(Image credit: Garena)
Alex ‘Shinsekai’ Tan was lauded for being one of the best top laners in the Southeast Asian region. He was flown into a gaming house in Taiwan and was on the brink of becoming a professional player.
It seemed to be a moment of optimism for the many amateur hopefuls in Singapore who were looking for a means of pursuing the esports dream, seeing it as a possible sign of a career path of sorts. Following this momentum would be Liang Qing ‘Swoop’ Lo, who went on to get a trial with a Taiwanese team competing in the Elite Challenger Series, the second tier professional league in Taiwan.
Unfortunately, there was no fairy tale ending this time. A month later, both players find themselves back in Singapore, resuming their regular lives while balancing an amateur endeavour in the Singaporean esports scene. While they might not have been the most successful of cases, their stories do give us more insight into the viability of going pro as a Singaporean League of Legends player.
The above anecdote highlights the two main issues of going pro in League of Legend in the region: skill gap & time.
The Skill Gap – Challenger in Wildcard, Bronze In A Major Region?
It is hyperbole, but we often hear people put down the top talent in our server, claiming that the lack of competitiveness in the local server and poor tournament results equate to an overall disparity when placed in comparison with the Korean talent.
During the group stages of Worlds during season 4, our local players got a little taster of what top international competition looked like as big names such as Rekkles, Deft and Mata paid the solo queue waters of our server a visit. The local players then acknowledged that while they were behind in terms of individual competencies, they felt that the gap was not too big, with clips of solo kills and outplays on these big names being shared around on social media.
Three years later and the top local Singaporeans playing in the domestic Legends Circuit have gotten access to the Korean server. While things definitely might have changed between then and now, those changes probably weren’t good ones for the local Singaporean scene. While the idea that a challenger player in Singapore would only be in Platinum in Korea is greatly exaggerated, the fact remains:none of the current players in Singapore from The Legends Circuit (the premier LoL tournament in the region) are able to get past Diamond 3. Most of them have negative win rates.
While ping issues connecting to the Korean server might be an issue, it should be noted that the League of Legends Pro League (LPL) and League of Legends Master Series (LMS) players who play on similar ping (80-120ms) fluctuate between diamond 2 and challenger, with nearly every half decent player peaking at Masters. The best players in the LMS (regarded as one of the weakest major regions), regularly hold spots in the Challenger ladder as well.
Being the best top laner in the wildcard GPL region, Shinsekai would often find solo kills on his opponents and put up strong carry performances. However, when given the opportunity to trial in Taiwan for LMS team Fireball, he was unable to fulfill the minimum requirements of peaking at Diamond 1 with a hundred points. In the initial scrims he participated in, Shinsekai was crushed in lane multiple times, losing the entire game for his team. Left to improve his individual skill, Shinsekai put in about 300 games of solo queue on the Korean server and the highest he got was to Diamond 1 before normalizing at Diamond 3.
The Time Factor
Liang Qing ‘Swoop’ Lo’s story had him put up a decent performance in his trials, arguably outperforming their current starting mid laner by a significant margin. While he by no means was the complete package of a player, he would have definitely been an upgrade for the team he was trialing for. The reason why they rejected him? He’s too old.
At the age of 24, this might come as a surprise that a player would be rejected for being too old, place it in contrast with some of the veteran Korean players and sporting professionals, 24 years of age isn’t well beyond reasonable for a professional player. So why would that be the case?
In part it could be an imperfect scouting system that exists in the region over here, but other professional players had begun to pursue a professional career at a much younger age. Taking a fresh player from amateur to pro at the age of 24 is a risk to the organization, considering that the player will need significant time to get his standard of play up to a competitive level and integrate well with the team.
Contrast that with Shinsekai’s story. While he might not have been able to secure a starting position in the LMS, playing on one of the B teams in the ECS was an option for him. He turned down the offer however. With his National Service yet to be completed, Shinsekai’s expedition into the LMS was meant to be a short term one, taking a Leave of Absence from Polytechnic to pursue his dream. Needing to play in the B league for the rest of the season before having a chance at playing in the LMS was a timeline he could not afford.
Far too often the finger is pointed at National Service for being one of the big inhibiting factors behind Singaporean players being unable to make it far and these two cases give us a good idea why. It almost seems cruel that the year you are born in dictates a large part of your chances as making it as a pro.
Be too old and people dismiss you, suggesting you find a greater calling in life. Be too young, and enlistment prevents you from putting in the almost mandatory half to full year of work as a full time player before one can expect to make big splashes.
While people are quick to point at Xinglei ‘Chawy’ Wong as a successful example, many forget the exceptional circumstances from his time on the Singapore Sentinels (a resume option that is no longer available to later generations of players) and that it took him two entire seasons to make it to the starting spot on ahq e-Sports Club.
A Possible Silver Lining
We have yet to see some of the consistent performers in solo queue such as Wayne ‘BBTY’ Chua (Challenger no.1 for the majority of 2016) or Wayne ‘Cralix’ Aw (Challenger no.1 for the majority for 2014 and 2015) make a serious stab at the Korean ladder. They cite the ping issue as the main reason for choosing to remain on the local server.
However, if players in the local scene want to be serious about improving their own personal skill and brushing up their knowledge of the game, they need to start looking past the local server and grind their mettle on the Korean ladder, where they can compete against the best players in the world.
It is a tough bind, but looking to the LMS as a career path is a long shot for aspiring Singaporean pros.
Additional words by Jensen Goh
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