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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Photo by Tina Jo/Riot Games.
Photo by Tina Jo/Riot Games. /

Arguments Against the Import Rule

It’s Unfair

The existence of the import rule is, from a moral perspective, unfair because it restricts a player’s ability to work simply because of where he or she was born (or has citizenship). This is a very compelling argument, especially when you consider that North America is largely a place that was molded by many waves of immigrants. To now say that teams have a quota on how many players can come to NA from another region seems very anti-American (or at least, anti-American ideals).

But the import rule is also unfair in another way: it creates improper value for player skill. Say, for instance, there is a very good player in Vietnam who is playing in the VCS. If he came to the LCS, he would probably be one of the best in the region. However, because there are only a limited number of import slots and he is unproven, no LCS team might be willing to take the chance to sign him.

Many teams spend a lot of money on import players because they know they know they need to make these few signings count. This means that very good players in minor regions might not be scouted as highly, because teams are wary of “blowing” their import slot on a good, but not great import. This is where we hear the discussion about players are “worth” their import slot.

There are some compelling arguments to get rid of the import rule in the LCS.

Another consequence of the import rule is that it inflates the salary of native NA players (and players who retain NA residency) above what they likely should be paid. Because each LCS team also needs a certain number of NA residents on their roster, each good LCS player is worth that much more. And, compared to a region like Korea where there are plenty of good, young players who can be signed or a region like Vietnam or Turkey where there aren’t the same level of resources, this means that native NA players are getting paid a lot more than they are worth, skill-wise.

It Drives Up Costs

This goes off of the previous point and is probably the biggest talking point for LCS owners. The import rule creates a system that artificially inflates the cost of players, particularly in a region like North America.

In other regions, where there is a stronger player base in solo queue and a stronger amateur team, finding native players to fulfill the requirements of the import rule isn’t difficult. In North America, however, doing so is much harder.

This creates a double-edged sword because, like owners in all other regions, LCS teams must spend a lot of money to compete for the premiere free agents who would be imports. If a player has the opportunity to play in another region, his salary will skyrocket.

But, on the other side, because there is such a shallow pool of good North American residents, this also means that NA teams must bid against each other for their salaries. That’s why players like Bjergsen, Jensen, Doublelift, Impact, and Blaber are so valuable and could command such high salaries on the open market. Unlike in China, Korea, or Europe, there isn’t a pipeline of equally or slightly-inferior talent that can be brought up easily, so there’s no threat of players that are established losing their spot or making less money.

Fans Don’t Really Care About Regional Pride, They Want to See the Best Games

This is a point that’s been brought up multiple times, and I do tend to agree. If NA fans were most concerned with watching players who represent their region, teams like Golden Guardians, Dignitas, and FlyQuest would be infinitely more popular than teams full of imports like Team Liquid, TSM, and Cloud9.

Instead, this popularity seems to suggest that fans like seeing quality, competitive matches, rather than the best players from their region. This certainly aligns with the American ideals of wanting to be the best, where in sports you do see teams that are perpetually among the best, while others constantly flounder. Why should LCS teams care about (or be obligated to) developing native NA talent when they can bring over the best players in the world for their fans, like any MLB, NHL, or NBA team can?