Throughout the years of League of Legends (LoL) esports, the LoL Championship Series (LCS) has been doubted. Often even made fun of.
Despite being one of the four major regions in LoL esports, a team from the LCS still has yet to win a Worlds title or even reach the Grand Finals of Worlds. The highest success the region has reached so far has been three Worlds semifinal showings in 2011, 2016, and 2018.
This, plus a dozen other factors, has caused the LCS viewership to suffer and decline through the years. And as the North American fanbase waned, so did the organisations that played under the League weakened.
Turbulence in the 2023 Season
Even before the beginning of the year, many viewers and players have complained about the new schedule of the LCS matches, after the LoL Arena was transformed into the Riot Games Arena. With more matches scheduled into the weekdays, it would make it hard for more people to watch LCS games and catch up.
And just this Summer, the season began with a turbulent strike by the LCS Players Association (LCSPA), with some LCS players threatening to stage a walkout because of their disagreement on how Riot removed the LCS Challengers League requirement of organisations, and how players within the league are treated in general.
And if Riot and the LCSPA weren’t able to reach an agreement, the LCS Summer season would have been cancelled altogether.
The Summer season ended with the exit of TSM, an organisation that have stayed in the region for 12 years. On top of this, the Esports Insider also reported that the LCS viewership unsurprisingly plummeted, earning the title of being the least popular LCS split.
More challenges are on the horizon, as reported by Dexerto, with industry veteran MonteCristo stating that many of the region's teams are struggling because they cannot afford the salaries they had paid to players in the past.
NRG: Light at the end of the tunnel
With many North American spirits and expectations low coming into Worlds this year, one team stood out. The LCS first seed, NRG, were starting to make waves on the Swiss Stage of the game’s biggest international event.
In fact, in a post-match interview at the Swiss Stage, 2020 World Champion, and one of the best junglers in LoL esports, Kim "Canyon" Geon-bu of DK Plus, gave special mention to the NRG jungler, Juan Arturo "Contractz" Garcia.
“Contractz, from NRG, his performance impressed me. I was surprised with how good NRG’s jungler is,” Canyon said when asked which player impressed him at Worlds.
NRG ended the Swiss Stage with a 3-1 record tied with big names like T1 and LNG Esports, only losing to Weibo Gaming in the first round of the Swiss Stage, then defeating Team Liquid and MAD Lions in rounds 2 and 3, then pulling off the biggest upsets at Worlds, sweeping LoL European Championship (LEC) juggernaut G2 Esports to secure a spot to the Playoffs.
But their Worlds run was ended by the Chinese underdogs Weibo Gaming after a 3-0 sweep at the quarterfinals. And while it was a sweep, they did not go down without a fight, with the members of NRG always actively finding picks and wins whenever they could.
Despite this, many fans from the region, and even globally, remained proud of what they have achieved. Many on X and on YouTube expressed that they were proud of the region, and that the team was “incredibly fun to watch.”
“Amazing run. Guess we will never know until next year!” JD Gaming’s X (former Twitter) page said, after NRG lost.
Amazing run. Guess we will never know until next year! https://t.co/TDDZ965d45
— JD Gaming (@JDGaming) November 2, 2023
In the quarterfinals post-match interview, FBI also mentioned that NRG’s run was “incredible”, and that he hopes that it would “inspire other teams to do well. It also shows that our region still has the capability to do something in International tournaments.”
What made NRG different from other LCS teams?
In April 2023, CLG, one of the organisations in the LCS, was acquired by NRG. Unlike most LCS organisations, their team consists of players who aren’t exactly the biggest names in the region.
Niship “Dhokla” Doshi, Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia, and Cristian “Palafox” Palafox, all came from different LCS Challenger and Academy teams before they came to CLG and, eventually, NRG. On the other hand, Lee “IgNar” Dong-Geun, is a former Dignitas player who isn’t a household name in the region.
Perhaps the only globally recognisable name there is in the team, if any, was Ian “FBI” Victor Huang, and even he was let go by 100 Thieves last year in favour of signing LoL big shot Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, and then removed from Evil Geniuses before joining NRG.
And while their beginning was rocky, the team grew and learned from their mistakes—nobody was replaced, swapped out, or loaned to another team to finish an entire season.
Instead, the team had many coaches, and according to a Dot Esports interview with NRG’s CEO Andy Miller, NRG also had a “robust analytics platform” that helped them prepare for their matches in the long run.
One of the desk analysts at Worlds, LCS analyst Emily Rand, also said after NRG got eliminated, that the NRG are “a special team that was given the time and grace to grow together and improved not in spite of but because of their mistakes. I hope more NA orgs take note.”
What Emily Rand was talking about, was the fact that the organisation took time actually to scout and develop talent.
However, it could be that it’s too early to tell at this stage since NRG is a young LoL organisation, after all. But based on Andy Miller’s interview with Dot Esports, it seems like the team’s future is looking a bit brighter than other organisations.
NRG claimed that they aren’t affected by the drop in LCS salaries, because they were “structured for the future” since they aren’t overpaying players, they boast a vast content network like no other North American team and have had a 10 per cent increase in viewership from Q1 to Q3.
Andy Miller, having claimed that “LCS matches are terrible,” is also advocating for more cross-regional competitions throughout the year, especially between the LCS and the LEC or a showmatch among all teams in North and South America to bolst895/7er a better competitive environment.
But the LCS and NRG have a long way to go. Should NRG continue to focus on developing players and fostering them to build them up for success, they might have a better shot at performing even better next season.
The LCS has many other issues that they need to resolve to survive in the coming years.
One of the biggest hurdles might be the player salary cuts in the coming season. But one thing's for sure: NRG's current roster has shown us that there's still talent that can be developed in the region. Therefore, teams that adapt, find rising talent, and cultivate it might just make it.
Anna is a freelance writer and photographer. She is a gamer who loves RPGs and platformers, and is a League of Legends geek. She's also a food enthusiast who loves a good cup of black coffee. Views expressed are the writer's own.