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League teams try to avoid common roster-building pitfalls

espn&wanplus Time:11/14/2017 8:00:00 AM +00:00

The League of Legends offseason has begun, and with franchising emerging for the North American League Championship Series, it promises to be one of the most chaotic in LoL history. Chinese caster Xu "Joker" Fei told fans during his stream last year that NA teams would outpace the Chinese league in salary offerings to start the 2017 season. But as several teams demonstrated this past season, money can't always buy big wins.

With franchising and brand-new organizations entering the space, some of the offseason mistakes of the past might recur.

With that in mind, here are some of the most common blunders to avoid in offseason roster-building. A lot of the advice might seem straightforward, but history has shown that common sense isn't always easy to come by in esports.

The money trap

When Immortals bought into the NA LCS, CEO Noah Whinston famously championed the notion that some organizations had to pay higher salaries to compensate for what they lack in reputation. Team SoloMid, he said, paid lower base salaries than Immortals had to because players wanted to join TSM but had to be persuaded that Immortals wasn't a mistake.

Flash Wolves have chosen to stay together over the years despite reportedly high-dollar offers because they're friends and enjoy playing together. Some players are more attractive as teammates. That all goes to say that sometimes organizations with extensive capital or third-party investment forget that players might not just chase the biggest pay check. It's important to know what players want besides money, and that will be one of the biggest obstacles for newer organizations.

A lack of research

If teams fall for mistake No. 1, they become more likely to fall prey to any number of offenses on the list. A lack of research generally means that, in roster-building, a team has failed to familiarize itself with the players in solo queue, who gets along with whom, champion pools and rising talents to watch.

It's amazing that in the past, organizations have remained unfamiliar with their own league's imported players. Players you aren't watching day-to-day become an even larger variable, especially when you have no way of knowing how they might mesh with the rest of a roster. Proper research not only allows organizations to sign teams that ramp up over time for less but also lowers competition for the big names and lessens reliance on established international star imports.

The super-team meme

With KT Rolster's failure to qualify for the World Championship, the super team meme should be well and truly dead. It has been attempted in every major region except perhaps the League of Legends Masters Series. Organizations have tried to build teams of only carry players and failed because those players were unable to step outside the narrow framework that had already given them success.

A real super team takes into account the strengths and weaknesses of experienced players. A player such as Andrei "Odoamne" Pascu, for example, has a fondness for playing bad matchups and could pair well with a hard carry mid or bottom lane. Having a picture of how a team might play together while the roster falls into place is important. If it becomes difficult to envision, changes will likely need to be made.

Player agents

Most self-established agents in League of Legends try to get players the best deals and opportunities on teams abroad. Many of them are not qualified, and worse, some owners in the past have taken recommendations from player agents at face value without acknowledging that agents have the primary objective of selling their clients.

South Korean player agents, in particular, have been blindly trusted in the scene because organizations have a limited knowledge of LCK, the solo queue ladder and the Korean Challenger Series. Every offseason, an agent will peddle the same names, such as Kim "Mightybear" Minsu or Kim "Nagne" Sang-moon to any organization that will listen, and these same names surface again and again without context. Good agents, though few and far between, might connect players and organizations, but they're never a substitute for doing primary research on the player.

Overselling South Korea

There's no delicate way to put it. For years, the notion that South Korean players are "just better" or that a random South Korean player from the ladder will nearly always outperform a random player from any other ladder immediately has thrived. With Royal Never Give Up advancing far at Worlds with a team of Chinese nationals and Western players continuing to perform well in lane, this notion is dissipating, but more money and new contenders might cause old, lazy habits to resurface.

Buying for branding

Sometimes big names are attractive because they'll theoretically bring more sponsors. Teams are willing to take a hit in performance for an older player with a larger fan base who might not perform as well as a rookie. Especially with viewership incentives coming to European LCS, the branding trap is a concern. 

The reality of the situation is that players with major brands are increasingly few and far between. With the first generation of League stars nearly completely retired and only shallow marketing drives making headway, there's room to build a brand for almost any player a team signs. With LoL as young as it is, it's almost better to sign for performance and find ways to build player brands along with the organization's.

Skipping the tryout

The two months between Worlds and LCS are more than enough time for interviews, tryouts and really understanding a prospective player. But in the past, players have been signed to teams without even a Skype call with other members of the team or staff.

Of course, down-to-the-wire, risky signings are sometimes necessary, but with good planning, a team can minimize this problem. As with anything else on this list, the team has to do the legwork, no matter how tedious. There are no shortcuts when it comes to building successful rosters.

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