Short-Lived Legacy: Riot Games Dismantles the OPL

On October 7th, Malte Wagener and Tom Martell of Riot Games announced that the Oceanic Pro League (OPL), home to the premiere Australian League of Legends organisations, would no longer be supported as an official League. The announcement of the OPL’s dissolution came one week after Oceania’s Summer 2020 champion was eliminated from World Championship contention, after a valiant performance in the play-ins stage, winning games against top teams from the European, Brazilian and Turkish leagues. While the writing has been on the wall for the past year, when Riot Games announced in 2019 that they would no longer pay professional teams an “operating subsidy”, the dissolution was surprising and largely unplanned for by the Oceanic region.

The OPL was founded in 2015 and has had five strong years of competitive play, nurturing international LoL talent including ry0ma of 100 Thieves, Destiny of Origen and Shernfire formally of Dire Wolves and Team Liquid. The 2019 finals were the headline of last year’s Melbourne esports Open (which we have previously written about here), demonstrating the value that the LoL competitive scene brought to the Australian esports environment holistically.

The news is heartbreaking as both an Australian and a League of Legends esports fan; after Australia’s best players were exported to the North American LCS and academy league, Legacy esports proved to the World that they were not be taken lightly, finishing second in their play-ins stage group before being eliminated in a final best of 5 (Bo5) to China’s fourth seed. This was one of Oceania’s best showings on the Worlds stage, with breakout performances from all five members of the Legacy Roster.

Riot Games outline in their statement that “we are announcing the dissolution of the OPL and the closure of Riot’s Sydney office, as it primarily focused on operating the league. However, this is not the end of League esports in OCE.” Riot Games have not commented on how many staff from the Sydney office have been terminated or relocated at the time of writing. This is likely a huge disappointment for the passionate people at Riot Games Sydney, who had dedicated their careers to the OPLs success. The article continues “We remain committed to supporting our pro players in the region with a path to continue their careers moving forward.” What is outlined next is disappointing, to say the least.

What’s the point?

“Beginning with the 2021 season, we are adding OCE to the competitive territory for the LCS, so OCE players will no longer take an import slot on LCS rosters. This will open up new opportunities in North America for top OPL players. We will also hold qualifying tournaments in OCE for both MSI and Worlds in 2021, ensuring teams from the region will continue to be represented at our two major global events next season.”

The statement reaches its climax. This is where Riot Games have shown their “compassion” and “generosity” to the ruins of the OPL left in the wake of its dissolution: Current oceanic professional players will no longer take up an import slot on LCS Rosters. That’s it? Former OPL players now have to compete against North American and international talent for a meagre 50 starting sports on LCS rosters. The LCS is already dominated by Korean and European imports, accounting for 2 out of 5 spots on half of the Summer 2020 rosters: Cloud9 (Nisqy & Zven), Evil Geniuses (Bang & Jiizuke), FlyQuest (PowerOfEvil & IgNar), Immortals (sOAZ & Eika) and Team Liquid (Broxah & CoreJJ). Of the remaining rosters, four out of five have two or more imports as either as starting players or substitutes, with the exception being CLG. Notably 100 Thieves and Golden Guardians have two Oceanic imports who will becomes residents in 2021 (ry0ma and FBI respectively).

To add insult to injury, the OPL players will like have to be signed in this very offseason. With no official league to showcase their talent, it is highly unlikely that an LCS team will take a risk on an Oceanic player who hasn’t competed at a high level in several months. North American organisations are unlikely to scout the Oceanic server, given our low player population, clashing time zones and Solo Queue as the sole indicator of skill and teamplay. This is to say nothing of potential future Oceanic talent who are either currently too young to compete or haven’t had the opportunity, that will now struggle to be noticed by any professional organisations. Furthermore, Oceanic players do not have the luxury of playing on the North American servers to get scouted. The average LoL match on an NA server results in approximately 200 ping for players in Australia – drastically impacting the way players can manipulate their in-game characters to perform optimally. It is not realistic for Oceanic players to relocate to North America to chase their dreams of LoL esports success; giving up your home, support system and risking financial loss just to be on even footing with the rest of the American server is not an easy decision to make.

In regards to the representation at MSI and Worlds 2021, Riot have not shared any further information at the time of writing as to how this would work. With no league, how would an Oceanic team qualify for the event? This problem is not unique to the Oceanic region though – all minor regions are only provided with two opportunities annually to showcase their talent to the higher-paying regions due to Riot’s dictatorship-like approach to esports management. The lack of third-party tournaments (which we have previously written about here) severely limits the cross-pollination effect demonstrated through the Counterstrike and to an extent Valorant models.

The loss of the OPL also signals to conventional sports teams and sponsors that Australian esports are a risky investment. Before the dissolution, Legacy were directly sponsored by the Adelaide Crows, one of Australia’s AFL (Australian Football League) teams. In the 2019 OPL season, Essendon Football Club, another AFL Team, directly sponsored the “Bombers” who touted now-internationally recognised players FBI and ry0ma (The Bombers OPL spot was sold at the end of 2019 to Pentanet.GG). The League itself was sponsored by Hungry Jacks, the Australian equivalent of Burger King. With nothing left to sponsor, we expect to see all of these corporations and teams pull out of esports effective immediately.

The Bombers OPL Team was dropped in 2019, Image courtesy of Stevivor

Oceanic Abandonment

Riot Games issue blanket statements and PR heavy commentary about how they are “committed to supporting OCE players” but outside of providing our current professionals with NA “residency”, no evidence of continued competitive assistance is provided. From a player’s perspective, overseas opportunities for Oceanic talent is limited to North America unless we justify an import slot. Current professionals have not been provided any support to help integrate themselves in overseas leagues, and it is highly unlikely that North American (or other) esports organisations will actively scout the Oceanic server for talent, leaving players only option to play on North American servers where they will average 200 ping at a minimum. Players remaining on the Oceanic server have nothing to play for; there is no league, guaranteed salary or defined “path to professional” for our future talent. Riot Games choke-hold on the competitive scene leaves us with two chances annually for five lucky Oceanic players to demonstrate our talent to the world.

The Australian esports landscape is hit even harder. The OPL finals was the premier esports event for Australian teams; while we still have IEM Sydney for Counterstrike and Overwatch Contenders, losing the world’s largest esport will cripple both domestic and international interest in Australian esports. Sports clubs and companies that had invested in the OPL may be detracted from future esports investments, after witnessing the unfortunate demise of the Oceanic LoL scene.

We have been unwillingly forced to return to a grassroots model. However, we believe that if Riot Games allow external international tournaments to re-include League of Legends, Oceania will have an opportunity to redevelop and transform our scene into one that is attractive to players and investors alike.

Have a topic in mind you would like us to write about? Want to learn more about cyber security and how you can increase good cyber practices at your esports organisation? Feel free to contact the Re:Cover team at recoveresports@gmail.com, we are always happy to answer any questions you might have.

Header Image courtesy of Byteside

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