The LCS Import Rule Debate: Remove or Keep?

North American League of Legends Team Owners have recently opened up to Riot Games the possibility of removing the LCS Import Rule to “create a more competitive environment” for the region. As the LCS Owners expressed their favor over the issue, the players, fans, and LCS personnel obviously expressed their dissatisfaction. As the conversation about the topic continues to heat up, let’s take a look into the specifics to create a more solid stance on the matter.

What is the LCS Import Rule?

The LCS Import Rule refers to the terms set by Riot Games that limits the number of non-North American or Oceanic citizens that can be take up a starting position in a team. The current limitation set is 2 foreign players per team is allowed to start in the game. This means that there should be at least 3 Homegrown or Resident North American players starting for an LCS team at all times which gives North American citizens the chance of being picked by an LCS organization to play.

Impact playing on stage
Homegrown Players vs Foreign Talent

Foreign Players may attain IMP Residency in the LCS which qualifies them from taking up an import slot. As of the changes in the IMP in 2016, it will take a foreign player to stay in a North American country for a minimum of 4 years before they are considered NA residents instead of 2 years. This allows players to full commit a portion of their careers to North America so that it won’t be too easy to fill an entire roster with non-Americans.

What began the LCS Import Rule?

The Import Rule was put in place after a team called LMQ appeared in the LCS during the 2014 Summer Season. LMQ was a North American organization which was owned by a Chinese company. All of the players in the roster were Chinese players. They were a fairly strong team that placed 2nd in the regular season and 3rd in the Summer 2014 Playoffs which qualified them for Worlds 2014. They were good but not too dominant.

Team LMQ promotion picture in LCS 2014
The team that started it all

In fear of more foreign organizations making the same moves around the world, Riot Games put in place the Import Rule. This discouraged more foreign companies from creating teams from their home region to compete in another country. LMQ then rebranded into Team Impulse and adopted NA residents and NA homegrown talent to fill the roster to comply with the rules.

Team Owner’s Side of the Story

We don’t have the exact statements coming from every team owner but reports have claimed that no CEO have expressed that they’re against the removal of the LCS Import Rule. This means that all 10 LCS Organizations are technically alright with having the restriction lifted from the competitive league. One of the stronger opinions in this matter is TSM’s Reginald, who is currently under fire for expressing his thoughts on social media.

Here's what EVERY LCS TEAM said about LIFTING THE PLAYER IMPORT RULE when asked
Travis Gafford: LCS Teams talk about the Import Rules

Advantage For Team Owners

It’s understandable why Team Owners want to get foreign players and that’s because it’s faster and easier to incorporate successful players than develop talented young players to their peak. This gives the teams the highest chance of winning overall. Regardless of whether a team’s financial status, it’s easier to buy talented players from foreign countries than homegrown players purely because of the value for money.

Question For Debate

While it’s true that winning the prize pool is a great way to get revenue for the organization, the biggest sources of revenue for an esports organization are sponsorship and merchandise. Will local fans buy more merchandise from their favorite organizations if the players are non-Americans? Will big-name companies sponsor esports teams with foreign players? How will the organizations benefit from this change in terms of finances?

THE ANSWER – Believe it or not, organizations might actually earn more money if they bring in a more diverse set of players. For instance, buying off a player with a huge fanbase will affect the team’s prominence significantly and is a huge chance for promotion. Let’s say that TSM manages to buy off Faker or any Korean Superstars, who has millions of fans internationally. That by itself will entice sponsors and fans to spend their money on that organization and triple or even quadruple their revenue.

LCS Players Side of the Story

LCS players, fans, and some Riot Games personnel have expressed on social media that they are strongly against this move. Most of the people who are against simply want to preserve the North American identity of the region even if it’s just 1-3 players per team who do so. Players are mainly concerned about their career security since being able to get foreign talent means that organizations are less likely to invest on them, even if it’s just for the LCS Academy.

Questions for Debate

The job security issue is the biggest question that LCS players will ask if ever the LCS import rule is removed. There are dozens of talented players internationally who are looking for a big stage to play. Wildcard regions are the biggest sources of talented players who want to take the chance of going overseas to compete in major regions like the LCS to develop their careers. What will happen to the LCS players if the import rule is lifted?

THE ANSWER – It’s pretty much as you’d expect although to be fair, the LCS is already dominated by foreign players. If ever the LCS Import Rule is removed, the region will see a surge of international talent but that doesn’t mean that every North American player will lose their jobs. Some players have already proven themselves better than a few foreign players in the LCS but the main problem isn’t for those who already established themselves but for those who are looking for their start.

TSM Reginald – Man of the Hour

TSM Reginald is the man who is seen as the major antagonist in this issue simply because of one tweet. Although, after reading his tweet, it’s understandable why people have become so angry at him while others just can’t help but meme him so hard. Despite being the man on the spotlight, other people like Doublelift and Jack Etienne share the message behind his tweet and believe that the LCS Import Rule isn’t harmful to the region.

The reply to Vulcan’s tweet is described as tasteless and offensive. So much so that many other big personalities in esports have expressed that Reginald’s tweet shouldn’t have been made in the first place and is an opinion that isn’t worth supporting. TSM has 3/5 foreign players with Spica being the only homegrown talent. We might see that Regi wants to create a superteam of imports with the big budget that TSM has accumulated over the years.

The Future of Young LCS Players

The LCS has finally seen a surge of young players that are showcasing their talents on the LCS as worthy successors of the Kings of the LCS. Noteworthy players include Spica, Tactical, Blaber, Johnsun, FBI, and Lost. The region has long been dominated by LCS veterans and foreign players which has made it difficult to make the transition from Academy to Pro League but as the veterans face retirement one by one, organizations have little choice but to place their faith in the young ones.

The lifting of the LCS import rule is a threat to this development. The LCS Academy is the final bastion for young aspirants to take their talents and eventually be noticed for their natural skills in the league. We might see the LCS import rule affect both the LCS main tournament and Academy League which will cut down the total number of yearly NA players by half. Eventually, it’ll be a rare occurrence for the LCS to even have a North American player competing in the league.

The International Community’s Opinion On The LCS

The international community in general adores the LCS and seeing a countryman making it to the region is definitely a welcome sight for those who are looking to be represented. For example, Vietnam expressed their full support for Suning Gaming (an LPL team) during Worlds 2020 because of SofM. The same could happen to the LCS especially considering that the world knows fewer names in the region after the most prominent bunch have decided to retire.

The Internet, however, has absolutely no love for the LCS. Specifically, Europeans, who consider the LCS as their bitter enemies and a thorn on their side. The internet mocks the LCS for relying mostly on foreign talent instead of homegrown players, something that has become increasingly prominent in the LEC. As long as the issue stays within the LCS, the internet won’t have any qualms about the decision since they already see the region as an import heavy environment anyway.

Will the LCS Remove the Import Rule?

The opinions regarding the import rule is split at best. There is no guarantee that the region will be implementing the removal of the rule anytime this season but if the idea gathers enough support (which it currently doesn’t) then it will stay as is for the foreseeable future.

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