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NA’s Lack of Homegrown Talent: Worrying Trend or Just a Phase?

North America’s lack of homegrown talent in the LCS had been highlighted by many as being the main bottleneck for NA’s growth and competitiveness as a region. This issue has risen again to the forefront of the League of Legends community, with G2 Esports coach Weldon Green voicing this concern during his talk with theScore esports on March 31st:

“One of NA’s biggest problems is lack of home-grown talent. The skill level is just lower. And part of that comes from just sheer population… When you have a bell curve, and you are taking the top 0.002%, if your bell curve is two or three times as big, you just get better 0.002%.”

He, like many before him, have pointed to the low server population – equating to low talent pool – in North America as being a significant factor in the lack of NA talent in the pro scene.

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Source: op.gg (2017)

It is well-known that NA server population is a fraction of Europe’s and South Korea’s, which affects the rate at which home-grown talent emerges onto the pro scene. Many worry that the lack of NA talent will decrease the competitiveness of the region as a whole, leading to the demise of the region in the long term. However, is it really the worrying trend it is made out to be?

Examining the current popularity of League of Legends in North America juxtaposed with the general pattern of growth of a sport in any region, it would be unreasonable to expect the trend to continue. The natural progression from popularity, then ease of access to population growth, and finally emergence of home-grown talent – seen historically across multiple sports -point to this lack of NA talent being just a phase.  The correlation between player base size and emergence of home-grown talent is well established, so two cases will be used to focus on the relationship between popularity and player population growth.

Hockey in Canada demonstrate the effect ease of access has on the talent pool, while PC gaming in South Korea demonstrate that popularity lowers the barriers to population growth.

Best Hockey Nation for Talent Development: Canada
Relationship between Ease of Access and Population

Canadian flag and the puck on the ice

Canada is the undisputed best when it comes to developing hockey talent, having produced seven #1 NHL draft picks in the last ten years. Its strength comes from its wealth of junior hockey leagues – OHL, WHL, and QMJHL – in which the best in the world come to participate in.

This abundance of junior hockey leagues and tournaments are made possible by having the biggest hockey population in the world. The 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) survey figures report Canada’s registered player base as 639,500, beating out the United States’ hockey population of 543,239 by almost a hundred thousand.

To an outsider, this is shocking news, since Canada’s total population is just 35 million. In contrast, United States boasts almost ten times that number, with 321 million people. So what enables Canada to have such a high talent pool? High popularity bordering on religious levels is an obvious answer, but not a sufficient one. Ease of access rounds out the answer, in determining a sport’s population levels.

Canada has 8,250 hockey rinks, according to IIHF reports. This means there is one hockey rink per 4,242 people. On the contrary the United States has one hockey rink per 114,643 people, which contributes to its hockey talent pool being lower than that of Canada’s.

Discount retail stores like Play it Again Sports further lower the barriers to entry. allowing hockey players to get hockey equipment for cheaper prices.

La Masia of South Korea: PC Bangs
Ease of access to popularity? Or popularity to ease of access?

ca67e542d5946df2b357948e8b7462b3Korean youth playing League of Legends at a PC bang.

Youth visit the 9,139 PC Bangs in South Korea every day. They click and clack through various games, the biggest being Riot Games’ League of Legends. When asked, every Korean pro will admit they played at a PC Bang as an amateur at some point. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Korean community jokingly refers to the PC bangs as a youth development system, likening it to elite soccer player factory La Masia of Barcelona FC.

It is obvious that the abundance of PC bangs creates the ease of access in the same way the Canadian hockey rinks do, growing the Korean PC gaming talent pool. Since the history of PC gaming and PC bangs are very short compared to hockey, it provides a clear example with which the relationship between popularity and ease of access can be studied.

Although they seem to have been around forever, PC bangs were not a concept familiar to Koreans even just twenty years ago. People played in arcades, and only the select few with the luxury of owning a personal computer enjoyed a few PC games. Then, Starcraft appeared on the market. The new exciting game greatly increased demand for computers, which was met by new businesses – PC bangs.

The explosive popularity of Starcraft made PC bangs a viable option as a business for people, and it was on the back of this boom that South Korea’s gaming population and environment grew to today’s standards. Now, League of Legends at PC bangs offers all the champions, and there are Riot hosted amateur leagues in sixteen regions. In Korea, the dream of becoming a pro gamer isn’t just a dream; rather, it is a realistic goal that talented amateurs – ones that might not even have computers at home –  can pursue.

What goes around, comes around
Full Cycle

Popularity of a sport lowers the barriers to entry, making it easily accessible. This ease of access then creates an environment conducive to growing the talent pool – growing the bell curve to create the better 0.002% as mentioned by Weldon. This is a natural progression, one that cannot be interfered or skipped by artificial means.

Relating this to the argument that player population determines the amount of home-grown talent, a full causal cycle can be created:

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With good home-grown talent comes competitiveness and innovation as a region, which then contributes to popularity. It is a continual cycle, and the development of any sport in a region follows this pattern.

