Every year at Worlds, there is one thing that everyone knows: North America is, by far, the worst major region. Ignoring the first Worlds, since it was primarily only North American and European teams, North America has won just one quarter finals series; Cloud9’s victory over the Korean Afreeca Freecs in 2018.
This has become even more true in recent years as European teams surged to the highest level of success. G2 won MSI last year, beating a North American team in Team Liquid, and European teams have been in the finals at Worlds for the last two years in a row. The fact that those teams, Fnatic in 2018 and G2 in 2019 lost is somewhat less important because of the fact that no North American team has ever been close to getting there.
This year, the same streak has continued; while Team Liquid managed a victory over G2 on Tuesday, TSM and FlyQuest both lost bloody games. FlyQuest at least has seemed to have a pulse; there were moments in their game where it felt like they could win, but TSM’s serious struggles continued.
It should be a problem that a major region is performing so badly on the Worlds stage, but it isn’t. If Korea or China or Europe had anything close to this collapse, it would be the top of every esports website for weeks. People would ask what happened, how this occurred, etc, but when North America fails we just nod because North America is supposed to fail.
The most cited reason for North America’s struggles on the worlds stage is the import culture. Many top players on North American teams like Bjergsen or Jensen are not actually North American players—both have played in NA for a long time but come from Europe. And this is not an isolated thing; on TSM, the first seeded North American team, only Doublelift and Biofrost are North American.
Team Liquid’s roster is even more international; Tactical, their rookie botlaner, is the only American. FlyQuest is slightly less concerning in that regard, having three North American players in Solo, Mash and WildTurtle, but even they have two Europeans. The pattern continues through the league, as most teams historically prefer importing talent from other regions to building their roster with home-grown players.
This is not necessarily due to a lack of talented players; Cloud9 is known for bringing a lot of North American talent to the LCS stage in players like Blaber, Licorice, Kumo and Zeyzal. And while the depth of talent in North America may be lacking when compared to a region like China, there are still many rookie players in the academy league who might never get a chance because they keep being passed over for veterans.
Today, as the relegation tournament is a thing of the past, North American teams shouldn’t be afraid to try new players and see how they do. Developing talent is very important, but it’s something most LCS teams need to work on. Instead of signing foreign players because they’re hoping to win right now, teams need to be willing to look at the longer term situation and be willing to consider working with talent who need experience and who need more work to be at the highest levels.
The groundwork has not even really been laid for North America to be able to raise rookies who can compete on the Worlds stage. That’s something that Europe, China and Korea have done very well at; every year they bring rookies to the Worlds stage who compete with the best players in the world.
North America could do that, too; Cloud9 has shown there are talented young players who can shine. Blaber was the Spring Split MVP, Licorice has repeatedly proven that he’s one of the best two top laners in the league, and support Vulcan was probably the second best support in NA this year besides CoreJJ, who is a Korean import.
If North American teams ever want to be able to compete on the international stage against the likes of Europe, China and Korea, they need to do what those regions have done—invest in young talent and raise crops of rookie players to the LCS level. Continuing to attempt to reuse the same players who have never been good enough just denies younger players the chance to succeed where those older players have failed over and over and over.