This offseason TSM,Dignitas,Cloud 9, and CLG are all holding tryouts for starting positions in the LCS. That means nearly half of the entire NA LCS, including every NA organization that went to the world championships this year, lacked the foresight to anticipate that the existence of their team would last longer than the player’s career on that team. They failed to scout talent during the season to become satisfactory backups, as a result these teams will all face much more challenging rebuilding phases compared to if they had developed more competent support structures.
There are four ways in which an organization can field their starting roster. Two are designed for immediate starters, and two are designed to serve the long term needs of an organization. The methods are Bench, Trade, Scout and Tryouts.
Bench: They call them “backups” for a reason. When the starting player is no longer up to par, or has been released, start dipping into the bench.
Trade: Extremely simple. Acquire an established player from another team to fill a specific role for the organization.
Scout: Acquiring unsigned talent for development. This allows players to be assimilated into the organization, and hopefully develop the player to be used as a backup. Eventually a scouted player can become the starting roster but the purpose of scouting is primarily for development.
Tryouts:The failsafe of scouting, Tryouts aka Walk Ons, are the method of recruitment used to find the players who are currently outside of an organization’s scouting web. By definition this is finding the diamond in the rough, because to be discovered this way, a potential player must not only be outside of an organization’s scouting web, they also must be outside of ALL organization’s scouting webs. As this is the failsafe of Scouting, it is also intended to be used to find players for development.
As shown, tryouts are the weakest, high risk method of acquisition to be used only as a last resort. But to understand further, organizations should also be evaluated on their proficiency in each of the methods other than tryouts.
Bench: TSM,Dignitas and Cloud 9 operate with zero players on the bench. CLG had 1 player and that ranked them at the highest in the LCS for number of true players on the bench, which shows the sad state of affairs. However both TSM and CLG lacked the foresight to recruit reserve players for their 4+ year veteran players. Quite honestly this is inexcusable, not only was their release an increasingly inevitable certainty, but both organizations missed out on the opportunity to develop a replacement under the tutelage of some of the greatest players in the region in each of their respective positions while they were in their prime.
Trade: Due to the fact that 90% of teams are not running a bench, trading is extremely difficult. However TSM’s acquisition of Doublelift from CLG was a smart move, as it should provide a 2nd pillar of consistency in terms of skill and experience while TSM builds the rest of the team. The remaining organizations don’t have much trade history. But overall teams cannot be faulted too much for lack of trading due to no one being able to trade since there is no bench to pull up or trade out from.
Scouting: This is where every single team in the LCS has failed. Organizations aren’t particularly public about the depth of their scouting webs. It is entirely possible that organizations have at least a shadow of what would be called a competent scouting program. However there are still things about scouting programs that would be public if they existed, but no organization has much evidence that any of these things exist. While CLG and Cloud 9 have challenger teams who theoretically are used as their scouting grounds, since the start of the NA LCS, no organization has ever taken a player from their challenger team and brought them into the LCS starting roster. In reality these challenger teams have more differences than similarities when it comes to what is considered a farm team. These challenger teams operate more independently, are primarily used for brand exposure or possibly getting promoted to the LCS themselves so the organization can sell them for a cool million. TSM and Dignitas have no farm team. But aren’t falling behind organizations who do have one, since none of the teams are promoting their players to the LCS team anyways.
Some players who were on Academy teams have been signed to LCS teams. But they have never been promoted within their own organization. Curse Academy has housed many players before they went to the LCS, but Curse(Now Liquid) never actually fielded any of the players. IWillDominate is the only asterisk, however during his tenure on Curse Academy, he was merely serving a suspension from the LCS, not as a prospect of the team developing his skills. This next season may be the first that this changes. But scouting is one of the most effective methods of talent acquisition, and the fact that an exception to the current trend might occur is not evidence of progress, it’s evidence of a lack of proficiency in the department by all organizations.
While it so happens that only four teams are currently holding open tryouts for starting positions, the open tryouts is still a referendum on all the teams in the league. There were 6.5(Cloud 9 searching for either jungle or support) available starting positions for teams to sell players to. Only CLG was able to transfer one player, who wasn’t even a bench player and thus creating their own vacancy. Had any of these teams operated with a bench, thus being able to either sell their bench players or their starting players and promote their bench, that organization would profit enough off the transaction to bankroll a much more elaborate scouting system. In addition, because no other team is currently running relevant scouting systems, this bankrolled scouting system will enable an organization to lock in a vast majority of the premium new talent from the region. Thus creating a cycle where when a team needs to acquire a new starting player, they will need to purchase them from the bankrolled scouting system, Bankrolling the system even more. Only Team Liquid has made any sort of attempt at high volume talent acquisition, yet their proficiency at it is still suspect. There are this many starting roster positions vacant and teams felt compelled to hold open tryouts in lieu of purchasing players from Liquid Academy.
There is a time and place to have open tryouts. Many traditional sports teams have open tryouts. but there needs to be context. Open tryouts in the NFL rarely find even 4 players who make the 90 man offseason team and rarely make the on season practice squad when the team is cut down to 53.
Talent prospect systems have been refined primarily in the realm of traditional sports. Obviously it is unreasonable to expect LCS teams to be able to scout and recruit at the level of traditional sports who have been in existence for over 75 years. However it is not unreasonable to expect LCS to be able to scout and recruit. Open tryouts are not a satisfactory method for recruitment, they are not even the primary method of scouting. Basic scouting systems can be easily implemented so that teams can avoid having to resort to open tryouts for starting position.
In 2015, organizations expanded their support staff to include more coaches and analysts. Hopefully in 2016 we will see teams developing viable scouting structures, bringing in players and teaching the game systems before their starting roster needs to be replaced.