When you talk about player imports the first thing that probably comes to mind is South Korea. After all, what place could produce better players than the mecca of eSports itself? Or so one might think.
Throughout the 2017 Spring Split, there were 14 imports playing in North America and 11 imports in Europe.
How many of them lived up to the hype?
Dips in Performance
Western orgs look at imports as the be-all, end-all solution to their problems. Unfortunately, these teams are in for a surprise. Almost every Korean import that goes to play in the West tends to perform below their average level. At the very least, for the first couple of weeks. Even this season, players like Olleh, Chaser, Wadid, Looper, Hachani all had trouble showing up in their first games. It shouldn’t come as such a shock either. Between inevitable communication issues and difficulties associated with living in a foreign country, there are many things that can weigh down even the greatest talent.
Then there’s also the fact that people miss what makes Koreans so dominant to begin with. Sure, a lot of players in the Korean region are outstanding. But what really lets them achieve greatness is a decades-old infrastructure that can turn five Solo Queue players into a unit, with inhuman levels of synergy and coordination. Once you take these players out of Korea and bring them into the world of Western eSports, most of this goes right out of the window.
It takes time for LCK players to adapt—time that many organizations do not have. The Promotion/Relegation system makes teams focus on current success over long-term growth. Combine that with the fact that many imports also have to pick up a foreign language and adjust to the new environment while giving their 100% in-game. It’s easy to see how they can crumble under the pressure.
Despite these hardships, it’s impossible to deny that there have been many successful imports in the West. Huni, Reignover, Expect, Trick, Ryu, Arrow, and Impact have all triumphed in the West.
What’s worrying however is that there’s no trend here. There's no formula, no step-by-step process through which you can make your imports a guaranteed success. Huni, Expect, and Trick were practically unknown before they came to the West. Reignover was dubbed as GameOver by Korean fans because of his game-ending throws. And Ryu, Arrow, and Impact are all high-profile players that adapted well to the different environment. These cases differ yet the players enjoyed great success all the same.
Perhaps one thing that brings them together is the organizations they’ve joined. Fnatic, Immortals, G2, Phoenix1, Cloud9—these are huge teams with the resources necessary to build a proper infrastructure.
Or maybe it has more to do with player attitudes and dedication.
Truth is we don’t know what eventually makes a successful import, and will likely never know for sure. LCK legends like Piglet can fall flat on their face while untested newcomers like Huni rise as the top dogs in their position. Even imports like Nuclear and Chei, players that have already proven their worth, can stumble when it matters most.
In the end what you’re paying for is not superstars, but players, pieces to the puzzle. Players with their own strengths and weaknesses. Players that can either mesh with their teammates or struggle to find their spot on a hastily fastened roster. Players that need time, effort, and a proper infrastructure to function.
Even then there’s no guarantee that they will turn into that force of nature that will carry your team to victory, even if they've been this before. If that’s the case, importing Korean talent comes down to a very, very expensive gamble.
We'll see which teams are willing to roll the dice.
What do you think about Korean imports and their ability to transition in the Western scene? Share your thoughts in the comments!