The Problems That Plague the North American Challenger Scene
Recently, the North American Challenger Scene has been in the highlights due to less-than favorable situations. These situations have brought to light many issues that are hurting the quality of the NACS in general.
The first problem that was brought to light was the Coast debacle. Team Coast, a team in the NA LCS who practically had all but been relegated at that point, purchased the Challenger team Final Five, who are positioned at the upper half of the NACS. The Coast organization then proceeded in a mass reshuffling and merger of rosters, sending jungler Matt “Impaler” Taylor and support Jamie “Sheep” Gallagher - two of Coast’s arguably best players - down to Final Five in the Challenger Series and moving up Kevin “KonKwon” Kwon to the Coast lineup as support. They also brought substitute player Dillon “WelcomeToHeaven” Stayner to fill as the jungler on the main Coast roster.
Now, looking at the details of this transaction, everything seems legal. The purchase and roster shuffle occurred before the March 16th deadline for transfers. The issue comes at the shadiness of the move. Team Coast is automatically locked into the NACS Summer Split, due to the auto-relegation clause added to Riot ruling this year. Final Five has an opportunity to make it into the NA LCS through either auto-promotion or through the promotion tournament, thus letting the Coast organization back into the LCS. In all rights of the matter, they should have no chance to possibly return to the NA LCS by exploiting a loophole like this. There should be, in the right situation, clauses in the Riot Games competitive rulebook that prevent this, but there currently are not. This is the first time something like this happened in a system that was fairly recently implemented. It can be remedied by altering the rulebook itself, but is an ugly blemish in the system regardless.
Shortly after the Coast situation, Jacob “Brayll” Wolf reported that David “t3azer” Beruber, former TSM Darkness ADC, leaked CLG Black scrimmage footage to Keaton “Bee Sin” Cryer, coach of Team Fusion. Fusion was CLG Black’s upcoming opponent, therefore the leaking of the scrims was a detriment to CLG Black’s play and strategies. Fusion went on to 2-0 CLG Black in their NACS matches. The leaking of scrims is technically not against the rules, due to scrims being scheduled and controlled on an organizational level, without Riot involvement. Leaked scrims is not a new issue either, but that does not make it ethical by any means. The leaking of the scrims creates a lack of trust in the scene, as well as giving unfair advantages and lowering the competitive integrity overall in the matches. For the scene to grow and become respectable, leaking scrims is something that needs to be addressed. However, it is an issue that will be hard to address and deal with, due to the amount of individuals on teams.
In continuation from the t3azer incident, Reginald and TSM opted to fully cut their challenger team (TSM Darkness) off, stating a desire to rebuild. This abrupt and somewhat incriminating way the termination of the team was announced brings to light another problem, the handling of support for NACS teams by sponsors. Now, not every sponsor does not take care of their NACS teams. For example, Steve “Liquid112” Arhancet - the owner of Team Liquid / former Team Curse - is very supportive of his challenger teams. Current Team Gravity was formerly under his umbrella as Curse Academy during Season 4. However, this is still a problem.
According to an article written by Nilu “Dooraven” Kulasingham & Jacob “Brayll” Wolf on theScore eSports, three members of former TSM Darkness, mid laner Arcsecond, top laner Big Ol’ Ron, and support Indivisible, are pursuing legal actions and a huge uproar across the board. According to Arcsecond, TSM unlawfully terminated the team’s contracts, failed to provide services in the contract, as well as violating many clauses in said contracts. In other words, TSM did not provide the proper support for their challenger team and it led to this big debacle.
This type of issue can all be summed up in an interesting quote given by a source close to TSM Darkness:
“You could make the comparison or analogy for organizational support with someone getting a pet puppy dog.
When someone is looking to get a puppy, and they take the necessary steps to make sure they're making an informed decision, which could lead to not getting a puppy as much as getting one, this creates for a much better experience overall.
Owners to some degree, choosing to get a puppy, will have more information to build a care plan around and for that puppy. That puppy can then flourish and grow in a positive environment. If any issues arise, they can handle them properly and with knowledge of how it will affect the puppy.
Not taking the steps to gather information prior to getting a puppy, ensures it can grow and mature incorrectly. Leaving said dog to its own devices and expecting that puppy to be the best puppy they could be, can be considered the bad side of this coin.
When someone decides to get a puppy, they have to take responsibility for the good and bad that can follow, regardless of any outside circumstances. Once that puppy is in your care its your responsibility to do what you reasonably can for that puppy to cater to its good health. If you neglect and potentially take negligence of that puppy, you doing that puppy a disservice tremendously.”
Chris Badawi, owner of the Crumbzz and Alex Ich-led Challenger team Misfits, gave another spin on the issue as well:
“Honestly, I don't think LCS teams should be able to sponsor or be associated with challenger teams. Although the argument exists that they help pump experience and resources into the challenger scene, in practice that is not always the case. From what I have observed a potential pitfall of LCS team involvement is that LCS brands can exploit challenger teams as potential "cash cows" and invest minimal resources for the off-chance of an easy pay-day. Players, mostly young and contractually naive, are easily seduced by big brands and probably attribute a greater meaning and value to associating themselves with big brands than is warranted.
The association is essentially a sham - the rules dictating that should the challenger team succeed and qualify for the LCS, the team will necessarily have to be severed from their sponsored LCS brand.
Ever since Steve sold CA and created a market - I think other teams, with dollar signs in their eyes, will use their connections and allure to dominate challenger sponsorships and push out any potential non-endemic investors who would give more time, effort, energy and resources to the scene. There are many independent and passionate investors out there who want to go all-in with a team rather than cash it out - they are simply shut-out due to their lack of access and the seemingly impenetrable influence of the current LCS owners.”
All in all, the Challenger Scene is not perfect, and has it’s issues. While they have just come to the limelight recently, they are not new. However, through the work and effort of all involved, we can work on the problems and go on to a better and fairer scene for all players.
Photo credit: Riot Games, theScore eSports, Team Coast