Are LoL Imports Ruining the Quality of Esports?

The League of Legends Esports scene has been one of the best parts of following the game even if the player has grown apart from actually playing the game. The esports scene has always been a good source of excitement, conversation, and even drama. Even though LoL imports have been around ever since the early days of esports, many fans have been dissatisfied with the state of the current esports scene due to the increasing demand for overseas talent.

Who are the League of Legends Import Players?

LoL import players refer to overseas talent that has set both their citizenship and residency to a country not native to the domestic league. For example, the LCS only recognizes the USA, Canada, and Oceania (due to the dissolution of the OPL) as native countries to the region due to the import rule. Players that are not part of these countries or continents will be considered imports and will not be able to play in teams that already have two other import players in the starting position.

TL Impact smiling at the camera - LoL Imports
A new home in a new region

A player may lose the status of being an import player if they acquire residency in that domestic region. Since teams are only limited to having two import players maximum, organizations highly prize players that have acquired residency since they are no longer considered imports. To lose the status of being an import, players need to follow the guidelines of acquiring citizenship in the country they are currently playing for and meet the minimum requirements of the domestic league.

Why are LoL Import Players so Highly Sought After?

It’s not that domestic leagues prefer foreign talent over domestic ones, it’s just that they prefer players with established reputations such as established veterans or upcoming young players that have performed excellently in minor leagues or scouting grounds. This is the case for the LCS who has spent more resources in acquiring foreign talent more so than they develop upcoming domestic players. Minor Regions are also extremely keen on acquiring foreign talent that has experience playing in Major Regions.

Perkz with a g2 jersey - lol imports
11 Million Dollar Contracts!

For the longest time, Koreans have been the most sought-after foreign talent in the entire League of Legends esports scene. Korean players are known for being the best League of Legends players in the world. Every league in the entire world has at least 1 Korean player as of the 2021 season. These players offer a lot of individual value to the team and are usually the main carries in their team which is why a lot of organizations want to invest in them.

The Disadvantages of having LoL Imports

Now that we’ve discussed why organizations like to have foreign talent on their team, we must also discuss why having imports can be a disadvantage for a team. Disadvantages don’t necessarily mean that they’re harmful to the esports environment but they can affect the performance of a team. However, there is a lot of leeway for the player and his/her teammates to work around these “disadvantages” which makes it worth the investment.

1. Language Barriers

The biggest reason why LoL imports can be a disadvantage is the language barrier. This is especially true for Korean players. Most western organizations try to find talent that has a conversational level of English, which is the minimum standard to make sure that aspects such as teamfighting and macro communication can still be achieved. There are a lot of trial imports that have never made it into the main roster due to language issues. One of them being – Levi from the VCS.

GAM Levi rubbing his hands together - LoL imports
Communication is the key to success

As mentioned, this disadvantage can have a workaround. Having a player on your team that is bilingual or multilingual can give you a bridge towards communicating with the team. For a professional player, communication is only a small percentage of performance because they can assume what the play is going to be according to pings or how the team is moving around the map. Of course, teams that do communicate well are the most successful ones in esports.

2. Performance Deterioration

A common occurrence with LoL imports, especially in the LCS is the deterioration of performance once they make the switch. Fans often theorize that it is because of the loose nature of esports culture in western countries that turns the players more complacent once they join the team. However, a lot of other reasons such as mental health, failure to adapt culturally, and/or lose the drive to compete at the highest-level due to financial stability.

CLG Crown playing LoL imports
Fallen Kings

This may seem like it’s only an issue in the west but even eastern teams have trouble with performance deterioration. Most Korean superstars that go to regions like the LPL experience performance issues early on in the season. Recently, Nuguri hasn’t been up to par to his performance in the LCK the previous year when he became the 2020 World Champion alongside Damwon Gaming. This is a risk that most teams will be taking whenever they try to sign a veteran from overseas.

How the LoL Import Market is Breaking the Esports Scene

Disadvantages aside, the import market itself brings a much bigger problem to the esports scene as a whole. Even though League of Legends is not the only esports (or sports for that matter) that allows foreign talent in rosters, this is the only game that makes a big deal about adding non-native talent to their team. Aside from pre-existing LoL rivalries, fans can’t seem to accept the fact that a region has players from another league to help them achieve greatness.

The LoL import market is only damaging in terms of domestic talent management. Regions like the LEC have minimized relying on foreign talent and have instead developed rising names from minor leagues such as the LFL and Superliga. On the other hand, there are regions that only get a few rookies in the main tournaments via the scouting grounds and dump the rest of the young rookies in the academy leagues. Most of these rookies never get to play a professional game in the main league.

iG Rooki looking at his teammate - LoL Imports
Are imports making the game less competitive?

Region identity is one debate that most fans try to initiate when it comes to the reliance on overseas talent. For an LEC fan, it’s easy to bash the LCS whether they win or lose because the vast majority of their star players are Europeans. It’s the same for the LCK whenever they meet the LPL. This is an extremely worrying mindset because it creates a one-sided discourse that discredits the achievements of the entire team that was developed in the region they are currently in.

The biggest issue is the imbalance in the value of domestic and foreign talent. Players like Perkz and Swordart have been given record-breaking contracts while domestic talent still fall to the standard wage. It goes to show how much organizations are willing to spend on non-domestic players even if the performance may not match the size of their paychecks. This doesn’t only refer to the NA retirement package meme that has flooded the internet for quite a while, it also applies to other regions as well.

Will Esports Improve If LoL Imports Were Not Allowed?

NO. Definitely not. 100% no. As much as everybody doesn’t want to admit it, the quality of League of Legends esports revolves around the best set of 5 players putting up a great fight against the other team. On the rift, nationality doesn’t matter because skills are all that matters and some regions just have natively better players compared to other regions so it’s not their fault. Once you remove the option to have imports, competitiveness is monopolized to only two or three regions.

Fnatic Huni making a scrunched face - LoL Imports
Is it better if we stop importing players?

Esports has always been about fulfilling the players’ dreams of becoming a World Champion so if they see a path towards getting the best chances, even if it’s in another region, why should the esports format change to deny them of that dream? The fans are also living those dreams through their favorite teams or players so it shouldn’t matter who helps them achieve that. Esports should always be about having the best teams possible competing against each other.

Future of the Import Market in LoL Esports

Imports probably won’t be removed in the foreseeable future and there’s a chance that the restrictions on how many import players are allowed in one team may be removed altogether. Does this ruin the League? For some fans, maybe but the quality will be better for the league overall. After all, if you want a place in a team, your skills will always be the primary measurement on whether you are worthy to play with them or not.

TL Jensen giving a fistbump to Riv - LoL Imports
Respect the foreign talent!

LoL esports is a harsh place of competition that doesn’t favor a team that only cares about the opinions of a fan on who their players are. The biggest change that will apply in the import market is that foreign talent will continue to rise in value over domestic players. Since the scene is only becoming even more popular, we can only hope that domestic players also receive fair compensation for their efforts as well.

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