As MSI rages on across the pond, Riot Games confirmed on May 12 that after just one split of the North American Challengers League, the requirement to hold an NACL roster is no longer mandatory for each LCS team. Subsequently, the majority of the LCS pulled the plug on the academy project in what is a gut punch to the development of North American League talent.
Since Riot’s announcement, each of the ten LCS organizations has made a decision to stay or depart from the NACL—a choice that every LCS organization approached Riot for earlier this spring. In total, only three of the 10 teams have decided to remain in the NACL in a move that will have ramifications affecting the future of the region.
The three organizations committed to the NACL for summer 2023 include Team Liquid, Evil Geniuses, and FlyQuest, while the remaining seven—TSM, Immortals, Golden Guardians, Dignitas, NRG, Cloud9, and 100 Thieves—are ditching the program immediately.
The first domino to fall, TSM departed from the NACL on May 12, as reported by Sander Hove. With multiple reports of TSM making cuts to its League division, this move was the least shocking of the pack.
Surprisingly, NACL spring split runner-ups Dignitas will also join TSM in exiting the NACL before the Summer Split. DIG shocked the Challengers League in its first NACL outing, shining a spotlight on prodigal stars David “Insanity” Challe and Trevor “Spawn” Kerr-Taylor.
One of the more disappointing departures from the NACL is Golden Guardians, which quit the project just six months after announcing a three-year plan to help revitalize the NA talent pipeline. GG represented the NA region at MSI this year, with the squad’s top-16 finish coming behind the stellar play of homegrown talent like Licorice and Stixxay—two players that had spent time in the Academy circuit.
Cloud9’s time in NACL has already yielded results on the LCS stage with EMENES’ success following his mid-split promotion. Despite that, C9 will also step away from the developmental league. Team owner Jack Etienne has been one of the biggest voices in the NA League space, and to see him step away from the NACL is even more alarming for the scene’s future.
There are a few teams staying in the NACL, though, all of whom seem to be doubling down on their commitment to fostering North American talent. FlyQuest released a five-minute Twitter video with team president Chris “PapaSmithy” Smith confirming the organization’s return to the Challengers League.
In the video, PapaSmithy further explained the history behind the requirement for LCS teams to foster developmental squads, a rule that has been in place since 2017. PapaSmithy’s address to not only FlyQuest but the NA League fanbase as a whole is incredibly honest and fair when discussing how the investment into regional development pipelines six years ago has inherently been unsuccessful. It’s an opinion many other organization leaders hold, but where FlyQuest differs is in its resolve to continue fielding developmental rosters.
Evil Geniuses and Team Liquid also released their own long-form videos discussing why they will remain in the NACL for the foreseeable future. Team Liquid CEO Steve Arhancet shared a lot of the sentiment PapaSmithy held in Team Liquid’s announcement that they would return to the Challengers League.
Arhancet, like his other organization leaders, talked about how development leagues still need improvement, while also sharing data on how much it costs organizations to run NACL rosters in person from California. The NA LCS Players Association recently shared that Riot gave LCS organizations $3 million to run both an LCS and NACL team, giving fans even more insight into the finances of the top teams in North America.
Barring any changes, there are currently only seven teams slotted for the 2023 Summer Split of the NACL, the lowest total of teams in the main developmental league in years. To make matters worse, there is no news from Riot whether the “academy requirement” will return in 2024, casting an even darker cloud of doubt on the amateur scene.
All of these announcements come just weeks before the unconfirmed start of the Summer Split. The LCS has already announced its kickoff event for the Summer Split on June 1, and looking back to the start of the Spring Split, the NACL season began before the LCS due to the added number of matches.
There is no word on whether Riot will promote more amateur organizations from promotional tournaments to field more slots for the upcoming split. In the past, the LCS Academy league fielded fewer teams than advertised, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see that style repeated again for NACL Summer.
With the Challengers League requiring in-person play from California, it also would be extremely difficult for amateur organizations to field rosters and move everyone out for offline play with just a couple of weeks’ notice.
The LCS returns for the 2023 Summer Split on June 1.