The language barrier and the large influx of Koreans is something I’ve danced around in this column. Problems with language barriers in rosters tend to be over-emphasized, and there are also aspects that are under-emphasized. But regardless of the impact of the problem, LPL teams in the offseason have become more serious about teaching their South Korean players to speak Mandarin Chinese.
While some in the West have called this the largest League of Legends offseason in the history of the competitive scene, Chinese moves pale in comparison to last year’s acquisition of nearly two South Koreans per team. Many Koreans who have migrated to China have chosen to remain with their original teams, regardless of results. The question becomes why and whether this is a positive decision.
Weekly Hurdle: Korean retention
Prominent Korean players remaining in China have largely decided to continue playing for their original LPL teams. The primary exceptions are the transfers of Cho “Mata” Sehyoung and Jang “looper” Hyeongseok to Royal Never Give Up.
Motivations for Korean player retention are three-fold:
Korean player buyouts in Chinese team contracts tend to contain a clause that requires a higher transfer price for Koreans to transfer to other Chinese teams. If a Korean player should choose to return to South Korea or to transfer to a European or North American team, this higher price may not apply — or the teams may not require a transfer price at all. This allows for a South Korean player to remain part of a Chinese team’s brand while they play in Chinese leagues. Fans may associate Heo “pawN” Wonseok with Samsung or MiG, but pawN in China is part of EDward Gaming.
The acclimation period of Korean players to a new environment can be a stressful experience. Once a foreign player settles into his new Chinese team, he has familiar faces with whom he communicates on a regular basis. They develop unique communication systems with their teammates and staff. Once they transfer to a new Chinese team, they may have to reforge these systems and start again at a language barrier or with a large sense of unfamiliarity.
The pressure on Chinese teams to acquire new South Korean players is smaller this year, as there are fewer celebrity names that can compete with the previous year’s stars. Go “Score” Dongbin doesn’t have the gravitas to compete with the personality of Lee “KaKAO” Byungkwon. As a result, streaming platforms supplementing or completely paying player salaries are less interested in 2015 League of Legends Champions Korea players. Teams with more renowned players are incentivized to retain them.
This has lead to far less migration of Korean players between teams. Players like KaKAO, Jang “MaRin” Gyeonghwan, and EDward Gaming’s Koreans have expressed increased interest in learning Mandarin Chinese, and teams are now posting ads for full time Mandarin Chinese teachers for their Korean players. EDward Gaming recently posted photos of their ongoing Mandarin Chinese courses.
After the Chinese teams collapsed at the 2015 World Championship, commentators, redditors and pro players in the west tunneled on the problem of the mixed language roster. In a previous Rebuilding China, I confessed that I think that infrastructural issues and practice ethic are far more to blame. Though Chinese teams seemed uncoordinated, other mixed language rosters have found ways to set up communication systems and still find success.
I've hit upon out-of-game communication snafus and inconsistency in game flow with the inclusion of South Korean junglers more than other issues, since I believe they're the biggest problems plaguing mixed-language teams. If I built an ideal dual-language roster, I would import carries in mid and AD carry, then have the communication-based top, jungle and support structure in charge of Teleports, directing targets in fights and stacking crowd control for setups. EDward Gaming have managed to execute this framework well for the most part, until other issues with player rotation due to injury, meta adaptation and out-of-game communication plagued them at the World Championship.
That’s not to say that teaching South Korean players Mandarin Chinese won’t have its benefits. As South Korean players remain with the same teams, they can develop more complex communication systems, and the comfort of the same environment that feels increasingly like “home." More comfortable players tend to perform and practice better. There are fewer chances to make mistakes when players can communicate easily with their staff and teammates.
Unfortunately, the threat of malaise also looms, and a roster change can help rejuvenate lagging motivation. If teams remain the same and don’t perform to their expectations, it becomes easier to slack on practice and just accept mid-tier or low-tier in both the LPL and on the international stage.
Teams like EDward Gaming where players are allegedly quite motivated will improve as their Korean players remain with the team and continue to learn more Mandarin Chinese. Teams like Invictus Gaming, known for personalities and entertaining game play, but not necessarily results, might worsen and become more complacent without a change.
