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Proving Grounds Circuit and the Amateur Scene's Importance in the Ecosystem

The first Tier 1 Tournament has ended,  and the Unified Grand Prix definitely met my expectations for the most part. Cloud9 Amateur finally showed up, knocking Barrage out early on; before losing to SolaFide. CLG Academy definitely struggled, beating Maryville before being knocked out in a 2-0 by No Org; to be fair, they also took a game off of Zoos Gaming while they were there.

The top four teams only had one Academy representative, TSM Academy, who was placed fourth after being knocked out by No Org. This meant the podium was shared by Zoos Gaming, SolaFide, and No Org; we finally got the No Org vs SolaFide matchup for the Finals. These four teams have now qualified for the Proving Grounds, so will not appear in anymore Tier 1 Tournaments, which frees up the space for the other teams to push forward without living in their shadow.

Now, onto my main topic for this article:

Why is the Amateur Scene Important for the Ecosystem?

Recently, we’ve had a lot of talk about things like Import Rules, and the Proving Grounds Scene has allowed for more discourse around the Amateur scene. This leads to the question of just why is the Amateur Scene so important for the Competitive League of Legends Ecosystem? Here is my answer, and I’m using the Proving Grounds Circuit as evidence.

 

Pipeline
One of the more obvious contributions is the pipeline of players. The Amateur scene creates an environment that is easy to scout. Sure, you can look at op.gg’s and see a player’s Solo Queue performance, but how do they work in a team? What role are they used to playing? How do they handle pressure? How does that fit into your team and its needs?

The Amateur scene creates a pipeline for growth and development, as teams rise and move through tournaments; gaining new fans and experience whilst also making a name for themselves. Look at the likes of Niles and Iconic, players who moved from a Maryville University to join Golden Guardians. They are proof of the 'Path to Pro'.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on the Amateur scene and shining a light on the players and their journeys. Seeing the amount of teams that have had players move on to Academy teams, seeing players move from lower tier teams to higher tier teams, is proof to me of this pipeline idea.

It is simple, and I feel like I am pointing out the obvious, but the Amateur scene can often be overlooked when it simply should not be. If we look over at Europe, they have the the ERL’s where there is a ton of talent and it is well covered. Rookies are constantly coming into the LEC, and due to the ERL coverage it allows for a narrative for each of these players, a story to follow rather than someone who has popped out of nowhere.

If we see players from the PGC go to Academy or LCS rosters, we can look back at their time here; helping to create a story for them as well as something to get hyped about. I'm not going to go into the argument I see all the time, but bringing fresh faces from the Proving Grounds into the LCS, allowing players to go through that pipeline, is needed. These players have done what it says in this circuit, they've proven themselves.

 

Competition for all
Across the scene, every elo and level is represented. As XLNC’s Jake Kelton says, “while on one hand having a better exposure pipeline for players who CAN go pro, maybe, it ALSO functions as a bridge between randos and the Pro scene”.

Essentially, the idea is that whilst the Amateur scene can create an environment and path to the pro-scene, it also acts as a place for those who just want competition. Maybe you know you can’t make the LCS stage, but you still want to play in a League? The Amateur Scene is where it's at.

XLNC runs Leagues and tournaments for all elos, with a Platinum and below league up to the more common higher leagues. This means that anyone who wants a taste of competition can take part, there aren’t any prerequisites that make it only for those high ranked players. They are just one example, but the NA Amateur scene is well spread, filled with multiple tournaments that cater to a range of elos and needs.

I can guarantee that a lot of the organizations and teams we’ve seen in the Tier 2 Tournaments have taken part in multiple events across the Amateur scene. Whilst the Proving Grounds Circuit represents the best of the Amateur scene, it is not the only level; and provides a goal for those who are aspiring. For many, the LCS might be out of reach but the Proving Grounds Circuit isn’t. Whilst we have seen some incredibly talented rosters, and a defined top 6, there have been over thirty teams who took part in the Tier 2 Tournaments; a multitude of levels and experience all coming together to compete.

The Amateur scene is both competitive and accessible.

But why is this good for the ecosystem? Because it can help to fill a competitive space. The LCS and Academy stage can be oversaturated if everyone could get there, and seeing that it is full could put a lot of people off chasing their dreams. The Amateur scene creates a home for them. As more people fill the scene, it becomes more competitive. It becomes filled with people with talent, that everyone can test themselves and compete against; creating and molding even more competitive talent at the end of it.

