Just a week before Scouting Grounds 2019, three time attendee, Olivier "Winter" Lapointe, quits competitive League of Legends despite qualifying yet again for his fourth year in a row. He declined his invitation and announced his retirement in a TwitLonger. Among his various reasons to quit, he cites a lack of professional development present in the scene.
Though Winter earned his spot again this year, he asks the question, "Could I use this opportunity to propel my career in my current state?" He says he feels like he would likely be overlooked because he has been in the scene for so long and has still yet to find a long term home in an Academy or LCS roster. That perhaps it was best to let someone else have the spot.
While that's commendable, he also noted that teams and coaches aren't always willing to actually invest in younger talent, recycling the current players over and over. This has been a criticism in NA for years now. Time after time, the Challenger Series/Academy players would be shuffled around from team to team, acquisition of newer, younger talent was quite rare.
Scouting Grounds, Historically
This isn't a Winter-only problem, of course, but he highlights the broader issue on NA's talent development. 100T was one of the only teams to really invest in Scouting Grounds last year, and more need to follow suit this year. Maybe with the new draft, that will help. But historically, while Scouting Grounds is a unique tool for NA, it hasn't really been utilized well.
Scouting Grounds participants have to be at the top of the solo queue ladder for four months AND display a large champion pool. Additionally, they must have good attitudes and can't boast any penalties on their account. So in theory, they should all be top talents worth considering for an Academy slot at the least.
However, in practice, not many really make it. Over the last three years of NASG, only five attendees have strong careers with the LCS: Matthew "Deftly" Chen, Raymond "Wiggily" Griffin, Robert "Blaber" Huang, Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme, and Aaron "FakeGod" Lee.
There are many others floating around the Academy, like Nicholas "Ablazeolive" Antonio Abbott, Edward "Tactical" Ra, Jean-Sébastien "Tuesday" Thery, James "Panda" Ding and more, but it's still rare to see legitimate paths for a full time LCS starting position.
Ablazeolive, specifically, has been a callout among both pros and other Academy players as a potential LCS starter for a while. And though the "NA Mid" meme exists for a reason, it will never go away without legitimate investment in some of these younger domestic talents. So if Ablazeolive has been stuck in Academy behind Bjergsen for two years, but has been a promising figure, maybe our system needs work.
Lack of Investment
The new Honda Scouting Grounds starts in a week, less than a month after NA was knocked out of Worlds in the Group Stage. However, to be frank, only a couple teams gave the event as much attention as it deserves last year. Between the top four most successful orgs in NA history - TL, TSM, C9, and CLG - only two staff members were sent total. None of their head coaches were present for the majority of the event.
The bottom six orgs all sent Academy coaches, auxiliary staff, and players, and a couple even sent head coaches as well. It's no surprise that those teams did much better, both in the round robin and in the bracket stage. They also saw the most players get picked up to Academy rosters.
Unfortunately for Winter (and nine other players), his 2018 team had less LCS org involvement. Maybe the six newer/less successful orgs participated extra because they need more talent, but with Doublelift and Liquid stating NA doesn't challenge them enough, it's definitely hurting everyone that they aren't investing more in Scouting Grounds. The same goes for the other big orgs.
TSM held their own version of Scouting Grounds last year, about a week or two after Riot's. But that one was completely closed off to the public, there was no information on who was there, how they performed, and it didn't really amount to much as far as young talent development across the scene.
It may seem like investment at first glance, but it's really not benefitting NA as a region. There was no information gained, no new players in the spotlight, no media or any record of what went on during the event. So their non-involvement in Riot's Scouting Grounds is more hurtful than hosting their own version is helpful.
When Franchising happened, we as fans were told the region would see a short setback for a year or two, but by the third year (that's next season btw), NA should have grown more than it would have and be a much stronger figure. But here we are with three news orgs, another failed Worlds, and teams looking to buy more starpower from overseas. NA is arguably worse off than where it started.
Player Development and the Future
This Scouting Grounds could be really important, because of all the new orgs coming in and (ideally) looking to make a change. DIG proved that they were willing to invest in their players, we need to see them and everyone showing that same level of investment at Scouting Grounds as well.
Lastly, there is something to say about player responsibility as well. Winter is a great example of undeveloped NA talent because he has been at the highest level for four years now. However, I personally don't know about his ability to learn and grow. (Though I would argue that he wasn't tested enough, since he was only ever given one split of an Academy roster.)
It is important to note that those in Scouting Grounds and the Academy system need to participate in their own growth. It's not on orgs to spoon-feed talent to help them grow. This isn't a "just add water" type of career.
Winter also writes, "players keep doing the same thing over and over again. It works, and it makes them get into their safe zone, but it will never make them higher than what they were before." This is the opposite of what we saw from Luka "Perkz" Perković and his "Uma Jan" mentality, always pushing to improve and limit test, only satisfied with being the absolute best.
While player development is a two way street, it's a bit harder to see how much individual players are doing from the outside. One thing is for sure though, NA orgs need to increase their investment and participation in these events and systems Riot has in place for NA talent development, or else the region will never improve.
Perkz's support, Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle, got his real start just months before Winter made his first Scouting Grounds back in 2016. Mikyx is now just one best of five away from possibly completing the first ever Grand Slam in League history (claiming Spring and Summer splits, MSI, and Worlds Titles).
There's no evidence to say that Winter would be the same level, but he - and many others like him - don't really get the resources or opportunities here to ever find out.
Winter recognizes that as well, stating "If organisations would be more willing to take risks and actually coach more people properly, it could make them better than the same recycled players." This was the promise of Franchising! Teams are allowed to be more risky! But here we are, only a handful of new players from the NA talent pool on LCS rosters. Even Blaber sits in Academy.
With the Honda Scouting Grounds starting in a week, teams have a bit of time to figure out their plan of action and get some scouts and coaches together to really invest in the event and potentially improve the NA talent pool.