The Import Rule Controversy: All You Need to Know

LCS Owners have been confirmed to have requested Riot to remove the Import Rule. We break down what we know about it and possible ramifications of any outcome.

The LCS kicked off with a rebranding this year and with a brand new format. However, as the Spring Split was progressing, Travis Gafford dropped a bombshell that LCS Owners were requesting Riot to remove the import rule. That kicked off a whole slew of interviews and Twitter beef which prompted a broader conversation. There is a lot to unpack regarding the controversy so let’s jump right into it.

What is the Import Rule?

The Import Rule is a rule made by Riot back in 2014 to ensure each team has a maximum of two foreign players. In LCS’s case, they do have clauses for residency where foreign players can become NA players. One clause is that them gaining permanent residence in either USA or Canada.

There was a clause of IMP Residents where players could get residency for playing in the league for a number of splits. This also included a “grandfathering” where foreign players from 2015 and 2016 were given residency. Examples of that are Jensen, Santorin, Bjergsen, etc.

Hence, foreign players not applicable for those two clauses are considered imported players. LCS does have a very high ratio of imported players in the league. Thus, multiple clauses come as no surprise. Furthermore, the OCE region was added as part of NA this past offseason after OCE lost their Riot league.

With the import rule laid out, now we can get to what is the discussion regarding the rule and why it is a controversy.

The Reporting So Far

The whole situation was brought to the public by Travis Gafford in Hotline League. There he mentioned that his sources were circulating that the LCS owners have requested to remove the rule. At face value, it sounded very drastic. However, as more time passed, more information began to surface on Social Media and the news. Travis has also conducted several interviews with the teams where it has been confirmed that the rumor is indeed true. He also compiled each team’s thoughts in the video linked below. It is recommended to give it a watch if you really want to know more about each team’s viewpoint on the issue.

Credit: Travis Gafford Youtube

TL;DR of the Video

A very brief outline of the video is that C9 Jack, TL Steve and EG Nicole are in favor of removing the rule. On the other hand, TSM Reginald seems to be in favor of removing the rule as well given the twitter exchange. TSM Parth has also mentioned changing the rule. Other than those teams, other teams have either dodged the question like Immortals and 100T. On the other hand, FLY Trisha was very much in favor of changing the rule as is the rest of the owners. GG Hunter has mentioned in the video above that removing the rule is not going to make a difference but it’s good to have a conversation regarding it.

In the video, there are many layers to actually touch on. The general sentiment seems to be either change the rule or do away with it. Although TL Steve did say that he wants to see more resources being put into developing NA talent. However, it feels very contradictory to want to remove the import rule and developing NA talent. Each team owner seems to have their own perspective on the rule. Furthermore, this is a much broader conversation than what its being portrayed out to be.

Twitter Reaction and Beef

This also started a lot of Twitter beef between C9 Vulcan and TSM Reginald. There, Regi has caught a huge amount of flak for his comments, and rightfully so. IMT Revenge has also sent out his tweets about the controversy being public. Like IMT Revenge and many players, most of the fans are also in favor of keeping the rule as is.

Now, lets talk about why the LCS owners want to remove or change the rule and what are the possible outcomes.

Why the LCS Owners Want to Change or Remove the Rule

There is a multitude of reasons as to why they want to remove or open up the rule more. However, we will just focus on four main reason in our eyes based on what we know.

Reason 1: Success

Firstly, there is obviously the success side of things. If there are more imported players in the league, then the standard of the league will rise up. This will also prompt more competition in theory. A more competitive league would prompt for sponsors for the teams and so on. This would be one of the more clear-cut reasons for such a request.

Reason 2: Finances

Secondly, there is the financial aspect of things. The teams would not have to pay a huge amount of money for import players like Perkz or SwordArt as examples of the past offseason. The payroll would also come down in theory so organizations could have a stable financial status.

Reason 3: Player pool

Lastly, from various reporting, it has been said that NA has a small player base. Thus, having a smaller pool to choose players from does not give organizations choices. The player base being small is a concern for the owners. Also, it is one of the main factors they emphasized in regards to the controversy.

These four reason are very apparent in many of their interviews regarding the issue but there are more reasons possibly which has not been touched on yet. The financial and international success seems the be the main focal point of things.

Now, lets bring the conversation to whether this is actually feasible or not to remove the rule or change the rule and possible ramifications.

Feasibility of Removing the Rule

In our eyes, this would be the worst thing to happen to LoL Esports. There are many reasons for our viewpoint. Firstly, League Esports is a regional esports scene. We see all the different leagues each year compete and make it to Worlds to win. Worlds is hyped up as the biggest event every year so regional leagues and narratives drive that further. Removing the rule would essentially eliminate the identity of the LCS being a regional league.

