The Great Gap Closing Myth
After another disappointing Worlds performance, Western teams and fans have been left dumbfound and speechless. This year’s League of Legends World Championship was projected to be the stage where the west showed that they can go toe-to-toe with the Korean juggernauts, proving that the regional “gap” was shrinking.
Europe’s G2, and especially North America’s Team SoloMid, were touted as top contenders at Worlds, having the ability to possibly make the finals of the biggest tournament of the year. Instead of making history, the west faltered in the group stage, having H2k-Gaming and Cloud9 as the only western teams to make the round of eight. The west faltering at this year’s Worlds revealed that not only is there still a major gap between the west and Korea, but that there are inherent problems that keep the west lagging behind.
Practice and Effort
Despite western teams adamantly saying that they are committed to going far at Worlds and finally beating Korea, these teams are simply not putting in the sufficient amount of work and effort to make these dreams a reality. The harsh and rigorous training schedule the Korean pro players undergo is common knowledge among the west. This Korean pro player lifestyle, which has been commonplace in Korea for several years, consists of nothing but playing League of Legends, stopping only for meals and to sleep the minimum amount of hours.
In such a highly competitive region, where new talent is being found every day, Korean pros do anything in their power to maintain and increase their skill, most often resulting in little to no sleep, so these players can continue to play solo queue. The sole goal for these Korean players is to improve and win, doing anything in their power to fulfill that goal.
In comparison, the west’s training regimen is child’s play. North America scrims for nine hours a day on average, with Europe scrimming even less. Once scrims are over, instead of continuing to seriously improve their craft like their Korean counterparts, western pros choose to play other games, relax, or even stream LoL. While this is in the limited free time these pros have, and they are free to spend this time however they choose, if these players truly wanted to beat Korea, in order to improve, they would at least need to match the Korean work ethic.
The only western team to try and emulate the Korean style of practice was North
America’s Team SoloMid. During the summer split, TSM ramped up their practice, scrimming much longer than any other western team. TSM would scrim ridiculous amount of hours, sometimes going from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. Additionally, the TSM players, most notable the team’s stars Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg and Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng, would sacrifice their free time where they would usually stream and make a huge portion of their earnings, to continue to practice in order to improve. And although TSM did choke at Worlds, western teams cannot hope to achieve the same skill level as the Koreans, without practicing the same way TSM did.
As mentioned before, streaming takes up a huge portion of western pros’ free time. During these streams, these pros don't focus on improving, but rather, trying to entertain their viewers. Streaming is a major revenue source for players. Since Riot has not implemented any form of a revenue sharing with players or teams, alongside team sponsorships and their salary from Riot, the only other way for pro players to make extra money is through streaming. Some sponsors also require pros to stream for a certain amount of hours per month, forcing some players to reluctantly stream when they would rather practice.
On the other hand, Koreans have little to no need to stream. Aside from the deal KeSPA formed with the streaming website Azubu, Korean players do not have any sponsor obligations to stream. Almost every single Korean organization is a multi-billion dollar company (Samsung/SK Telecom for example), meaning that even without the help of major sponsors, these organizations have the funds to pay their players handsomely. Korean players, with no real need to stream, can entirely focus their efforts on improving.
Most North American players don’t have this same luxury. For most North American orgs, but especially the endemic teams like TSM or Counter Logic Gaming, streaming is a major way to attract sponsors. One way these teams sell themselves to sponsors is through the amount of impressions or views their players get while streaming. These sponsors look to advertise their products on these streams, and players with higher streaming numbers look more attractive to sponsors. If NA players forego streaming, than their orgs will have an extremely hard time securing sponsors, thus forcing these players to stream instead of practicing.
SK Telecom T1’s utter dominance at the Season Three World Championships finally proved to the western scene that Korea was miles ahead of the west in both micro and macro play. Western teams realized that the way they were currently playing League of Legends was outdated and simply would not work against Asian teams in international tournaments.
Upon this realization, the west decided to try and emulate the way Korea played. The item builds of Korean pros, champion picks, role swaps and rotations; the west tried to copy it all. By the time of the Season Four World Championships, the west, but especially North America’s teams, played like what can only be described as an inferior Korean copycat. Western teams like TSM and C9 tried their best to imitate Samsung White and Blue as best they could. While this allowed the west to take games off Chinese teams, Korean teams still continued to steamroll the west. This trend continues to persist in the present day.
The saying that the imitation will never beat the original continues to reign true, as competitive League of Legends is no exception. The semifinal match between SK Telecom T1 and the ROX Tigers proved that just copying Korean teams' play styles isn’t enough to beat them in series play. Qualities like mid series adaptability and meta innovation, which were shown in this series by both SKT and ROX, can’t be learned through pure imitation. These are intangibles that can’t be copied.
Another season of League of Legends concludes with yet another all-Korean final. Western teams are left with an offseason filled with regret and decisions to make before the spring split begins. This was supposed to be the West’s year at Worlds, making this year’s defeat much more disappointing for both fans and the players.
Coming into season seven, teams are ultimately left with two options: either put in the extra effort like TSM did this season, or continue playing and practicing like they have been previously. For TSM, this is an especially hard decision to make after sacrificing so much just to exit Worlds in the group stage. Perhaps TSM and the rest of the west will decide the risk is not worth the reward, but if they choose the harder path instead and decide to put much more effort in, then the gap between the west and Korea might finally start to close.
What has been your favorite moment from Worlds 2016 so far? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.
Article by Malcolm Abbas. Follow him @SmashhLoL
Photos courtesy of LoL Esports, Cloud9 and Team SoloMid