Since the beginning of the competitive scene in League of Legends we’ve seen multiple players’ careers dwindle with several more players replacing them, often times with greater skill. There are many challenges teams face when incorporating a new player into their roster; whether it’s importing a player from another region, which then brings on the issue of language barriers, culture clash and regional gameplay nuance, or simply finding native talent, which can be a difficult and grueling task due to having to weed through the many names on the ladder rankings. While LoL does have a problem juggling the difficulties in creating a competitive team roster, OWL (Overwatch League) has similar or even greater woes.
Tariffs on Imports
LoL previously had implemented rules to fight the heavy use of imports in both EU and NA with the introduction of the import rule in 2015, which allows teams to have a maximum of two players from another region compete in one that is not their own (e.g. a LPL player playing in NA LCS). This rule was created after the famous LMQ team
, which consisted of a full Chinese roster, moved the entire team to compete in the NA LCS. As for Overwatch, a rule like this does not exist, except for in their Academy system, otherwise known as Contenders. This has brought on the problem of heavy importation, to the point where, as it stands for the Stage 2 of OWL (Overwatch League), Spitfire, New York Excelsior, Toronto Defiant, Vancouver Titans, and Seoul Dynasty have all not only 1 or 2 Koreans on their roster, but the entire starting lineups are Korean; that's 25% of teams in the entire league have a full Korean starting lineup
. OWL may be the alternate universe of LoL without the import rule.
The highest level of competition shouldn’t be shied away from, as Crumbz
, former OWL analyst, former pro player of Team Dignitas in LoL, and now current analyst for LoL esports broadcast, describes one positive aspect for OW importation. He states, “the benefit OW has is that they’ve brought talent from overseas to play solo queue, and that’s going to help a ton. You get to scrim with these guys all the time as opposed to having to meet them at an international event”. So, to some extent we can at least appreciate the fact that an influx of players—both in OW and LoL—to the solo queue ladder can help the region improve their amateur talent and provide a better practice environment. This is similar to when LoL pros go to boot camp in South Korea. While yes, the solo queue in South Korea. is regarded as superior for ping, player strength and player base size, the influx of pros from every region onto the ladder makes it the best possible ladder it can be, which is a great advantage that OW has in their competitive scene before geolocation arrives. Adversely, this point could be argued due to the existence of the Overwatch APEX league—Korea’s premier OW tournament series— being a rival to the OWL, but it was discontinued for the 2018 season
and replaced with Contenders Korea. Now as it stands, LoL in both NA and EU do not have the best professional leagues, nor do they have the best solo queue ladder (especially NA), whereas OW in NA at least has the best professional league to supplement their ladder system with an influx of good players. But not all teams are concerned with simply being competitive, as there are inherent marketing purposes which make avoiding imports worthwhile.
There is a constant struggle for teams to decide if they would rather have a more marketable team or a team which is going to win them championships. Achillios
, former commentator for OGN LoL, OW APEX league and now current commentator for the OWL, comments on the situation of marketing. “From a marketing perspective, it’s almost better to go for a roster that does have western talent if you are a western representative or organization. Obviously if you’re in China, getting eastern players makes the most sense. Paris I guess is the example I’m going for, if you look at their main roster, it instilled so much hope in the fans and they got so much backing, especially from the French crowd off of that because they were like, “you know what, we’re not going to be one of those teams that picks a lot of Koreans and goes for the full 6 Korean roster”.
The idea of either balancing out a team with some Western talent or in the case of OW, securing a cultural identity for a specific team brand—especially since they will be geolocated soon—is an important step in marketing and maximizing advertisement revenue, which is a necessity to keep a team afloat. As Immortals CEO Noah Winston had said previously in 2017 during an episode of Esports Salon with Thorin
, “Huni has one of the best personalities that a pro player can have. He speaks great English, is incredibly entertaining and still was not getting the type of engagement that I would expect to see.[...] I think it’s really hard to bridge that gap a lot of the time, especially when there are paths of less resistance. If I have the choice to root for Flame, who doesn’t speak a ton of English, but is super friendly and has a great personality, or I have the choice to root for Hauntzer, who I share more of a cultural background with, it’s not an easy choice but it is a lot easier for me to connect to the one that shares a cultural background with me”.
speaks on the subject of importing and driving fan engagement and region locking playing a role. “While you have a different kind of people and they have very interesting stories, we’re not typically exposed to that kind of culture. So, how do you drive a non-esports audience to be interested or even an esports audience to be interested in players [with] which they have no natural connections with? They’re not from the same place, they don’t speak the same language, hell they might not even play the same game. How do you make those connections? At the end of the day you want to entertain the fans. Is the only source of entertainment that these people can provide for the audience the quality of gameplay? That’s my biggest concern with that. I have no problems with, “do you want to win. This is a pretty strong team, go for it”, but it’s then about, how do you drive the brand of this team? How do you drive engagement?”
