LCS: Why the Import Rule Should Stay and Three Ways to Fix It

Photo by Michal Konkol/Riot Games
Photo by Michal Konkol/Riot Games /
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League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games.
League of Legends. Photo Courtesy of Riot Games. /

Right now there is only one topic that LCS fans are talking about: the import rule. After Travis Gafford posted interviews with all ten LCS teams’ owners, GMs, and/or operational managers, it became clear to fans and players that the import rule was on its last legs, at least in its current iteration.

After the massive blow-up between TSM owner Reginald and C9 support Vulcan, as well as comments from Cloud9 owner Jack Etienne, the discussion has become fairly heated. There are arguments both in favor of and against removing the import rule, but the biggest questions the LCS owners, the LCS, and Riot need to answer are whether it should remain and if so, in what form. Let’s break down all the arguments for and against the import rule and how it could be changed.

Arguments for the Import Rule

LCS is a Regional League

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Proponents of the import rule point out that the LCS is a regional, North American league. It is not the only league anywhere in the world (in fact all regions have their own leagues) so restricting imports makes sense. If the league is catered to players from one region, most of the players playing in the league should be from that region.

In fact, this isn’t an unusual occurrence in professional sports either. In regional leagues in soccer, including the English Premier League, and Major League Soccer in the United States. These leagues, understanding that there are a multitude of other competitive leagues players can play within, attempt to restrict their league from being overrun by foreign players who could either not crack their own domestic league or are seeking to play in a league with fewer resources.

There are some good arguments for keeping the import rule in the LCS.

While there are certain moral and financial considerations both for and against this practice, the fact is region-locking is not unusual in professional sports. And, in League of Legends where there are decentralized leagues that eventually battle each other in one tournament (Worlds) every year, it makes sense.

It Encourages LCS Teams to Invest in Improving the NA Playerbase

One consideration that many fans and commentators have pointed out is that having these import restrictions gives an incentive for the LCS teams to improve the amateur infrastructure and solo queue environment. Instead of shelling out money on a Chovy, what if teams took that money and instead invested it into more amateur teams, staff, and better quality practices.

In fact, LCS teams largely pledged to do this in the offseason (and then, you know, did the opposite by spending a ton on imports). The fact is, though, LCS teams should have an incentive to make their region’s player base competitive.

If LCS teams could simply poach the best players from Europe, China, or Korea, why would they care about developing young NA talent? The region already has one of the smallest player bases and has sunk money into player development that hasn’t born fruit. Lifting the import rule allows the owners to skip the hard work of developing players and just buy the best players anyway.

It Drives Fan Engagement

The most-often repeated story about the dangers of lifting the import rule revolves around LMQ. LMQ was an all-Chinese team that, instead of playing in what is now the LPL, came across the Pacific to America, qualified for the LCS (via the Challenger Series), and went on to finish third in the LCS their first split, making a trip to Worlds as one of the NA’s teams.

Now, there is some disagreement as to how this move was perceived and received at the time, but the point advocates of the import rule often make is that this is ultimately bad for the LCS as a regional league. LCS fans are NA players (mostly) so they want to see players from their region compete.

If instead, the league was full of entire teams imported from Europe, Korea, or China, fans would see no reason to watch the LCS as opposed to any of the other major regions. This is why some fans have taken to suggesting that, if the import rule is abolished, League of Legends should simply create some super league that crosses geographical borders.