Coaching is on on the rise in League of Legends. The impact of a coach in the increasingly professional competitive scene cannot be denied–Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg said Team SoloMid wouldn’t have won their League Championship Series title without their coach.
But SK Gaming won’t be allowed to use theirs at the upcoming World Championships in Korea, after a Riot Games rule change designed to “officially recognize” coaches. The decision has caused an uproar in the community.
Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” Jensen is a bit of a legend, one of those amazing solo queue players who should have been a star in the League Championship Series. But he received a permanent ban from League of Legends due to “abusive behavior,” “poor sportsmanship,” and alleged DDOSing of other players—a punishment few say was not deserved at the time.
Despite those issues, SK Gaming has taken advantage of his game knowledge, using him as coach, the entire year. The team discussed his use with Riot Games at the start of the year, according to SK Gaming managing director Alex Müller, and was allowed to use him as coach. Jensen advised the team backstage at the LCS studio in Cologone.
“We have been working with Nicolaj for the past 10 months now and his behaviour has changed only in one direction: positive to say the least,” Müller said. “He has contributes a lot to the team and by that to the LCS and to League of Legends in general. Still he is a banned player. We all understand that.”
The ban didn’t affect Jensen’s coaching position due to a bit of a technicality—the coaching role was never officially recognized by Riot Games. But that’s changing in Korea for the World Championships.
“Coaches will be officially recognized for Worlds. Permabanned players like Incarnation are disqualified from being officially recognized as a coach,” Nick Allen, Riot Games esports manager, wrote in a heavily downvoted post on Reddit. “During the split, Incarnation was given access to the LCS studio as a team guest, not an official team member.”
That means Jensen is free to attend the event as a fan, but he won’t be allowed backstage, in the practice room, where he can provide valuable input to one of the teams trying to challenge for a world title.
SK Gaming support player Christoph “nRated” Seitz revealed the news on the talk show Summoning Insight, prompting a harsh response from Counter Logic Gaming coach and show host Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles.
“You can’t not ban him as a coach and have a team rely on him for two seasons and then not allow him to be there with the team at worlds. You can’t just change the rules of the game like that,” he responded.
That’s the crux of the issue. No one has any qualms with keeping Jensen out of coaching in the LCS next year, should Riot Games deem their ban extends that far. It’s Riot Games’ prerogative to punish their players in the way they see fit. But they need to be consistent. For the competition block spanning this year, Season 4 of League of Legends, Riot has allowed Jensen to serve a coaching role. Changing that now, weeks before the ultimate competition of the year, damages the competitive integrity of the event and puts SK Gaming at a competitive disadvantage. It’s arbitrarily ripping an important part of their success away when its needed most.
According to Müller, Riot notified the team of the decision on Sunday, less than a week before the team flew out to Korea. That’s not much of a warning, and gave no time for SK Gaming to implement a backup plan, something they could not have planned for considering the approval Müller claims Riot gave them at the start of the year.
Jensen will attend the SK Gaming bootcamp in Korea, but as of now won’t be allowed backstage.
One Reddit user brought up an interesting point in Riot’s defense—the Korean Esports Assocation (KeSPA) does recognize coaches, so it might make sense to do so while competing on their turf. But Riot Games doesn’t institute blind pick fifth games because OnGameNet uses them in their competitions. They don’t need to accede to the local ruleset, and much of Worlds isn’t on Korean soil anyway.
“I understand Riot’s decision but it needs to be consistent. I find that appalling,” Mykles said.
Screengrab via Riot Games/YouTube