Does The European Region Rely Too Heavily On Imported Talent?

With the European League of Legends scene growing considerably in recent years, the EU LCS has imported more and more talent from around the globe. EU has continually posted the most prominent threat to the eastern regions of LoL eSports, often bolstering team rosters with talent from across the continent, in addition to imports from South Korea and China. It has become common practice to have imported players competing in the EU LCS.

Breaking down the player nationality distribution across each of the  EU LCS squads shows that 22% of all the competing professionals are South Korean.

This statistic, whilst factually accurate, provides a skewed impression of the European scene. Yes, 22% of the European scene is imported from South Korea, yet the other 78% is entirely Western European – statistics mean nothing without context. In theory, half of the players could be of Korean origin… but if all of those are on bottom tier teams, it provides a distinctly different impression of the scene.

It’s important to look at where these imports come from and evaluate the teams they’re playing for:

Source: g2esports
Source: g2esports

Courtesy of G2 eSports, the chart above helpfully displays the nationality of each starting player in Europe. But where exactly are these imported Koreans plying their trade?

The first noteworthy players are Daehan “Expect” Ki and Kim “Trick” Gang-Yu, the two G2 eSports players occupy the Top and Jungle roles respectively. They’re noteworthy because since moving to Europe, G2 has been the best team in Europe repeatedly, year after year. After week one of the EU LCS Spring Split, out of the four teams at the top of both groups, only one of them has no Koreans, the other three have the maximum number of Koreans, two.

Source: Riot Games Flickr
Source: Riot Games Flickr

So surely this means that Europe clearly relies on imported talent and can’t compete without it?

Fortunately, this is not the case. Looking at previous international events, Europe have clearly shown they are not entirely reliant on Korean talent. Using our previous G2 duo as an example – their team has been to almost every international event since entering the LCS, yet they’ve never managed to get further than the group stages.

In fact, going back to the two previous World Championships, the six teams that have represented Europe have only fielded six Koreans to represent the EU LCS out of a possible 12. In 2015, the two European teams that delved deepest into the tournament were the undefeated rookie line-up of Fnatic, which held the rights to the famous duo of Seong “Huni” Hoon Heo and Kim “Reignover” Ui-Jin, (later classed as one of the best Top/Jungler duo in the competitive scene) and the fully European squad, Origen. Although only one team had Koreans, neither of these teams even managed to steal a game in their respective Semifinal series, in which both were faced with Korean teams.

Source: lolesports

Moving to the 2016 World Championship, featuring the aforementioned G2, the only other team with Korean representation, H2K-Gaming’s Mid laner Ryu “Ryu” Sang-Wook and the all European roster, Splyce. The H2K lineup, consisting in the majority of European talent, managed to make it out of groups and travel all the way to the Semifinals, where once again, when they were faced with a Korean team – the squadron failed to even take one game in the series.

So if imported Korean talent fails to perform why does Europe continue to import them?

It’s unfair to conclude that imported Koreans are underperforming, they certainly play at an extremely high level. One of the most insightful arguments as to why Europe continues to import Korean talent to remain competitive is to note the wealth of European talent that is being transferred to North America – this even led to what some members of the community now refer to as “The 2016 EU Exodus”.

Many of Europe’s best League of Legends players have been setting sail for the profitable shores of the United States, a phenomenon that was even addressed by Riot Games ahead of the 2016 EU LCS Spring Split:

In honesty, it wasn’t that much of an exodus, but a number “big names” now perceived to be amongst the best in the roles in the North American region, hail from Europe.

Europe has always had an amazing skill for bringing up new talent – look at players like Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, legends of the game.

Europe’s next crop of League of Legends talent is just starting to grow through the ranks, Splyce’s Chres “Sencux” Laursen and Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski for instance. It’s easy to get carried away by statistics, but one glance at the European scene will show that it is far from reliant on imported names and remains an excellent breeding ground for top tier talent.

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