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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

TSM leaves the LCS – The long decline of LoL in North America

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With TSM, one of the most well-known esports organisations ever is leaving the League of Legends scene in North America. How it came to this and which goals TSM will pursue in the future, you can find out in this article.
For years,

TSM was arguably the most influential North American Esports organisation in League of Legends. On Twitter, however, CEO Reginald has now announced his retirement from the scene.

While this marks the end of an era for many, a large part of the community is not surprised by this decision. Things haven’t seemed to be going so well for the American LoL League for some time now.

TSM leaves LCS

Although it may be hard for many to comprehend from today’s perspective: North America has long played a defining role in the League of Legends esports scene. Players such as Bjergsen, Dyrus or Doublelift became absolute superstars during their time with Team SoloMid.

Despite a lack of special successes, TSM still enjoys a large fan base and has long been a hopeful for a world championship title for the NA region (North America).

TSM is also one of the founding teams of the LCS and has been accompanying American LoL fans since 2013.

On Twitter, the team now posted an announcement from the CEO himself. In the video, Andy ‘Reginald’ Dinh announces TSM’s withdrawal from the LCS.

The team is leaving the American league to compete in another Tier 1 league. Exactly which league it is has not yet been officially announced. Investigative reporter Jacob Wolf reacted to the original post and speculated that TSM will most likely move to the LPL (China) . He said the aim was to finally win a world championship after failing to do so several times.

Many fans still want to remain loyal to the team, but more and more members of the community are concerned about the development of the LoL pro scene in North America.

As early as April 2023 Counter Logic Gaming sold its LCS spot and also left the league as a founding member.

Many see the teams’ decisions, among several other developments, as signs that the LoL esports scene in America is in a downward spiral

But how bad is it really for the LCS?

Is LoL esports dying in North America?

For months now, there has been talk that the American LoL league is in crisis.

To find out what the future holds for LoL esports in America, however, you have to take a slightly closer look at the evolution of the LCS.

Dropping viewership

One of the most striking points is the apparent lack of interest in the American league. Since 2018 (Dropping viewership) continuously with no prospect of improvement.

    Discussing LCS viewership in relation to LEC using charts
by      u/shedinja292 in     leagueoflegends  

Ex-TSM player Doublelift commented on the issue in his stream, stating that this development is also affecting players on LCS teams:

Doublelift describes in the clip a downward spiral where declining crowds affect the mindset and motivation of players and this then leads to the league declining in quality.

This, according to him, leads to a vicious circle that will end up with professional players only doing the bare minimum and the league completely losing its shine.

A lack of fan interest

Of course, LCS viewership isn’t just dropping, and it hasn’t just been dropping for a few months. There are several aspects underlying the decline in interest. One important reason for the declining viewer numbers is, for example, the lack of identification with the players of the LCS teams.

The YouTuber (Gbay99) justifies this development, among other things, with the fact that just under half of the players in the LCS come from North America. Among the 15 players who represented the LCS in 3 teams at the Worlds 2022, there were just three players from North America.

This effect seems to be confirmed by the opinions of the community. In a Reddit thread many fans wish for the time around 2014 back.

Teams like Dignitas or TSM had charismatic rosters back then, and it was normal for players to host their own streams or maintain their social media channels alongside their esports careers.

The feeling that esports players only play for the money at certain teams is becoming more entrenched among fans and is being harshly criticised:

by U/CADAADA from discussion WHY THE LCS IS DYING

According to user “Gluroo “ the new rosters of the teams would consist only of players you don’t know and about whom you have no information apart from their performance in pro games.

For many fans, this is an effect that the introduction of franchising in 2018 has brought. They say the organisations are too profit-driven and players have lost any connection with spectators, according “classacts99” to them.

This profit orientation is reflected in utopian salaries and expensive import purchases and seems to have a rather negative effect on the teams’ finances and the scene in general in the long run.

Utopical player salaries and the bursting esport bubble

The Corona pandemic has put the economy in general to the test. The Esport industry has also still not recovered from the economic downturn

Risk capitalists put a lot of money into organisations, hoping that they would significantly increase their success and value if only they had the financial means to do so. This led to utopian import purchases and player salariesin order to attract star players to the team and also to be able to keep them.

Not least this is due to the fact that the esports market is not really regulated. There are no trade unions or collective agreements that define upper limits. Accordingly, team owners alone decide where the limit of team spending lies, according Billy Studholme

This also means that rich teams can massively destabilise the market by offering high bids and in some cases set unrealistic standards 

In 2020 and 2021, the most expensive contracts of the LCS have been concluded so far. With “Jensen” signing with Cloud9 for 4.2 million dollars three years and “SwordArt” signing with TSM for 6 million dollars the most expensive contract in LCS history, the benchmark for a reasonable player salary was redefined once again.

All these investments, however, often fail to yield the hoped-for return. This leads to both investors and advertisers withdrawing from the industryas it is simply no longer considered profitable and consistent enough.

