LCS teams’ ventures representative of larger problems in Challenger scene

Cloud9 Challenger’s earned entry into the North American League of Legends Championship Series over the weekend is the latest spark in a debate that has raged for the past few months.

C9C, owned and operated by Cloud9, which also fields an LCS team, earned its way to the LCS through the relegation tournament. With Riot Games’ rules forbidding anybody from owning more than one LCS team, C9C will be forced to sell its LCS spot — netting a nice payday for Cloud9.

The development has again sparked questions about how the Challenger Series should be run. Many prominent esports people have chimed in on social media, including an interesting exchange between Team Liquid owner Steve Arhancet — whose own Challenger team fell short of qualifying for the LCS — and esports lawyer Bryce Blum.

But the debate about franchising the LCS and if “Challenger boosting,” as people referred to C9C’s journey to the LCS, is an example of the larger problem within the Challenger scene. Having spent two years as a coach and analyst in various regions, I have seen a lot of flaws in the current system come to light. A bigger organization “farming” through Challenger is not the biggest problem; it is just the most visible one.

Two of the biggest problems in the current Challenger format are the six-team league and online-only format. The current format benefits teams like C9C or Team Liquid Academy, who are already more structured and want to invest in either their subs getting quality practice, or trying to qualify with a second team to the LCS. The Challenger scene is not conducive to people trying to build a team and grow a brand. Because the current format in Europe and North America has a small amount of teams and lasts only about two months, it is much safer to invest in already proven talent to fight for the LCS spot than to try to find the next big name — and risk not having it work out. Sometimes developing individual player talent can take from months to year, and many players don’t improve enough in the Challenger Series to be ready for the LCS.

If the point of the Challenger Series is to help teams get into LCS and earn a payday, then it’s clearly achieving that. But if the point of a Challenger scene — which many think it should be — is to foster the next batch of young talent, then it needs some work. Here are a few possible fixes.

How about moving the Challenger Series offline? Sponsors of teams would have a bit more exposure, there wouldn’t be any problems with DDOS attacks (which we already had in the past), and players could get used to a stage before they enter the LCS. It would be an optimal format to slowly adjust players to the LCS format and get used to playing on stage. One of the reasons newer talent always start slow in the LCS is that they still have to get adjusted to playing face-to-face to their opponent, in a different environment and in front of a crowd. If Challenger teams get exposed to those elements earlier, they might find an easier entrance to the LCS and get used to it faster, making the investment and the transition process much more reliable.

Perhaps another answer would be to simply increase the amount of teams in the online Challenger Series to 10 or 12 teams. That would automatically force teams to invest in uncovered talent and with more people active would push the structure and playerbase forward. It wouldn’t solve the monetization and exposure issue, but at least bring the incentive to bet on the young new talent. With the playoffs being at least played offline, this would provide at least some stability for the bigger names in the Challenger scenes, who could make the step to the promotion tournament. It wouldn’t solve the problem in full but would be a step in the right direction.

These ideas might sound better in theory than they would be practical, and that’s fair. In the end, as with everything in League of Legends, the future will depend on what Riot Games thinks is best  for the Challenger Series. There are a lot of possibilities not raised here, but one thing is for sure: The Challenger Series needs an overhaul, and if this last weekend isn’t a wake up call, I don’t know what will be.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.

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