Last night, Travis Gafford of Travis Gafford Esports hosted his weekly talkshow covering all relevant topics in League esports, Hotline League. As usual, Travis took on caller after caller, but one specific caller shared an opinion that I took interest in.
To paraphrase, the caller stated that the line between emerging regions and major regions was blurring, particularly when it came to the LMS. He followed that up by stating that the LMS is almost at the level of emerging regions due to its poor performances at the World Championship and should potentially be relegated to such status.
Personally, I don’t think this opinion is too far-fetched, but the argument of raw tournament results is fairly nebulous considering that there are only two tournaments each year. Even then, there are numbers to entertain that the LMS’ international performances are not too far off from North America’s results, which he defended as performing better at the more important tournament — Worlds.
LMS vs. North America
Despite the LMS failing to get out of groups in both 2016 and 2017 at the World Championship, the region has always made it to the bracket stage at the Mid-Season Invitational on the back of Flash Wolves (and ahq). Meanwhile, North America has made it to the World Championship quarterfinals two years in a row, with Cloud9 being the representative each time. However, North America has only advanced to the MSI bracket stage once — Counter Logic Gaming’s 2nd place run in 2016 where they were arguably worse than Royal Never Give Up anyway.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that North America is stronger than the LMS based on these results, but it’s hard to pretend as if the results are not equally mediocre. Despite that, it’s fairly obvious that the NA LCS has better teams and more depth than the relatively top heavy LMS.
The actual regions themselves are further apart than the results entail, largely because of Flash Wolves’ domestic dominance coupled with some impressive international performance. If not for Flash Wolves (and ahq), it is pretty likely that the LMS would be a glorified minor region more so than a major one. NA might have similar performances, but team by team, there is more talent and competition in the NA LCS.
This is one example of international results not necessarily saying everything about a region. Flash Wolves might be close to the best teams North America has to offer, but it gets dicey past that point. It is unfair to conflate their results as meaning the two regions are inherently close to one another, supporting the idea that raw results require more discussion and context to be relevant.
LMS vs. Emerging Regions
Additionally, using international results against the LMS when compared to emerging regions, with the footnote that Flash Wolves are most of its success, is unfair when considering that the success of emerging regions is not particularly great either. Albus NoX Luna is still the only “wildcard” team to make it out of the group stage at an international event, with that result dating back to 2016. Meanwhile, Flash Wolves and ahq have historically pummeled teams from emerging regions at international events.
Despite that, it is difficult to ignore the success of the Gigabyte Marines in 2017 at both MSI and Worlds. While they didn’t make it out of the group stage, making the results themselves not impressive, they showed they could compete with the very best. Still, both the Marines and 1907 Fenerbahce proved through their play that they can be competitive with LMS teams that are not the creme de la creme. This is another instance of results not telling a whole story.
Despite the lack of an emerging region that challenges the LMS’ top representative, Flash Wolves, Turkey’s 1907 Fenerbahce did place over Hong Kong Attitude last year in the World Championship Play-Ins. In terms of the “LMS wildcard” argument, this is the greatest result to leverage against the region. Hong Kong Attitude failed to defeat Fnatic and was the only major region seed that failed to make it to the Group Stage.
Hong Kong Attitude did play against the strongest Play-In team, but considering the major vs. minor status, it is still a large upset and the biggest strike against the LMS. Still, much like other international results, it is just one occurrence. G-Rex is a more talented and level-headed team than HKA and drew a weaker group. If G-Rex also fails to make it out of Play-Ins this year, then the discussion of LMS becoming a lesser region can certainly be opened and entertained.
As a final thought, I was always against the idea of the LMS receiving a third seed, believing that another major region could do more with that representation. Nowadays, I think the VCS could also use that representation, but Latin America’s regional merge might result in that for next year anyway. If things eventually come down to the discussion of the LMS losing a spot or even two, I don’t think it’s unfair.
Overall, Riot’s lack of international tournaments make raw tournament results a poor center of discussion. It is a good place to start off and springboard the discussion of teams involved, but the best evidence will always lie in the overall competition domestically. Clement Chu used to say that the best way to measure the health of a league is by looking at its bottom teams and that’s perfectly applicable to the LMS. Flash Wolves have won six LMS splits in a row without much competition and that is a more compelling argument than simple Worlds results.
The power structure in the LMS has blurred, but there’s no doubt that the region’s depth is still far behind the other major regions. Flash Wolves continue to perform and put up big wins against legitimate teams, while also not losing to an emerging region since paiN Gaming in 2015, but that’s just the Wolves. Even then, while some of its ranks are certainly worse than the best that some minor regions have to offer — the LMS is not a “wildcard” region quite yet.
Photo: (Riot Games, Lolesports, Garena Esports)