This is uncharted territory. At the end of the year, many Korean players will naturalize as Chinese players, and we could see another wave of Korean players migrate as a result. In the meantime, just because a mixed-language roster remains the same doesn’t mean they’ll give the same performance this year. It’s almost assured, however, that learning Chinese will not make or break this year’s teams.
The Chinese offseason extension ends on Dec. 26. Quite a few LPL rosters are finalized or presumed finalized, with only about four expecting transfers before Boxing Day.
LGD Gaming, QG Reapers and Masters3 have all-but-confirmed their rosters for the 2016 LPL Spring season. Several other rosters are practically confirmed, but these will almost assuredly go unchanged.
Masters3 finalized their roster this week with a jungle and mid lane acquisition from Hyper Youth Gaming in Jang "Yolo" Hyeonsu and Ko "Raphael" Jaehyun. The pair worked together this summer and have a competitive history in other regions. Though this isn't an upgrade to Masters3's roster, it was one of the better low-cost options available.
Their top laner comes from TOT1, and their new support, Jin "Savoki" Hao has worked with AD carry Xu "PentaQ" Mingshu in the LSPL on WE Future. Masters3 are taking duos from other teams to try to build from existing synergy, which could pay off better than expected.
Ye "Milky" Jiaben played for Hyper Youth Gaming in the World Cyber Arena games this weekend, making the roster change first reported by word-of-mouth official.
As for players migrating from the LPL and the LSPL, Lee "Spirit" Dayoon officially joined Fnatic. Li "Kane" Zhihong left Energy Pacemaker and appeared on the LMS team Assassin Snipers during the LMS preseason tournament.
The following teams did not come out and state that their rosters have been completely finalized, but the players at least have been signed and are likely to start for the team in 2016 with very minimal changes.
Tong "Koro1" Yang and pawN have allegedly recovered from their health problems, and they seem very likely to play for the team next year. deft still poses the biggest question mark, as some expected him to return to Korea after expressing regret in joining a Chinese team, and it's known that EDward Gaming has looked into other options. Ming "Clearlove" Kai has said the AD carry will remain with the team. The only possibility, then, is whether EDG have signed an additional ADC to rotate on the roster with deft. I doubt this is the case.
Vici Gaming's only possible change would also come in their AD carry position. Xu "Endless" Hao may take the bench for another amateur ADC, but so far it seems he will remain part of the starting lineup. This is disappointing for anyone who watched his Miss Fortune this weekend.
Energy Pacemaker All's lineup appears finalized. Perhaps I just don't want He "Soist" Zhihong, the Lee Sin one trick, to replace promising rookie Huang "crisis" Zhen, but I'm still holding out hope the latter will be the team's starting jungler.
Hyper Youth Gaming transferred their South Korean players to Masters3. They still have time to acquire new ones, but as they have only recently signed Milky, it seems they are sticking with an all Chinese lineup for now.
Kan "JOJO" Yiutou has gone from the bench to the starting HYG team. JOJO is an LPL champion from Positive Energy who had strong synergy with Rao "Jing" Jing, but since he and Zhu "NaMei" Jiawen departed, JOJO has failed to impress — except for a strange game in which he carried PE to one of their only wins of 2014 LPL Spring with some daring Lulu play.
Huang "FireFox" Tinghsiang may join a new team in China as an analyst, as he is allegedly accepting offers. Perhaps he wants to prove himself after LGD Gaming's disastrous Group Stage.
Four teams remain that are still either likely to see changes, or are surrounded by rumors regarding their rosters. One of the most prominent rumors is that Zhu "TBQ" Yongquan has joined OMG. Yu "cool" Jiajun and TBQ have duo'd together recently, and one of TBQ's stream viewers noticed he's been streaming inside OMG's base.
Several sources have told me that TBQ may indeed be joining OMG. I have to wonder, since TBQ said he'd take a break, if he'll simply stream for OMG. Current jungler juejue has shown some promise, so it will be somewhat frustrating to see him replaced by TBQ.
Disclaimer: It should be noted that this section merely contains a collection of pure rumors from Chinese forums without additional confirmation. This is for the sake of building context with western fans of the LPL.