Secondly, even though Riot has the authority to do what they want, if they were to remove the rule for the LCS, they would have to remove the rule for other leagues as well. Which would then turn into an arms race for the leagues with the most cash flow. Before we get to how removing the rule would impact the other leagues, lets refute the four points we laid out as to why the owners requested removing the rule.

Refuting point 1:

In regards to the Success point, getting more import players sounds promising in theory. However, there are a lot of other factors that go into it. The North American infrastructure for players is not very good based on most reports. Also, since the competition is not as good as other regions along with other shortcomings, the success angle is very subjective.

In many regards, it seems that the focus of the LCS owners seems to be Worlds success but it should be a focus on regional success for each team instead. The other leagues actually focus more on regional success than Worlds success and it is a formula that works. For most of these leagues, regional success is just as important if not more than international success. Fans expectations are a different subject but what we are talking about is the organization’s expectations and the LCS owners could take a page out of the organizations of other leagues.

Refuting Point 2 and 3:

Finances would indeed improve for teams if they did remove the import rule. Since imports would be readily available, teams would not have to pay a premium to get foreign players. However, a big part of the current situation was created by the owners themselves. They are the ones who overpaid many of these players and are now trying to do away with a rule to fix that. Of course, there is more investment to be had with more imports but there are different ways to sell a team to investors.

Finally, regarding the player pool, LCS recently got OCE players as non-imports so perhaps letting that play out for a bit would be a wiser option. Regardless, that is one real concern with the region and perhaps getting involved in the amateur scene more will help that. Given OCE became part of the LCS this offseason along with a new amateur scene, letting that develop for a year or two would be a better strategy for the teams.

Impacts on other leagues:

LPL, LEC and LCK would have massive changes if the rule was removed. Emerging regions and other regions like the VCS could also be heavily impacted.

There are reports that LPL has put in place a salary cap for players. However, the LPL can easily change that if the import rule were to be discarded. Leagues like LEC or the newly franchised LCK would suffer a bit due to their generally inclusive nature of the league and lower payrolls in the league. These two leagues rely on their development of players from the EU Masters or the LCK Challengers respectively.

LPL also has their own development leagues as well so they do not have a shortage of players as well. Hence, what this would do is totally change the landscape of League of Legends Esports and potentially remove the regionality nature the esports scene has. There are comparisons drawn to Overwatch League and such but those are not regional leagues.

The owners of other leagues would also have to be part of the conversation as the Import Rule is a global rule for all leagues. Minor regional leagues would also suffer from such an arrangement since most of their talented players would be taken away. This would cause the gap between major and minor regions to increase further.

So, in summary, it seems very unlikely that Riot would remove the rule just for the LCS given the other leagues would have a serious problem with it. Also, it does not seem feasible that they would remove the rule entirely. This could cause another catastrophe like many other previous esports which failed for such rules. Then, let’s transition to if it is feasible to change the rule.

Feasibility of Changing the Rule

Changing the rule seems to be a more realistic approach to the discussion. Also, there are many avenues where the rule can be changed in an owner’s standpoint. To repeat as mentioned earlier, any changes made to the rule would largely affect all the other regions unless its an LCS specific mandate.

One possible change could be to let emerging region players come into the major regions to train or grow in a major region environment. Certainly, there are many conversations to be had regarding this especially since the health of the emerging regions should be kept intact. More import slots is also another option but that would be subject to other regions as well. It is a very delicate balance Riot has to maintain in these discussions.

With that said, there will be plenty more options or solutions that will come up as time goes on.

Our Thoughts

From our standpoint, scrapping the rule is a bad idea. However, changing the rules to adapt to recent times could be a very good move going forward. LCS needs to focus more on their amateur scene and letting it play out. Also, changing the import rule could possibly open up that situation for them further. The LCS is indeed suffering from problems that need to be rectified. OCE recently got added to the LCS and that should be allowed a bit of time to play out.

Thus, in our opinion, changing the rule is a much reasonable and viable option. Changing the rule to add players from emerging regions to come in as talents in the amateur or academy leagues is a worthy compromise and it would very much help the LCS. Also, the LCS teams need to start developing more talented players and focus on making the LCS a better league to watch as opposed to some international success.

Conclusion

To conclude and summarize the whole situation. The LCS has been suffering competition-wise so the owners have requested to amend or remove the import rule. Although it has some merits in the business side of things for the organizations, scrapping the rule is not the right way to go about this. The article lays out all the aspects that are apparent and we have given some context on the issue.

Again, in our opinion, changing the rule is the right way to go. As mentioned, there are many different ways the rules can be altered to facilitate a better LCS while not causing a huge impact on the esports scene.

Any significant change to the rule will need to be applicable for other regions as well. Hence, the question is whether scrapping the rule really is the solution the LCS needs. Riot has not shut down the conversations so it would seem they are listening and we may hear more about this soon. It is now a waiting game for all of us to let this develop and then wait for an official announcement on the matter.

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