The Off-Season is a great time to be a fan of any sport. Past failures are forgotten and dreams of future glory are in abundance. Roster Changes bring both tearful goodbyes as favored players retire from the scene, and exultant celebrations when the next big thing arrives to take their place. With just the right amount of self-delusion, any fan can convince themselves that their team is just one roster move from being a contender. So as October 20th approached, the community rubbed their hands together in excitement, expecting roster changes to fly left and right as teams make a mad dash to grab talent. Except, when the 20th arrived, it didn’t happen. A few players retired, and a few players changed teams, but nothing major and nothing close to what the fans expected. So what happened? The Expansion Tournament.
2014 Expansion Tournament Schedule
November 15-16: NA Expansion (Round 1)
November 22-23: NA Expansion (Round 2), EU Expansion (Round 1)
November 29-30: EU Expansion (Round 2)
December 12-14: NA Live Expansion
December 18-21: EU Live Expansion
One of the thing’s Riot has consistently struggled with is the timing of their Promotion Tournaments. In the past, these tournaments took place so late in the season that newly qualified teams had mere weeks to acquire the necessary living arrangements and equipment to compete in the LCS before the split began. More than one team has been forced to rely on the generosity of a more established team and crash at their residence while they took the time to acquire their own. Not a simple task for groups of teenage boys that can only guarantee their ability to afford the residence for four months at a time, lest they fail to qualify for the next split. It appeared that Riot had learned their lesson when they scheduled the promotion tournament immedietely following the Summer Split, and before Worlds, thus giving qualified teams almost four months to secure their arrangements. Unfortunately, Riot seemed to have forgotten the lesson when they scheduled the Expansion Series finals for the middle of December, less than a month before the traditional early-mid January start of the LCS. This will again leave the recently qualified LCS teams with little time to secure their living arrangements before the start of the Spring Split unless the shorter schedule means the Split will start later than in the past (unlikely, as the Playoffs are going to be longer). Now, it’s highly possible that the logisitics of the situation forced Riot to wait until mid November to begin the tournament (they had a World Championship to run afterall), but I can’t help but think spreading the expansion tournament over four weeks was a bit unnecessary.
The delayed start, and longer than necessary tournament structure has left most LCS teams with their hands tied as much of the top available talent in both regions is participating in the Expansion Tournament. Players like Keane, Saintvicious, BunnyFuFu, Nien and Nintendudex in North America, and a large number of former LCS players in EU including all of Millennium, stand as possible replacement options should their respective teams not qualify through the Expansion Tournament. Having this large pool of talent locked up until Mid Novemeber at the earliest, and Mid December at the latest has temporarily slowed down the offseason to a crawl. A few teams, such as TSM and Alliance, have the clout to straight up buy a player from one of the expansion tournament teams, most are left with difficult choice. Either sacrifice the chance at a better for the sake of extra time to practice with their full team, and choose from the limited number of LCS caliber players that aren’t competing in the Expansion Tournament, or sacrifice practice time for the chance at the better player, knowing that said player may still qualify for LCS and become unavailable. The difficulty is enhanced for teams that are unable to add anymore foreign players, as their available player pool is even smaller.
Neither choice is ideal, and the result may be a rough few weeks of LCS as some teams struggle to acclimate to their new rosters while established teams with complete rosters such as Cloud 9, Curse, and presumably TSM and Alliance rise above the frey to gain an early advantage. It must be said that Riot hasn’t released the schedule for the 2015 Spring Split, and they may just push back the start of the Split until the end of January/beginning of February to give teams a chance to get their arrangements together. But considering that the expanded playoffs should counteract the shortened regular season, and the NA/EU LCS season is already a tight fit (NA Regionals was the last Regional to take place this year), it’s hard to imagine Riot moving the start date back at all. This means we may be waiting for at least a few weeks, if not more than a month before the Off-Season picks up again.