 

Staff training
This might be a bit more of a background thing, but there are plenty of staff that get a lot out of the Amateur scene; especially casters.

While the Amateur scene creates an environment for player talent to develop, gain recognition, and generally grow, the staff behind it all also gain the same benefits.

Coaches and Analysts are put into an environment where they can work with a stable roster and against set opponents in the Leagues. This allows them to gain experience, develop themselves, and also create a name for themselves; allowing them to move onwards into higher tier teams.

From a Caster point of view, they’ve got to start somewhere, right? The Amateur scene is somewhere they go to train and practice. The Proving Grounds Circuit is just the next level for them, Leagues allow them to experience regular broadcasts and build narratives around teams; something that is hard to do in one-time events/tournaments.

In the Proving Grounds Circuit, we’ve seen a huge list of different faces; here is a thread of those that appeared just on the Unified Esports Association’s event! As the broadcast talent gets more experience under their belt, creating a following and contacts, and also having the content for highlight reels, they’ll be able to climb the ladder and appear at the top. Maybe we’ll see some of these casting the LCS?

Casters and Analysts don’t just appear from nowhere, and while the PGC has shown us the next generation in player talent, we’ve also seen the next generation in casting talent.

 

Pressure on higher leagues
Perhaps one of the most prominent reasons, or it probably should be, is the pressure that the Amateur scene can assert onto the premier levels of the ecosystem.

Over the past few weeks, I have talked constantly about the strength of the Amateur scene, and we’ve finally seen it come to fruition through the first Tier 1 Tournament; the Unified Esports Association’s Unified Grand Prix.

Whilst the Academy teams had a bye past the Play-Ins, they were quickly dismantled. CLG Academy fell to Zoos Gaming, and TSM Academy dropped a game to Winthrop University who are arguably on the weaker side of the Amateur teams; and then SolaFide took down TSM Academy in a 2-0.

Whilst I was predicting that No Org would go through without losing a game, they too dropped in Round 2 against Zoos Gaming, going into the Losers Bracket. I am led to believe they did this on purpose, as it allowed them to personally be the ones to kick out CLG Academy in Round 2 of the Losers Bracket, and then TSM Academy in Round 3. They then went on to 3-0 Zoos Gaming, before we finally got to see the No Org vs SolaFide matchup for the Finals, which the former also 3-0’d.

What does this tell us? Obviously, that the Amateur teams do stack up nicely against against the Academy teams as expected. As Myra eloquently put it, "A professional full time roster lost to a dude named "really big meme" on a team named after someone's cat".

Sure, this also falls under the whole ‘Scouting’ thing, if players beat your Academy team then that means signing them would be an upgrade, right? But I also believe that the Amateur scene means the Academy, and by extension the LCS, can’t be complacent. To stop yourself being replaced by an Amateur player, you have to play better. I guess it is in the same vain that using an Academy roster to push your LCS roster? That fear of being benched and having someone move up to replace you, it helps keep you motivated and focused. Having others basically breathing down your neck, hungry for what you have, should push you forwards.

In the same sense, Amateur players being able to play against Academy means they have to bring their A-game. They’ve got the spotlight on them, scouts are looking at them, they have to play the best they can to not only win but to get noticed.

Hopefully the Proving Grounds has been a wake up call for the region. There is talent, and it is better than the Academy teams we’ve seen so far.

 

Experience/Development
This sort of ties in with the whole ‘pipeline’ thing, but I think it's also separate. Some of these players may never go further, they may never move up the pipeline to the pro stage. However, the experience they can gain from events like the Proving Grounds Circuit is invaluable.

Maybe it just affects their mental, they’ve had to play against the top teams; I’m sure your mindset and work would change if you went from playing other Amateur teams to playing Academy teams.

It goes further than this, however. It puts players, and teams, in a competitive environment. Sure, they’re not playing in a studio or on-stage, but the events they’re playing in are partnered with Riot, so should have a little more finesse about them.

There is also the stress involved, as well as the general skills like working with teammates etc. This makes it more than just Solo Queue or playing with friends, and gives experience in that environment; experience that teams will find valuable when scouting.

