team will lose.
Also, the six-man roster policy is a detriment to the players. One of the teams that used the most diverse and interesting roster was/is Cloud 9. During times of peril, C9 Goldenglue helped his team claw out of last place. Nevertheless, Goldenglue went to the most prestigious stage, Worlds, and did not get an opportunity to play. The Chinese teams are no different. RNG had Letme and Zz1tai as their top laners. Both players fought hard for their team in the regular season. However, RNG also had 2 very talented junglers (Mlxg and Karsa). As a result, Zz1tai was unable to participate in the World Championship.
C9 Reapered clarified "Of course, it is unfortunate that some of the players were unable to play at Worlds. Regardless of who can play and who could not, our team supported and respected each other. Limited to a six-man roster, it doesn’t help the atmosphere either.” Another representative echoed that sentiment, stating that "If the standard roster was ten-players, are they trying to say the remaining four are used only for practice…? The atmosphere is bound to get a bit chaotic."
There is no guarantee that a player will be able to play at Worlds just because they were on the team during the regular season. But then again, there is also no reason for those players to be denied entry due to an outdated system. A player shines the brightest when they are up on the stage; they can only prove their worth on that very stage. Only when more players are allowed to play at Worlds will more and more players gain substantial motivation. The overall quality of LoL esports will improve alongside it.
Afreeca Freecs Head Coach iloveoov gave his thoughts on the matter: "Although esports is still seen as controversial when it comes to being a real sport, it was held at the Asian Games. Esports is constantly attempting to be recognized as a sport. A sport needs to be systematically managed. The six-man roster policy is a plan without a backup. They are essentially dismissing the fact that a player can get injured or suffer a drop in performance. It does not go hand in hand with esports."
iloveoov continued his point by saying that the six-man roster policy is unsustainable in esports. "There are LoL-dedicated stadiums in Korea. After looking at the stadium, I realized that esports has come far. In order to match this progression, a ten-man roster should be a given. Only with a ten-man roster can esports function properly. The new policy needs to be made to support future generations which are centered around gaming. It is necessary for the further development of esports."
Head Coach iloveoov even brought up the possible inconsistency and lack of cohesiveness within policies. "The regular season allows a ten-man roster, but international events allow a max of six. Something doesn’t add up." iloveoov concluded his statement by saying he believes it will improve in the future.
It has been four years since the introduction of the six-man roster policy. During this time, esports has experienced unfathomable growth. Given the current circumstances, the policy needs to be adjusted. Just because a system is ‘working’ does not mean it is perfect or does not need improvement. This is not just for the sake of Worlds or even international tournaments in general. As Head Coach iloveoov said, for the foundation and future of esports, a change in roster restrictions may not be necessary...but a revision of the policy is imperative.