NA Talent: Patience is a Virtue

North American League of Legends is no outlier to the aforementioned historical pattern. The huge popularity of League of Legends and the LCS is currently leading to the lowering of barriers. The mainstream opinion of gaming in general is being changed, and it is not uncommon to see e-sports bars and internet cafes around cities. College leagues and scholarships also work to give talented amateurs a stepping stone for pro play.

CaptureGood Game Bar in Toronto advertising their Overwatch tournament. It also offers League of Legends.

This snowball will continue to grow. Patience must be had while the barriers to entry are naturally lowered by a collective effort of people working off the popularity of League of Legends and e-sports as a whole.

Players like Akaadian, Contractz, and Dardoch may seem like outliers. It would be better to think of them as the start of a new wave, and stay patient. The path that North America is on presents solid support for that claim that superstar players will continually emerge from North America in the future.

What can be done now?

Just continue with what is presently being done and professionalize.

The failure of the German national soccer team in Euro 2000 demonstrates that without proper infrastructure, even a large talent pool cannot effectively yield good home-grown talent

North America is currently building up solid infrastructure, and should continue to do so while waiting for the natural progression to lead into talent pool growth. This includes a players’ union, as pointed out by Weldon.

If NA can stabilize its infrastructure to standards similar to traditional sports, it will be able to take maximum advantage of the next generation of top 0.002% gamers from a bigger bell curve. With investment from big NBA organizations, stabilization seems to be coming very soon for North America.

The current lack of talent in NA is not a worrying trend. It is just a phase, and it will soon climb out of Diamond 2 into Challenger.

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KT Rolster Acquires Deft

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On the 1st of December (KST), KT Rolster has officially announced the signing of Kim “Deft” Hyuk Kyu to their 2017 roster.

Deft debuted with Samsung Galaxy Blue in 2013, and made it to the semi-finals of the 2014 World Championship with the team. Since then, he has enjoyed success with EDG, reaching the quarterfinals of the World Championship for two straight years.

With Deft’s signing, KT Rolster has created a formidable roster consisting of Smeb, Score, Pawn, and Deft.

The support role is empty for now, but sources as well as KT’s ambitions point to an S-tier support. It is rumored to be Mata.

 

 

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New Inven Rumors: (Easyhoon, Bengi, Pray/Gorilla, ROX, Longzhu, etc)

1. Rift between Easyhoon and Vici Gaming

easyhoon
– The brief rumor about a link between Bang and VG was real.
– Easyhoon requested to VG that they acquire one of SKT’s bot duo. VG had already planned on getting a Korean ADC, so they went after Bang.
However, Bang and Wolf re-signed with SKT, and Easyhoon was upset.
– VG then hurriedly changed targets to Pray, but Pray’s preference for a Korean team was too strong.
– VG has suggested other ADCs to Easyhoon, but he was not happy. VG is worried that they will now also lose Easyhoon.

2. Bang and Wolf resigning with SKT was because of Bengi?

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– Whether it be retirement or military conscription, Bengi had planned to leave SKT. He felt bad that he could not be more useful to the team due to his dependence on certain metas.
– Bengi persuaded Bang and Wolf to stay. He told them that because he was planning to leave, it would be an incredible disservice to SKT if all of them leave.
– If the bot duo had left, Bengi would have remained.

3. A sponsorship offer to ROX was real.

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– Of course, it was under the condition that every team member had to remain on ROX, which obviously did not happen.
– The new head coach Kang (formerly head coach of Afreeca and CJ) is really trying to get that sponsor on board still.

4. Longzhu Superteam?

longzhu
– Longzhu wants Easyhoon as their midlaner. VG wishes to keep him.
– LZ also is trying to get MaRin. The problem is that players in general do not show interest in joining LZ. MaRin will most likely not join, and Duke and Ssumday are part of the Plan B. They may compete with SKT over Ssumday.
– Easyhoon may join, as his relationship with VG has soured (reasons mentioned above)
– VG and LZ are both targeting Kuro if they cannot acquire/keep Easyhoon.
– The Longzhu bot duo is rumored to be Pray and Gorilla.

5. Apdo (Dopa) to EDG?

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– According to Apdo, EDG had seriously made an offer to him when Pawn was injured.
– EDG released Koro1 with the intention of acquiring Smeb, but changed their plans of importing Korean top/adc to mid/adc after Semb signed with KT.
– There is almost 0% chance that Apdo will go to EDG, however.

6. The new mid of ROX is Bdd?

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– Coach Kang (who had coached Bdd while at CJ) wants Bdd as the new mid of ROX. He still remembers how a young Bdd smashed all other candidates during CJ’s mid tryouts.
– Bdd seems to prefer going to China’s LPL, however.

7. Top laner for SKT?

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– It is true that all free agent top laners and top amateurs tried out for SKT.
– People who suddenly surged up in the solo queue ladder are most likely the people who tried out for SKT
– Flame is rumored to have tried out for SKT as well.

 

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