The world of League of Legends has a few constants. North American crowds with always chant TSM, Chinese teams love to fight, and Korean players are dominant. When it comes to the last point, it’s also apparent as Korean talent is often given lucrative contracts whenever they leave Korea, and lately North America has been the recipient of these imports. With that attention, high expectations often follow, not only from their new employers, but from the community.
Often when a organization takes in new Korean talent, it’s met with great fanfare. As the perception that Korean players are so much better than domestic talent grows, fans then start to expect greatness or newfound success for whatever team of their choice. What is often looked over are the difficulties that come with importing a player.
The first obvious problem comes from communication, as most Koreans don’t come with a strong grasp of the English language. No matter how talented you are individually, League of Legends is a team game, and in large team fights, the team with the better communication often wins. When a wrench is thrown into the mix into that, issues are bound to appear.
One must also consider the meta shift from one region to another. Although they play the same game, it’s difficult to argue that a game of League in NA is the same as one in Korea. Both regions share many things in the meta, but slight variations mean certain picks can cease to be viable in competitive play. In an interview with Slingshot, Dignitas jungler Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyeon described why NA had comparative success with Lee Sin compared to Korea.
“In my opinion, minute details like the position of the Lee Sin are communicated well in Korea, which makes Lee Sins have difficulties in terms of making unexpected plays,” he said. “In NA, there are some teams with holes in their communication, which allows Lee Sins to do better.”
Another part is just coaching methods and the daily life style of Korean players prior to their moves. The undisputed truth is that NA is a much more relaxed environment compared to Korea, and although that can act as a cure for many, too much of it can be poison. In a highly competitive region like Korea, players are incentivized to push themselves as well as having a coaching system promoting that mentality. Coaching is still a younger concept in NA, players can feel a drastic drop in tension, which also runs the risk of becoming more complacent than usual.
More human issues also come into effect, especially earlier on into the season. Time zones are always an issue when it comes to adjustment, and if the team actually chose to boot camp in Korea in preparation for the 2017 split, that only delays the arrival of the new Korean talent, giving them an even smaller window of time to get used to a brand new time zone. The time difference between Korea and the West Coast is 17 hours, which makes for a bumpy ride for many imports. Phoenix 1’s AD Carry No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, albeit jokingly, talked about turning into a morning person due to the time zone difference, and when your day starts at 12 p.m. and ends around 3 a.m., concerns become more believable. More extreme cases exist with EnVyUs’ jungler Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo, who has been in and out of the country over the course of two weeks, even missing out on his team’s spring split debut.
“I think I got used to it, but I can’t tell if it’s because of time zones or because I’m older,” Arrow told Slingshot. “I’ve been feeling really tired lately. For instance, in Korea I would have two rounds of scrims, play solo queue, and go to bed. Right now, I play two rounds of scrims, I take a two hour nap, or just sleep for the night.”
Of course there are those who buck these trends, but they are firmly the exception, not the norm. With all of these factors in mind, both fans and teams need to have a certain amount of patience, even if the player has a recorded history of success. Looking at the current standings in the North American League Championship Series reveals only Phoenix 1 (4-2) has a winning record among teams with multiple new Korean imports.
Cloud9’s Jeong “impact” Eon-Young said it could take up to a year for imports to get comfortable.
“I think it depends on how much English you learn,” he told Slingshot. “In Huni’s (Heo Seung-hoon) case, he really worked hard to learn English, and he did very well that season, also given his positive personality. It also depends on the team to some extent as well. I think they’ll need about a year.”
Initial challenges and shortcomings will be difficult, but when it comes to imports, one must remember that it comes with a lot of conditions.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games