These are all questions that go through every team owner’s head when discussing rosters and how they can balance their team in terms of profitability and talent. There needs to be a way for fans to connect with a player outside of the game. Even Bjergsen, leading up to his game against Team Liquid in the 2019 Spring Split finals, admitted that he cares about being viewed as a great player
, “because i’ve never really been known for my personality or charisma[...] I've just been known for being a competitor and being really serious about my craft”. If a player feels as though they cannot express their personality properly, and they are not as fortunate to be as gifted as a player like Bjergsen (few are), there’s little reason to enjoy that player and be excited to watch them play. Although, just because someone can be profitable temporarily and have a great base of talent, there is still the fear that they can cause turbulence within the team environment if their personality simply doesn’t fit in that type of setting. The trepidation of knowing if a promising talent will easily merge into a professional team setting is that their online representation isn’t entirely indicative of their personality, largely because that must be extrapolated through the chat system.
Toxicity and Voice Chat
As toxicity goes hand-in-hand with communication, the conversation usually steers towards the ability to voice chat. There are generally three camps to this topic: One, voice chat would increase toxicity, two, it might actually reduce it due to creating a more human connection with the other player through speech rather than writing. And three, the hypothetical that there would be overall increased team coordination and also might have the possibility to get more talent from solo queue other than for gameplay reasons; OW and LoL differ in the communication aspect.
In the context of voice comms, helping get talent that teams might of otherwise not have found, Crumbz
had the opinion that OW comms might be an effective way to, “maybe find the diamonds in the rough, but probably not. I highly doubt voice comms have much of an impact because you’re going to be changing the comms significantly when you become a team anyways. So, if you hear someone tryharding in comms in solo queue, bless their heart for putting that out there, it’s rough out there to make calls in that situation because no one is going to realistically listen or at least listen to the extent that one would hope for”. While it would be rare to find a player which can shotcall in solo queue, the main purpose should not be to find a savant of the game, but to get a feel for the person behind the screen.
The strong benefit of having voice chat would be to understand which players have a strong voice in the game which can more easily be translated to pro play. The quality of comms in solo queue shouldn’t be entirely judged upon for the ideas or strategy within them, but rather it should be studied as a reflection of personality, which is more easily exemplified through voice. Speech has the ability to show more nuance with qualities such as tone and inflection. With the usage of voice chat, it serves as a preliminary force in determining if a player is a culture fit to any number of pro teams. Voice chat also has the obvious advantage of alleviating the cumbersome task of writing while making intricate plays. It is also noteworthy that the average person types 40 WPM (words per minute) whereas speech for radio is found to be best paced anywhere between 160-180 WPM
, and coupled with the obvious advantage of still being able to use the keyboard for commands rather than writing. So while you may not find the next Cloud9 Hai of solo queue, you may more readily find a quality player with an enjoyable personality, a critical trait in developing a roster with long lasting chemistry. While human qualities are important in making a solid roster, knowing the play style tendencies of each player and how they can play as a unit is paramount.
There is no team without identifying how you are going to create a roster and understanding the roles you’re looking to fill for your roster, which may be an even greater grievance OW suffers from with their inability to have predetermined role selection.
Role selection has been available for LoL since Season 6
whereas OW still doesn’t support the function. Many LoL players have not experienced the mayhem that was pick order and dodgy chat tactics of calling a role first with lag or computer hardware factoring differently for each user, or blatant lying, saying that it never appeared in chat for them. With how hectic the early days of LoL were, you can find similar experiences with OW and their frustration of not getting their preferred role of DPS or assassin, which appear to be the only two roles in existence to the layman.
The main problem with role selection is the support role. In both OW and LoL it is the least played role, but the added benefit of role selection is it would allow for teams to get talent a bit more easily due to a consistency in players being able to get their preferred role. Crumbz
adds to this topic about the support role in OW being problematic. “I think the problem is that there’s not enough diversity in the sub-categories that they have which would let players want to be a support or a tank because they aren’t contributing to the overall gameplay that they want, which is eliminating the enemy”.
