Image via Lol Esports Flickr.
As League of Legends shifts to a franchise model in 2018, one aspect of the transition that has flown under the radar is the changes made to the Scouting Grounds and the implementation of a talent draft for the future.
First introduced before the 2017 season, the Scouting Grounds was an event in the North American League Championship Series (NA LCS) that brought together some of North America’s top unsigned talent to get a taste of professional play and be evaluated by the NA LCS organizations.
The top five solo queue players from each role were invited to Riot Games Headquarters for a multi-day tournament. In addition to their skills on the Rift, the players were evaluated for their communication, teamwork, and interviewed thoroughly by the organizations in attendance.
While the event received little coverage, it was clear a few players stood out amongst the rest. After being chosen first for Counter Logic Gaming’s Scouting Grounds squad, Omar “OmarGod” Amin would have a standout performance at the event, eventually leading to a contract with the organization. A prime example of how talent can be discovered and developed, OmarGod would continue to excel on CLG’s Academy team until he was called up to replace the departed Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett as CLG’s starting jungler.
This season, the NA LCS has moved to a franchise model with ten permanent partners. With franchises required to sign talent for both their main team and an Academy team, the need for native talent had never been higher. This created a need for a more developed and structured way to import new talent to the league, and so this year’s Scouting Grounds saw the first ever NA LCS Draft.
In line with many traditional sports, the draft allowed teams to claim exclusive signing rights to potential free agents, through an order which will likely be determined by performance in the future. This is a key step in the continued professionalization of esports, with the potential to help balance the NA LCS over time by allowing the lowest placing organizations the first pick of new talent.
This could also create more interesting trade scenarios within the season as teams could use their draft picks as an additional asset in trades or transfers.
For this year’s draft, each team was given one pick and randomly assigned a place in the order. Before the draft even began, multiple picks were traded away to other teams, with some organizations acquiring multiple picks in a clear attempt to identify talent for their Academy teams.
Although ten players would be drafted, six are currently starters on an Academy team. This number may be inflated due to many Academy teams being newly formed, but is encouraging to those organizations hoping to develop non-import talent and bodes well for the future of the event.
Although there is no heir apparent to the path of CLG’s OmarGod (Cloud9’s Ziqing “League” Zhao may have the most hype surrounding him), it would not be surprising for one or more of these players to see playing time on the starting rosters of the NA LCS by the end of the season.
The draft has set a foundation for the future, and a model that other esports leagues could look to in an attempt to help develop native talent and create an infrastructure for fairly dividing future talent. The familiarity of a draft system will also go a long way towards boosting the connection between esports and traditional sports.
In tandem with adopting a franchise model, the NA LCS has cemented itself as a trailblazer in esports, and continues to help move the industry forward with its vision and influence. While it is clear this process is far from perfect, it is a necessary step as esports continues to professionalize.