Academy League 2020. With a focus on branding now rather than strict talent development, teams are making moves to acquire the strongest rosters possible in both of North America’s domestic leagues.
With the LCS title being something seemingly out of reach for organizations not named Team Liquid, Academy superteams are cropping up left and right. Riot’s new focus on the Academy broadcast between North America’s three-day broadcasts is encouraging, but Dignitas’ near-complete neglect of talent development shows an investment in immediate results rather than the future. Is this necessarily a bad thing?
Dignitas’ risky roster
To their credit, Dignitas is one of the only teams fielding a legitimate rookie this LCS 2020 Spring Split. Further augmenting a roster comprised of a Worlds semifinalist, multiple EU LCS champions, a NA LCS champion, and a fair share of domestic finalists is upstart attack damage carry Johnson “Johnsun” Nguyen. The marksman will be the youngest player in the LCS, having spent most of his time training alongside TSM’s trainee roster for 2019 and now making his professional debut. Alongside him is occasionally shaky but proven leader Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black, who comes in off of an awful season on 100Thieves.
Johnsun and Aphromoo are joined by other veterans in the main squad, most notably Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, who is rumored to have soaked up the lion’s share of Dignitas’ budget. This begs the question as to whether Dignitas truly wanted to bank on fostering the certainly promising Johnsun, or if they simply ran out of money and had to settle for a question mark in the bottom lane.
Rumors also indicate that Dignitas fielded an offer to yet another veteran to round out this roster, with Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi’s departure from Cloud9 making him the most attractive free agent on the market.
- No, we need LCS teams to grow new talent 75%, 3 votes3 votes 75%3 votes - 75% of all votes
- Yes, they need these veterans to win 25%, 1 vote1 vote 25%1 vote - 25% of all votes
The elephant in the Academy training room
On the topic of risks, Dignitas are taking one with their Academy roster – for different reasons. Public expectation is at an all-time high for a roster that would not look amiss in the middle of the LCS standings. Dignitas’ main criticism heading into the 2020 season is that they released almost all of their 2019 miracle run to Worlds roster – including star botlane Cody “CodySun” Sun and Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme. Huni is the only remaining member on the main team, and would have been the only returning player to the organization had Tanner “Damonte” Damonte been unable to find another team in the LCS and be relegated to playing Academy.
With Damonte rounding out this Academy roster, alongside a handful of veteran LCS talent including a role swapped Kim “Fenix” Jae-hun and multiple-times LCS champion Kim “Olleh” Joo-sung, DIG field a development squad that has almost no chance for development.
All of these players seem to have peaked already, though they were plagued with inconsistencies throughout their careers and have demonstrated tremendous mechanical talent on and off of the big stage – and so they could either reach the highest of highs or sink to the lowest of lows.
Dignitas Academy focused on branding more than new talent
Why have Dignitas opted to use so many veteran talents in a development League? The reason is branding. Brand value is where a majority of these franchised teams get their revenue, and the winning teams always have more fans and exposure. A roster of fan-favorite veterans will also generate more interest relative to the rookie rosters, though Academy viewership last year was already fairly low even with star players like Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett playing in a league considered much below his skill level.
Riot taking ownership of the Academy streams rather than outsourcing to the teams is promising from a branding perspective – for both the individual players and the organisations fielding them under their banner.
Brand value is especially important with the additional day of exposure granted with Riot’s new format, and Dignitas are essentially using development as a chance to get both their organisation and player names out there.
I don’t think that we as an audience are naive enough to believe that it isn’t about whatever money this team can recoup for themselves, but the level of competition in the Academy League should theoretically be elevated.
Should we cheer for Dignitas to win it all? Maybe.
Should we at least be grateful that North America’s finest up-and-coming talents have a chance to hone their skills against some of the toughest competition they’ll domestically face? No doubt.
I have a few reservations as to this organisation’s expected performances in both LCS and Academy. As we outlined above, they could either shoot for the stars or crash and burn… on both fronts.