League Of Legends: UK Teams And The Path To LCS

Riot is increasing support of regional amateur League of Legends [official site] teams and will be giving a UK squad a chance at joining the EU pro scene’s Challenger Series. That’s the one which carries with it a chance of promotion into the top tier of play – the LCS.

By now I suspect RPS readers are familiar with the existence of seasons of top level League of Legends play taking place around the world. I’m less sure how many of you know about how LoL works for the lower level teams so I’ll go into a bit more detail about how that works and also why this particular move is interesting, because it’s not just the UK getting a dedicated regional spot. Germany, Spain, France, Poland and the Nordic regions all have them too.

(FYI: Germany, Poland and Spain are in the mix for this spring split while the other three arrive in Summer)

Okay, so. Bubbling away just below the EU LCS is the Challenger Series. It used to be this cyclical thing which drew from the ranked 5s ladder (that just means the mode where you can play as a team and try to move up the ranking tiers). What would happen is the top 20 teams from ranked 5s would participate in a play-in event then the five best teams would go through to a sort of mini league called Challenger 1. They would be joined by the bottom three teams from a promotion tournament between the top three previous Challenger teams and the bottom three previous LCS teams which decided who was relegated, who was promoted and who stayed where they were.

The top three teams from Challenger 1 would go on to the next mini league, Challenger 2 and be joined by 5 more teams culled from the ranked 5s ladder via another play-in. The top six would go through to play-offs, the winner would nab a trophy and the top three teams would take part in another promotion tournament against the lowest three LCS teams.

See? Cyclical.

You can also see how perhaps the same names and teams would come up again and again given this setup.

The CS has been rejigged now so eligibility comes through doing well in an open qualifier as well as via national leagues. The latter is where the idea of a UK (or a French or a German or….) team comes in. After those teams are decided there’s a bracket stage, some finals and THEN AND ONLY THEN we get to the EU CS.

Promotion of regional competition is something I’ve been going back to a lot, particularly since the Smite World Championships. That competition was one where the dominance of EU and NA felt obvious while many of the other regions had that thing where they were clearly the top dogs back home and the lack of fellow teams on their level to provide a challenge meant a lack of further learning experiences.

Worlds is good on that front because it does give different experiences and real competition even if just in small doses. The teams can take those learnings back to the regional scene where they [hopefully] filter into that level of competition. It’s a slow process though, and fraught with pitfalls and problems as well as questions about natural expansion rates and division of resources.

I’ve also had a not-insignificant number of conversations with people about how teams and team loyalty works, where fandom springs from and whether there are “local” teams to support in the same way that they are for football or rugby or baseball.

So this is where my interest in the national spots for the qualifiers is coming from. One is whether targeting specific countries will actually lift the competitive scene in that country, and the other is whether it would lead to anything approaching that sense of regional pride or affiliation you get with sports that have a local stadium/base of operations – something more connected to a city or a county than a country or a continent.

According to James Dean, managing director for ESL UK which runs the League of Legends UK Premiership (the route for the specific UK slot):

“We’ve witnessed first-hand massive growth in both viewership and tournament participation, and some of our most promising national sides have started to contest the rest of Europe in major competitions. The UK scene still has a way to go until we can challenge the strongest teams across the globe, but the inclusion of the Challenger Series slot allows the community to continue its progression.”

I should maybe point out that the LoL comments sections have a lot of speculation that this will be THE WORST and encourage people with regional slots to not try as hard and that it is cruel to everyone who doesn’t have a regional path to the qualifiers. I should maybe also point out that this is the standard response to everything in League of Legends. More interesting have been the discussions about general tournament availability in various regions, the idea of needing practice in extended best-of match formats and whether this whole thing will help or hinder when it comes to sponsorship opportunities.

Rather than outline a further set of qualifying requirements I’ll just link to the information on joining and competing in the ESL UK Premiership here. Maybe YOU can become the Manchester United* of esports.

*1. I appreciate perhaps using United as emblematic of gaining local support is problematic but SHUT UP you know what I am getting at.

2. What do you mean “fifth in the premiership”? And why are Leicester second? HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN ASLEEP?


  1. symuun says:

    Having a local gaming team to root for always seems tricky if you’re British. Are there any esports in which UK players tend to do well? It’s funny that some countries like Sweden and Germany seem to produce a lot of top-tier players, but we don’t seem to be able to do the same. Or am I just following the wrong games?

  2. Malibu Stacey says:

    Maybe YOU can become the Manchester United* of esports.

    The equivalent in eSports would be something like a team from the UK having the majority of their support being from the Middle East =P

    Also do we really need this nationalistic tribalism to carry over to eSports? As long as people in a team are roughly in the same timezone, get decent ping times & can communicate with each other what benefits does it give them if they’re all British or German or Mexican or Iranian or whatever as opposed to making a team of players who gel together regardless of which country they were born in?

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      Philippa Warr says:

      Part one of the footnote acknowledges the problem with using United in that way ;)

      With regard to the nationalism/regionalism/tribalism. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, I’m just wondering if this will provoke it. Similarly the article isn’t really engaging with the question of whether improving a particular region’s professional gaming scene is the best use of the developer’s resources or in the majority of players’ interests, just that this is happening :)

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        The thing with football teams is they have a long history and were for the vast majority of their existence, entirely nationalistic. It’s only in the last 15-20 years that we’ve seen the influx of foreign players into the top leagues. Manchester United, and all other British teams, for up to 100 years had entirely British players, a British manager and a vast majority of British fans. There is at least tradition to support there that makes them a longstanding British institution, regardless of the makeup of the current team setup (although plenty of fans no doubt still dislike “those darn foreigners). Without that existing in eSports it remains to be seen how much of a patriotic following these teams can garner.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          No doubt at one point teams were made up of local players and when teams started buying players from outside their local area it would have been met with similar dismay, “don’t want those damn southerners in the team!” etc.

    • Ksempac says:

      The thing is, that whole tribalism thing is already in eSport. A big number of people roots for whatever eSport team happens to have players of the same nationality as them (even if the org is based elsewhere).

      You can see it across all eSports, just by casually browsing forums and subreddits. North American CS:GO watchers lament the lack of an NA team in the top 10, CIS (Eastern Europe) eSports fans root for Virtus Pro or NAVI teams (because they usually have players from CIS countries), and UK players lament the great absence of one of their own among the eSport elite.

      Whatever this tribalism is, however stupid it is, it is deeply ingrained into us.

      I recognize on a rational level that tribalism is very stupid, completely baseless, and potentially scary (if it turned to hate of the others teams). And yet, i keep falling for it when deciding which team to root for when watching a new eSport.

      When watching a sport or an esport for the first time, you will probably want to get involved in the match, not just passively watch it like the news…rooting for a team is a good way to achieve that. But you you know nothing about whatever game is being played, so you can’t really pick a player or a team based on their playstyle, their record, or whatever…And thus, tribalism/nationalism becomes the instantly available criteria to pick a team and start getting pumped up.

      So yeah, that whole tribalism thing is a tricky thing to tackle. Just wishing it wouldn’t be there isn’t enough to make it disappear.