A look back at what the amateur system was and what it could be.
Recently rumblings from Travis Gafford have suggested some big changes to the North American Academy and amateur systems. The amateur system in the region has been pretty under the radar in recent years, overshadowed by Academy and not promoted by the LCS or Riot in any official capacity.
Amateur tournaments are generally looked down upon as well, with their lower level of play and lack of name recognition. Other regions like Europe and China have more popular leagues and viewership than North America thanks to their level of play and veteran presence.
But, these new changes could bring some much-needed attention to amateur teams and players. Maybe even bring the amateur community popularity back to the days of the Challenger Series and promotion tournaments.
Before the LCS
Before there were any talks of a League of Legends Champion Series or franchising, there were spread out third-party tournaments that players would compete in. The early days of 2011 consisted of many amateur and semi-professional events that many of the veteran North American pros played in for thousands of dollars.
Players like William "scarra" Li, Christian "IWDominate" Rivera and Darshan "ZionSpartan" Upadhyaya cut their teeth in these events before Riot instituted regionalised leagues. These tournaments would happen across the country and would sometimes even include European squads that would travel to compete. This was the time of Intel Extreme Masters, Major League Gaming, and DreamHack LAN tournaments.
While this era is ancient history in the timeline of League of Legends, it still informs the future for how a real esports community is built out of amateur tournaments. These events are where young players got experience playing for high-stakes and in front of a crowd. This is also how many other esports operate as well, different LAN tournaments in different cities with the skill level and size increasing along with the prize money and viewership.
Challenger Series and Amateur Circuit
Once Riot created regionalised leagues, amateur tournaments and leagues took their first step towards obscurity. They took the second step once a direct patch to those leagues for amateur players was created in 2014. Now with the NA LCS, along with the promotion and relegation system from the Challenger Series, smaller organisations invested more into promotion-level teams than the smaller tournament teams.
This did not stop amateur leagues and tournaments from cropping up in the region. But, the system catered more towards players that could secure a spot in the Challenger Series than those competing in no-name LAN or online tournaments.
Back then, skilled players would team up and attempt to qualify for Challenger through an online tournament and ladder system with squad names like The Walking Zed, Team 8, or Final Five. They would then get some backing by an organisation once they secured a spot in the league, or while they were climbing through the ranked 5v5 ladder.
Only Amateur Circuit (pain)
Now to more recent history. Once the LCS became franchised in 2018, the Academy league was created as a way for teams to bring up new talent without having to compete with smaller organisations and semi-professional players. This is when amateur players could no longer team with other highly rated peers and take a stab at qualifying for the LCS.
The only real option for them were the smaller tournament organisers that cropped up during the Challenger era. Events run by Upsurge Esports, The BIG League and Imperial Esports had now become amateur player’s only avenue for competition if they went unnoticed by LCS teams. This also gave rise to the collegiate scene and TESPA tournaments for players that wanted to get an education and still compete at a high level.
This was by far the darkest era for the North American amateur community. Players would often toil away in small organisations playing for little money and often shuffling in and out of the Academy system. This also caused more players to focus on the ranked ladder instead, playing online to qualify for the LCS Scouting Grounds instead of in a team environment with a shot at a LAN tournament.
Most fans might have only heard about this level of play because of TSM and 100 Thieves recent investment into teams that play in these events.
Riot's New Proposal
This new idea of integrating Academy with the Amateur circuit would definitely bring some much-needed attention to the community, as well as creating a standard for the varying levels of play across events and tournament organisers. This could also help bring more diversity to the types of esports organisations that join the League of Legends space.
During the Challenger era and before organisations like Tempo Storm, EUnited and Denial would have teams that compete around the same level of play as they could not afford a spot in the LCS. Integrating teams that want to dip their toe into League instead of jumping in head first can only bring good things to the North American community. With more teams, there are more opportunities for amateur players to shine and make their case to join an LCS team.
One of Riot's big talking points from its Esports division is that anyone can become a professional player, but in North America, that point got harder and harder to sell each year. As LCS teams stuck with older domestic talent, and the systems that brought younger talent to the forefront faded, anyone with a dream to become a professional player had fewer and fewer options to choose from.
Hopefully, this system, that has not even been outlined or confirmed by Riot at this point, can solve all of those issues and bring the scene back to its heyday.
Images via lolesports