Another year, another Worlds finished. This year, the storyline culminated in two LCK teams fighting to lift the Summoner’s Cup, T1 and DRX. The storyline presented between the two oldest players of each team, Faker & Deft, even captured the hearts of the newer fans, as the richness of it made it even more dramatic than a shonen manga. Worlds always feels like a festival for every fan watching; for the LCK and its fans [including myself] in particular, they especially rejoiced at the fact that Korea was back on top.
For the LCS, however, it was another year of failure for them. Fans did remain hopeful, but once again, they’ve failed to make it out of the group stages. Now, I myself might be a diehard LCK fan, but as someone who’s also lived in North America [Toronto, Canada] for a large part of my life, as well as starting my League of Legends journey on the NA servers from Korea on 190 ping [before the Korean servers existed], there’s always a small part of me that wishes the region will actually perform on the international stage.
Based on my own experience of working with a Korean team in the past, as well as my knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes, I would like to think that I'm more qualified than the ‘Plat IV Steves’ that criticize LCS players on Twitter. As someone who hopes the region will do better in the future, here’s my two cents on why NA continues to underperform.
The LCS Work Ethic & Work-Life Balance
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of work-life balance is “The amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy”. To have a great work-life balance is a basis for a healthy lifestyle, but for some people, this is almost a privilege for them.
Let’s compare the practice schedules between the LCK teams and the LCS teams. Typically, players get up around 11am - 12pm, get to their practice rooms by 12:30 - 1pm, play triple blocks of scrims [3 games per block, 9 games total] with breaks in between for meals and what not, then proceed to play solo queue until 4 - 5 am. An LCS team’s practice schedule consists of 5 scrim games from 12 - 5 pm, with players being left to do whatever they want afterwards. Generally, it’s expected for players to practice on their own, whether it’s playing solo queue/Champion’s Queue, catching up on watching matches from other regions, etc. However, the reality is that this isn’t the case for many of the LCS players, as there are those that don’t play solo queue at all.
So the LCS does not practice as much as the LCK, but does this mean that LCS players aren’t hungry and driven for success? Absolutely not. You can tell with players like CoreJJ that he really wants to perform well both domestically and internationally. The region always says that they want to do well at MSI/Worlds, but do they really want it that bad?
There are cultural nuances that come into play as well. Korea as a country was once a war-torn, 3rd world country that went through oppression from Japan. The country now has the fourth highest economy in Asia, and has the 10th largest economy in the world. A large part of the country's growth is due to the insane work ethic that made the change in less than a century, which is naturally reflected in the LCK teams’ practice schedules.
Cloudtemplar recently released an hour and a half long Youtube video titled, “Why North America’s underperforming”, where he chatted with the former head coach for Evil Geniuses, Rigby, and former LCS player/current talent on the LCK analyst desk, LirA, on why the LCS is continuing to fail on the international stage, despite being a major region. Rigby shared that there are players that practice very hard, but when it comes to the region as a whole, it’s hard to say the same. Some of the reasons that Rigby shared is that some players give all the excuses in the world on not wanting to practice, such as solo queue ping being high, not wanting to hop into voice comms in Champion’s Queue, etc.
In terms of the sheer amount of practice, the LCS already doesn't practice enough. However, even the practice they put in seems to be too much for them. Even if one may be incredibly gifted at the game, there will always be those that strive to surpass them.
The Broken Player-Coach Dynamic
There’s a certain level of respect between the coaching staff and the players in Korean teams, which leads to constructive feedback and discussions about the game. However, a blanket statement of the coach-player dynamic in the LCS [and even in the LEC] would be that the coaching staff isn’t necessary.
There’s a lot of ego and internal politics that plague this dynamic in NA, which leads to internal dispute, and ultimately, players disrespecting the coaching staff to the point where they hold more power over the coaches. This isn’t just the players’ fault, because a lot of the management personnel in NA orgs simply aren’t that knowledgeable at the game. This leads to them hiring those that present themselves very well, but may not realistically be that capable.
Korean orgs are all about finding the most optimal players for success in the LCK, but NA orgs also consider factors such as utilizing a player’s brand to increase their own. Even if such is the case, it’s disappointing to see the lack of action taken towards success with the tools at hand.
One example that Rigby provided in CloudTemplar’s video was that some coaches’ feedback is based on both team’s vision turned on, rather than just their team’s vision. To such, it’s natural for the players to say, “What the f*&k? This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about?!”
Again, there are cultural nuances that come into play. In Korean culture, there are honorifics within the Korean language to show respect and politeness. There are ways to show respect in the Western culture, but it’s not ‘built-in’ like it is in the Korean language. However, such cultural differences should never be just another excuse.
The Solution? Where Do You Even Begin?
I really do want the LCS to do well in international competitions. As a Korean-Canadian myself, I truly do wish nothing but the best for NA.
Apart from the reasons I listed above, there are too many problems that the LCS as a region has in their underperformance, to the point where things almost seem bleak. Even the teams don't exactly know where to start. I highly agree with the point that CloudTemplar made in his video, in that the region needs a team like G2 Esports [in their prime] to reignite the flames within the region, both for themselves and the fans. At this point, however, it almost seems like a miracle to expect such a team.
Stop giving excuses on everything. Put in the amount of constructive and productive hours of practice to get better. If other teams just FF in scrims due to a level one invade going wrong, for example, then utilize your academy teams for in-house scrims. It’s a win-win for both the LCS and its academy team, as not only will both teams have more freedom in the way they practice [silent scrims, 1v1/2v2 matchups, etc], it’ll also allow academy-level players to grow exponentially from working with LCS-level players.
Management needs a better pair of eyes when scouting both player and coaching talent. Especially coaches. My belief is that winning will naturally grow an organization’s brand, so formulate the right game-plan and find the right people to execute it. Learn to look past the bullshit from the pretenders and find the diamond in a haystack. Coaches that put their craft of coaching in the public eye to spark discussions about the game are a good place to start. Prime examples of such coaches are Veigarv2 and Max Waldo.
Work-life balance is important, but if you want even the slightest edge in the world of competition, the LCS as a region should ask themselves what their priorities are.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports