search slide
search slide
pages bottom

LCS Teams Want to Develop Talent Like Pro Sports

The offseason after Cloud 9's fifth-place finish in the 2016 NALCS Spring Split brought with it significant changes to the roster. BunnyFuFu finally starts at support after sitting out the split to learn the art of shot calling from Hai. Balls has been replaced in the top lane by former world champion Impact. And with the cap on import players set at two, Rush steps down at jungle, opening the door for fan favorite Meteos to re-enter the roster.

Meanwhile, the C9 Challenger squad boasts a mix of Cloud 9 veterans and a pool of prospects. Hai, Balls, Rush, and LemonNation return to their old roles at mid, top, jungle, and support respectively. Already a bit of a journeyman at 19, Altec starts at ADC. Their substitutes include brand new players like Licorice at top and Fragnati1c at ADC, as well as young players who've bounced around the LCS and Challenger Series like Thinkcard at jungle and kt Smurf at mid.

In a video released by the team, Hai illuminated the reasoning for the substantial roster shift; why LCS stalwarts were now on an NACS roster.

"So we are currently building a Challenger team with the purpose of training Challenger players and kind of growing the pool of North American players," Hai said.

While their immediate duty was to actually earn their way into the NACS through the summer qualifiers, Cloud 9’s main goal now is to cultivate regional talent in their organization. The roster overhaul makes sense for the popular club, given they originally took the LCS by storm as an all-NA roster coming from the Challenger Series. But the impetus to collect prospects also makes sense in the current NALCS landscape. Whereas in previous years the trend for teams looking to fill open roster spots was to break the bank on free agents across the pond, teams are now opting to train a raw but promising well of North American players.

After Team Liquid lost Quas, IWillDominate and Xpecial before the 2016 Spring Split, they looked toward their Challenger team, Liquid Academy. With the tentpoles of Fenix at mid and Piglet at ADC in place, Team Liquid promoted Lourlo at top, Dardoch at jungle, and Matt at support, all three of whom blew past expectations during the split. In particular, Dardoch won Rookie of the Split honors from Riot. This following a healthy dose of doubt when the roster was originally announced.

When Counter Logic Gaming dropped the face of their franchise in Doublelift, they promoted Stixxay from their Challenger team, CLG Black. Like Liquid's moves, the addition of Stixxay at ADC drew skepticism, but the rookie consistently improved and justified his starting spot while CLG stayed at the top of the standings all split. Stixxay nabbed a statement triple kill to close out the final series against TSM, boasting higher damage output than Doublelift through all five games. He continued to defy expectations during the Mid-Season Invitational. CLG earned their way to the finals with Stixxay and aphromoo in the top four of kill participation for the entire field of players.

Building through the draft

The organizational strategy begs comparison to dynasty sports teams in the NHL, NBA and NFL who build through the draft as opposed to dropping millions on sexy free agents or making Madden NFL GMs blush with gargantuan, knee-trembling trades.

Under the patient hand of Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs own five championships since 1999. The first came two years after drafting power forward Tim Duncan with the first overall pick. That same year, the team drafted shooting guard Manu Ginóbili — a player who slept through the draft because he had no inclination he would be picked. It was the beginning of San Antonio's signature drafting style: mining the overlooked European region for players and allowing them to develop overseas. Ginóbili in particular continued playing in an Italian league before making the plunge into the NBA in 2002. Another undervalued European, point guard Tony Parker was drafted by the team with the 28th pick in 2001 and joined the roster immediately.

With the core of Duncan, Ginóbili and Parker, the Spurs went on to claim the championship titles in '03, '05, '07 and '14. And though these players may soon retire, they'll be leaving the Spurs' future in the capable hands of Kawhi Leonard. Obtained from the Indiana Pacers immediately after they drafted him, the 24-year-old has already been named Defensive Player of the Year twice (’15 and ’16), the NBA Finals MVP (’14), and an NBA All-Star (’16).

C9's Hai agrees on seeing more teams opt for developing talent within the region as opposed to signing imports. Like Gregg Popovich scouting Yugoslavia in the late '80s, Hai sees a pool of resources being overlooked.

"There's a lot of good players that just need the right training [and] fostering to grow into great players," Hai believes. "I'll have more time [and] availability to be risky coming up too, so that allows me to spend more time to build up players."

Drafting or signing blue-chip prospects also affords teams to cast a wide net for inexpensive role-players who can develop within the team culture. Maybe they become pillars of the organization like Leonard. Or maybe when they're due for a pay raise, they can be sent off for more draft picks, as is the case with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The NHL's hard salary cap forces constant turnover of rosters, but the Blackhawks always manage to ice a competitive team through the draft. When it comes time to give a substantial raise to a role-player, the Hawks flip the valuable asset for more draft picks. The more draft picks, the likelier a young and cheap skater comes in to supplant the ever-expensive departing talent. Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg; these essential players during Chicago's 2010 Stanley Cup win were shipped off the following season in favor of new draftees. When a superstar comes along, however, the Hawks sign them long-term. Through their three Stanley Cup wins in '10, '13 and '15, they've maintained their steady (and expensive) core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, who were all consequently drafted by Chicago. The NFL’s New England Patriots follow the same pattern.

Of course, in the LCS, there are no draft picks. But there is a void of infrastructure for young players to grow in the Challenger Series. When a strong foundation exists, players like Dardoch and Stixxay emerge. This is something Cloud9 hopes to further tap into through their restructuring efforts.

"It lets them grow as players under stable organizations rather than shady ones that we don't know if they would be taken advantage of or not," Hai said.

Future looking bright

Hai admitted the plan set in motion may take some time, but the ultimate vision is to field a team not unlike the C9 squad who shocked the scene following their qualification into the NALCS.

"That sounds like the goal,” Hai said, “but we're a little ways from that at the moment."

For more League of Legends features, follow @redbullesports on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

Leave a Reply

Captcha image