Another rumored addition to OMG, with which I have just as many concerns, is Han "Smlz" Jin. Smlz is my pick for the worst AD carry in the LPL this year. While he once looked impressive, his laning phase was deplorably passive, and he hardly accomplished anything outside the lane to compensate.
Smlz will allegedly only join if Jian "Uzi" Zihao manages to sign to another team or retire. Yan "North" Hong is even more promising than juejue, and I'd much rather see him develop. So far, however, this rumor is only gossip.
Yan "letme" Junze quietly improved throughout the LPL this year and has had an outstanding offseason performance with Royal Never Give Up winning yet another tournament. Rumors say OMG has also looked to pick him up. He'd be the only smart signing on paper of the three rumors I mentioned and would open up significantly more drafting possibilities for the team than retaining Hu "xiyang" Bin.
OMG will definitely see changes, but Royal Never Give Up, Invictus Gaming and Snake may remain as they are. Royal Never Give Up fans still hold on to the hopes that Uzi will join the team, but that's looking less likely, which would leave their roster as looper, Liu "Mlxg" Shiyu, Li "xiaohu" Yuanhao, Wang "wuxx" Chen and Mata. I have no real expectations for them.
The recent buzz indicates that NaMei, who we have expected to retire all offseason, may be signing with the fourth team of his career in Invictus Gaming. The four-time LPL finalist and three-time champion would be a strong addition to iG if he remains committed to playing League of Legends in his spare time instead of DNF, the Chinese beat 'em up game. Some suggest he'll do better on iG without the negative attitude bringing down the environment. From my perspective, iG will always be iG.
Snake are looking to import a new mid laner. Ceng "U" Long is atrociously under-appreciated, but he may also just go back to university after two years playing at the top level in the LPL. At least one speculated prospect is Park "TANK" Danwon, who previously played for NaJin em-Fire.
Upcoming Events: International E-culture Festival
UPDATE: IEF rescheduled to a new date TBD due to transfer period extension:
Some of you may remember IEF with dread. Some of the worst delays in tournament history. Only three commercials on loop to comfort viewers. Matches interrupted halfway through to be remade the next day. Excessively long pauses. Poor translation for Korean teams leading to general confusion. Long days with no meals provided and teams unable to leave the stadium.
That won't be this year's IEF, likely because amateur South Korean teams could not be tempted to attend after last year's disaster. IEF has been re-purposed as an LPL China vs Korea All-Stars affair. The tournament was rescheduled for this weekend so some of the Riot Games All-Stars who initially declined could attend.
Two all-Chinese and two all-Korean rosters have been invited:
|Position||China A||China B|
These proposed Chinese teams are not finalized as not all clubs have yet confirmed attendance this weekend. Top laner Shek "AmazingJ" Waiho, AD carry Yu "TnT" Rui and jungler and juejue are backup choices.
|Position||Korea A||Korea B|
As you can see, these closely resemble Samsung reunion squads with some alterations for recent performance in the LPL (and pawN's recovery). As not all teams and players have yet accepted their invitations, Jin "Mystic" Seongjun and Kwak "Ella" Nahoon are listed on the backup roster.
Initially, it was speculated that the Tigers would come from Korea to play show matches during IEF, but AD carry Kim "PraY" Jongin has since clarified that the Tigers are not coming. IEF's weibo has confirmed that no South Korean teams are attending the event. There will, however, be a few womens' teams playing and an introduction ceremony, allegedly featuring maid dances. Just go with it.
|December 25||22:00||Maid dances|
|December 25||23:20||China A vs Korea A|
|December 26||01:00||China B vs Korea B|
|December 26||03:00||Lower bracket R1|
|December 26||23:00||Upper bracket final|
|December 27||00:00||Lower bracket final|
|December 27||01:00||Grand final (BO3)|
IEF will end with another showmatch of some kind "if sufficient time." Douyutv will host the stream for the event here.
As a reminder, the group draw ceremony will take place on Dec. 26 at 6:00 a.m. EST for the coming LPL Spring season groups. For details on next LPL season and why group draws are required, read about the new format on theScore eSports. For updates on the group draw ceremony, see the official Tencent LoL website.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter where she likes to complain about TBQ.