The main concern for role selection in a game like OW compared to LoL is that, while it may help scouting talent, OW may not have the raw player base numbers in order to sustain a similar model.
In 2016, Polygon reported the monthly LoL user base at 100 million
, whereas in 2018 a report by Dotesports
had OW at a total player base of 40 million. The only reason Riot could even consider doing this without queue times jumping through the roof is because there is a large enough player base to fill in all roles, but they’ve also had to make their autofill function more aggressive at times to fill the support role, which also helped keep queue times moderately low. However if OW were to implement something similar they would need a far more aggressive algorithm for a game with a smaller player base.
Ultimately role selection isn’t possible for OW due to their player base and although it would benefit the pro scene by allowing them to have the ability to have more dedicated practice, it would come at the price of the player base. Montecristo’s sentiment that role lock would closer align pro play with casual play
is an added bonus, as we have also seen Riot change things in their own game by making the meta align more with casual play by removing lane swaps. Blizzard seems to have held off on dictating their meta to such a large capacity as having role locks, and Achilios
reiterates this sentiment because he thinks it “detracts from the original plan for [OW], which is, there's a bunch of heroes [and] you can change on the fly”, and it certainly goes against the LoL standpoint that our role select system is simply a moniker, not a hard enforcement of champions that you are able to play. If that weren’t the case we probably wouldn’t be seeing Hecrim in the top lane.
Past your Prime
We still have several legends that have a solid career in LoL, from Doublelift to Bjergsen, Xmithie to sOAZ, there are some that still exist from the days of old, but with new talent being ushered in, the older players are taking a backseat. The timeline of LoL is extensive enough that we are able to witness new legends clash against old ones, and DoA
, former caster of OGN LoL and APEX league and current caster for the OWL, expounds upon the topic of OWL pacing faster than LoL in developing new talent. “LoL existed for years before any sort of true professional esports scene existed. The game was released in 2009 and the first World Championship wasn’t until 2011. Champions Korea, which is arguably the first true long-term consistent competition didn’t start until January 2012. The LCS was 2013. Overwatch League came a lot faster after the game’s release with much more immediate support for players. That’s not a criticism of LoL, but more a reality of the esports industry at the times each game’s scene really launched. So yes, Overwatch is developing talent quicker, but more because of industry growth than characteristics of either game”.
One example of the lengths that OW teams are willing to go to in regards to finding talent is team RunAway, as Achilios
notes, “RunAway with their new roster [which] showed how important it is to go through multiple people in the ladder to see if they mesh with the squad, to see if they really can perform in a scrim environment. I think it’s more difficult to do that with LoL, or at least that teams don’t go as in-depth as RunAway did in regards to scouting talent. I think the quoted number is 295 players that they went through”. When there’s a willingness to go through that many players to form a roster, the best remedy to finding talent may in fact just be hard work and resilience in searching for these players.
Balance in All Things
OW and LoL have many similarities in what it takes to create a world class roster. OWL seems to have larger problems lurking in the background, with a heavy emphasis on importing players to the ever looming geolocation which is about to take place in 2020
, which will add even greater problems in getting talent to their rosters, as Crumbz
says, “teams have yet to move or localize in OWL, so I feel until that happens they’re not really going to know what the issues are because every single team is now going to have a world of trouble behind them. It’s one thing to play in the NBA and you switch teams and go from Cleveland to Los Angeles, that’s not such a bad move, but a lot of players avoid going to other countries or teams because of tax issues. So for example, the Toronto Raptors being a Canadian team, less people want to go to that because you have to deal with doubling down on your taxes”. So not only does OWL have the problem of getting local talent, but with money being factored into the decision of moving to a particular team because of their geolocation, we could see a great shift in how willing players are to moving from country to country, but that is another large topic for another time.
OWL has many more problems that are spawned from their franchise system, to playerbase limitations, to marketing aspects that all circle back to player acquisition. While we can point towards faults in the LoL competitive scene, the sheer size along with a competitive league system which circumvents geolocation, and the import limitation, all play a part in keeping the LoL scene in a healthy state which drives engagement from both the casual and competitive scenes. Above all, the competitive scene and the integrity required to witness the highest level of play must also be balanced by monetary means. So from this side of the fence, the grass seems fine over here.
Izento has been a writer for the LoL scene since Season 7, and has been playing the game since Season 1. Follow him on Twitter at @ggIzento for more League content.
All quotes of Achilios, Crumbz and DoA were recorded early March 2019
To hear more from the Overwatch side of this, check out Volamel's article
Images courtesy of LoL Esports
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