On Wednesday morning, just as Worlds 2020 entered its first major break in the action, Riot Games shocked the world by announcing the OPL would cease operations. The news broke on the OPL’s own official Twitter page and in brief announcement on the LoL Esports website.
The scrapping of the league has mortified the League of Legends community, especially those hailing from the OCE region. Riding high after an incredible showing for Legacy Esports during Worlds 2020 Play-Ins, the region has seen it’s hopes crash violently to the ground.
As the gravity of the dissolution of an entire region sinks in, it’s time to ask questions. Such as what happens next for OCE League of Legends?
A New Life in the LCS
With the dismantling of the league, all 60+ OPL players are now potentially without jobs. To soften the blow, Riot Games announced that players from the OCE region would no longer take up import slots on LCS rosters. This essentially means NA organisations are free to sign any former OPL talent they wish.
The idea of free movement for talent between NA/OCE isn’t new. The concept that OCE talent wouldn’t count towards an import slot in the LCS was first floated in 2019. Following NA’s disastrous performance at Worlds 2019, the OCE and Latin America were both considered for this treatment. Additionally, the move to a major region from the OPL isn’t without precedent. One of the OPL’s biggest stars, Mitchell “Destiny” Shaw, signed with the LEC’s Origen in 2019.
However, the free movement to NA initiative will be of little consolation for the vast majority of Oceanic players. The LCS already has a fully talent base. Despite criticism of the region’s development of talent, it still manages to fill out its 50 roster slots each season. Chances of OCE talent making it to an academy roster, let alone a main LCS lineup, are slim indeed. But there’s certainly some standouts who could make the jump.
OPL Qualifying Tournament for Worlds 2021
The other consolation offered for fans of the OCE region is that teams would not be completely shut out of the international scene. As per the announcement, Riot Games “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.”
As a result, OCE will still have a chance to be represented in the wider world. But without an official league, teams will be desperately waiting for two events a year. Riot Games gave no elaboration in their announcement – and so it’s unclear what talent pool these teams would be drawn from. Or how teams are supposed to sustain themselves without an official league. Without support, it would be incredibly challenging for an organisation to maintain an internationally competitive team in the OCE region.
Again this promise will do little to comfort OCE fans and players who have seen their league dismantled in front of them.
Picking up the Pieces
The one shining light for the OCE is that League of Legends isn’t going to go away completely. With a player count somewhere in the hundred thousands at the last count, OCE is on a similar level to the likes of the CIS or Singapore. With the former represented by the Unicorns of Love in the group stages of Worlds 2020 and the latter a part of the PCS, which has two representatives at the same event, there’s no reason the OCE couldn’t still be competitive internationally.
The OPL had been built on a strong foundation of grassroots events, amateur play, and independent tournaments. OCE teams had great showings at Intel Extreme Masters events and the Gamescom International Wildcard Tournaments. Combined with an exploding playerbase at the time led to the initial founding of the OPL. Five years on, and Riot is pulling the plug.
When Riot Games says “the OPL has not met our goals for the league,” it ultimately refers to the failures of Riot Games. Not the OPL. The OPL had incredible talent who competed at an international level for many years. But even this hasn’t helped to staunch the bleeding of a declining player base in the region. This was further compounded by a lower level of cosmetic sales thanks to unfavorable exchange rates in the region. A combination of reasons that likely saw Riot Games decide to cut the cord on an unprofitable region with limited scope for growth.
Out of the ashes of this abandonment, the OCE region will likely return to the smaller tournaments. And perhaps thanks to this the region will begin to shine again, and teams like Legacy Esports and MAMMOTH, who made waves on the international stage, will rise again.