This in turn leads to a financial crisis for the team itself, as there is sometimes no longer enough money to pay players and staff adequately. This in turn can lead to redundancies or even the sale of the team s own LCS spot (see CLG).

Without regulation of player salaries or the emergence of new revenue streams it will be difficult for esports to recover from the current salary inflation.

The LCK agreed on a Inven salary cap in April to counteract this very inflation. However, no similar agreement is yet under discussion for the LCS.

What once seemed like an up-and-coming industry to many investors now seems to have turned out to be more of a misguided decision and is increasingly losing its appeal to sponsors.

The problem with young talent

The import trend among esports organisations inevitably affects young talent. Famous talents who have actually sprung from the North American league have become a rarity. This is largely due to the fact that the LCS has ongoing problems with the junior league 

At the end of 2022, both the Proving Grounds and the entire Academy system were scrapped and replaced by the North American Challengers League (NACL) 

In the NACL, ten seeded teams (the former Academy teams), plus six “Provisional” teams that can qualify in advance, compete against each other. For the LCS teams it was mandatory to have such a NACL team. The turnaround in the system was originally intended to help young talent from the region get into the LCS.

About a week ago, however, Riot Games published a blog post that quickly dashed hopes in the NACL. In that post, Riot explained that LCS teams will no longer be required to seed a NACL team starting in the summer of 2023 and 

Shortly after the announcement, almost all teams dropped their NACL teams and withdrew from the league.

The rule changes by Riot Games caused harsh criticism from the community and the LCS Players Association.

The LCSPA’s main criticism again is that Riot Games is increasingly making decisions in favour of team owners and is not willing to care about maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

While in Europe (LEC) the regional leagues (such as the German Prime League) are flourishing and providing young talent, the LCS does not seem to have much interest in improving.

This news combined with the leak of a possible change in the import rule, which would allow teams to field 3 foreign players instead of 2, make any hope of better promotion of young talent vanish.

VALORANT as a new competitor

In addition, the growing competition from alternative Esport titles in the scene should not be ignored when it comes to the topic of newcomers.

In June 2020, the tactical shooter VALORANT, also from Riot Games, was released. The game quickly gained popularity and is still gaining new players almost constantly today Although VALORANT is still very young, it seems to be extremely well received by Esport fans

One possible reason for the game’s rapid success could be the wide range of Esport tournaments introduced less than a year after the game’s release.

In addition to numerous international tournaments, there are many national leagues, such as the VALORANT Regional Leagues DACH, which offer young teams and players the opportunity to qualify for larger tournaments.

With the VCT Game Changers Riot even creates a tournament series for women and other discriminated genders for the first time. A similarly sustainable initiative has so far remained largely absent from League of Legends.

Although gender-segregated esports tournaments are controversial, Riot’s commitment to VALORANT proves that the developer is interested in attracting a lot of young talent to esports.

In an interview with Sportskeeda pro gamer Khalil “Khalil” Schmidt (FURIA) even said that based on the large investment from Riot, he thinks it is possible that VALORANT could overtake League of Legends in the future:

When I look at the investment in all these international tournaments that Riot is doing for Valorant, I personally believe that Valorant can become even bigger than League of Legends.

In North America, some of this conjecture even seems to be coming true already.

According to EsportsHeaven , the viewer numbers of the American VALORANT League overtook those of the LCS in 2022. Comparing the history of the two games, this is pretty bad news for the League of Legends scene.

Another factor that caused an outcry among LCS fans was the change in LCS broadcast times. While LCS matches were normally broadcast on Saturdays and Sundays, the schedule was completely overhauled at the end of 2022.

The new times (Thursday and Friday from 12 noon) caused incomprehension from a large part of the LoL community, as students as well as working people would have no possibility to follow the LCS live.

While League of Legends was moved to weekdays, the American VALORANT League got the weekend broadcast times. This quickly led many fans to conclude  Riot would have changed the schedule in favour of VALORANT.

Although this notion can’t really be proven, many League of Legends fans felt, Riot Games didn’t care much about the community or players, especially in early 2023. 

The LCS broadcast times have since been adjusted by Riot Games , but the Thursday and Friday days have been kept.

And what will happen to the LCS?

While Riot Games insists despite the negative developments that the LCS is still the second highest revenue league, the problems are nevertheless not to be overlooked.

Staff, former players and fans agree: the LCS needs change to keep it going. There is no denying that there is more than one construction site that needs to be rethought at the current level.

Even if things currently look anything but rosy from the point of view of many NA fans – As we all know, hope dies last.

However, this would inevitably require the LCS to be prepared to reconsider salary caps and junior regulations and possibly take an example from the LEC or LCK.

With the exit of TSM, another legendary esports team leaves the North American field, causing disappointment for many fans.

It still remains to be seen if Riot Games and the LCS will get their act together and North American fans will soon be able to proudly follow their professional LoL league again.


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