There is also the experience of working with other staff members. Going from a Solo Queue player, or someone who relies on op.gg’s to having an Analyst work with you, or a Coach that helps to guide you. These could be huge changes for players, beneficial for their play but also another step along their developmental path as they look to join higher teams.

And for players who have moved to higher tier teams, being put on a roster with a former LCS players, having that sort of guidance and learning experience is invaluable. Having a veteran help to explain ideas, working with you to improve, or just generally being able to play with them and pick things up from them, that’s going to go a long way for you!

And, I mean, there is a reason that Evil Geniuses, Cloud9, and 100 Thieves all have teams in the Amateur scene, and the rosters are seen as ‘developmental rosters’. If the scene wasn’t good for experience and development, they wouldn’t be doing that.

 

Scouting
I’ve eluded to it throughout the article, but I made a list of the points I wanted to cover and this was on it; so I better give a section to it.

I’ve done some research before writing this, and I found an article from DotEsports from 2015. It is heavily critical of Riot and talks of a different time, but it did remind me of the time where the top teams were decided by the Ranked 5s ladder. The Amateur scene now provides a strong environment for scouting, you can now follow players and their narratives, you can really see how they grow and develop. These are things that are important, in my opinion, for scouting. It doesn’t matter if they’re Rank 1 on the server, the potential they have and how they have grown through the season is more important.

The Proving Grounds Circuit obviously provides a scouting opportunity. Teams are put into a hyper competitive environment, playing against Academy teams; scouts can now judge performance based on games against their own team.

 

TL;DR
My thoughts go like this, sure there is the obvious ‘Path to Pro’ which the Amateur scene makes up a good chunk of, but there is more to it. In NA, you have the LCS, which only has ten teams, and Academy, which only has ten teams. That is twenty teams that every aspiring professional wants to make it to. We saw more teams than that in Risen’s Champions League.

There is the obvious ‘Scouting for New Talent’, but I believe that events like the Proving Grounds Circuit pushes the already existing talent further. Academy players want to stay ahead of the Amateur players, or they risk losing their spots. Amateur players want to play better than Academy players, they want to get the spots on LCS rosters.

Overall, the Tier 2 Tournaments just showed how competitive the Amateur scene was. There are big names in the scene, and calling them ‘amateur’ doesn’t really do them justice. Then we moved on to the UEA, where the Academy teams definitely had troubles against the Amateur teams.

"In a tournament with 10 Amateur teams and 2 Academy teams, only one Academy team advanced through to the Proving Grounds. The top 3 teams, which came ahead of both the Academy teams, have zero imports and only one of them is salaried."

 

Giant Slayer Spring Gauntlet
Kari gave an amazing intro ready for the Spring Gauntlet (which starts tonight!), but I couldn’t help but touch on it too.

We’re looking at a Double Elimination bracket, all Best of 3’s except for a Best of 5 Grand Final. The three Academy teams, as well as Winthrop University, have been seeded straight into Round 1, whilst the other teams have to go through a Play-Ins match; including Wildcard and Mirage who are coming in as the last Amateur teams to join Tier 1’s.

We saw Travysty give a prediction on the bracket, so I thought I’d give my own.

I think that due to their performance throughout the Tier 2’s, Barrage have a lot going for them in the Spring Gauntlet. In a similar vain, I think Evil Geniuses Prodigies will really perform well; they have to face Golden Guardians Academy for example, who they 2-0’d them in CUP.

However, these teams did have disappointing performances in the first Tier 1 Tournament, both dropping out early; so my predictions are more based on their overall performance in the hope that their recent performance was just a glitch in the system.

I do have Winthrop dropping to the Losers Bracket after beating Mirage and Maryville. I think they’re a team that I sleep on but looking at UEA, they performed well. They just had to face TSM Academy twice, and losing to them both times. With no TSM.A in this tournament, will they be able to perform without the kryptonite?
I think they should do well in the first couple of rounds, before dropping to the Losers Bracket. From there, I think they have little competition to stop them making it back through to the Grand Final!

 

Make sure to catch the first round of the Giant Slayer Spring Gauntlet today at 3pm PST! MadMagical will also be around as a co-stream, so every game will be covered either here or here!

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