How Amateur Tournaments Kickstart Professional League of Legends Careers

The League of Legends tournament hierarchy at this point is rather developed. You qualify for Worlds or Mid-Season Invitational by performing well in the elite leagues. If you’re not at that level yet, you can play in academy leagues or (here in Europe) compete in a smaller regional league. But how do you put yourself on the radar? Simple: amateur tournaments.

We’re publishing this article as part of our support for grassroots esports initiatives. Today, we would like to spotlight Ares E-Sports, a German competitive community of 300 players. Ares regularly holds small tournaments with in-game prizes and helps players take the next step by encouraging constant teams and coaching them. Click the link to join Ares’ hub on Discord.

From Bedroom to World Champions

The early days of competitive League of Legends (which, if you can believe it, were almost 10 years ago) were far from structured. Riot Games held an invitational tournament with some community figures, arranged the 2011 World Championship in David ‘Phreak’ Turley’s basement, and even managed to squeeze LoL into the 2011 World Cyber Games. Unfortunately, there was no system to fit into – just a bunch of tournaments with decent prize winnings but also inconsistent formats and qualifiers. Breaking into the bubble from the outside was not quite easy, especially with Riot Games mostly constrained to North America at the time.

Enter Team Empire, an obscure squad of five Russians of little recognition that just signed contracts with a barely recognizable organization. They certainly have no pull to receive direct invites to offline tournaments, but beating the likes of Fnatic during qualifiers for elite tournaments is not realistic either. How do you put yourself on the map? Simple: you play a small weekly tournament.

With the scene revolving around various bi-monthly tournaments, Go4LoL scratched the competitive League itch for many viewers. Teams competed for as little as €100 to the winner and Circuit Points to qualify for the monthly finals. Team Empire made the most out of the opportunity: they placed 4th on Go4LoL 2011 September – EUW #56, won the #58 installment, and came out victorious in the October finals. In December 2011, they signed with one of Eastern European’s esports organizations, Moscow Five. 4 months later, the team won the Intel Extreme Masters Season 6 World Championship.

Empire and TSM does the EMPIRE!

Iconic highlight from qualifiers to IEM Kyiv

Casting Breakthrough

It’s not only players that benefit from amateur tournaments. Organizing them involves additional staff, and so does covering them. Even if competing with ESLs and FACEITs of this world is not an option, you’d still like a caster or two. Similarly, aspiring casters would like any exposure they can get.

Clayton “CaptainFlowers” Raines is a prime example of how hard work and authenticity can set you up for the major leagues. He started casting amateur tournaments in 2015 and, by his own admission, found the first “gig” 20 minutes before the tournament started. There were only 8 viewers, a figure that includes 5 staff members, but that was a start. By the end of the year, the /r/leagueoflegends was swarmed by highlights from a fresh face giving anything, from amateur team fights to Bronze SoloQ outplays, the hype they deserved.

CaptainFlowers interview with Dash after his first LCS cast

Best of CaptainFlowers from the amateur

Fast-forward to 2017, and CaptainFlowers was hired to cast the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split. He settled in quickly and, unlike new EU casters from around that time, never lost the momentum. In his debut year, Raines worked at both Mid-Season Invitational and World Championship, something that not all casters. In 2018, CaptainFlowers was the voice of both NA LCS Spring and World Championship finals. Excluding dubious numbers from Chinese streaming platforms, Worlds 2018 finals had 1,96M viewers – a 24500000% increase in viewership compared to Flowers’ first tournament.

Amateur to Pro, 2021

North America being a region of rather few countries, regional leagues made little sense. When LCS got rid of promotion/relegation, Riot Games created an academy league. The rosters there had a pretty close connection to the main squad, with players competing practically interchangeably if their organization wanted to. The system indeed stirred internal competition, but the 10 LCS clubs remained in their own bubble.

In 2021, Riot Games started giving more love to amateur competitions, as in tournaments outside of the LCS & Academy ecosystem. A Riot-sanctioned tournament circuit during Spring allowed teams to qualify for Proving Grounds, where they faced the best Academy squads. The tournament turned out to be a serious wake-up call to complacent organizations that kept signing veterans past their prime instead of developing new talent. The winners of that tournament, No Org, were a squad of LCS write-offs as well, but they went the Proving Grounds route because they believed performing there was an easier ticket back to LCS than Academy was.

For actual talent development, Evil Geniuses ended up fielding two teams for Proving Grounds. They signed EG Prodigies in addition to bringing EG Academy. While the academy roster placed a bit higher (4th place vs 5-6th), it was the Prodigies’ that got promoted to the club’s LCS team. At just 17 years old, Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki made it from SoloQ to North America’s biggest year in just 9 months. Now, that is an amateur-to-pro story!

Cover photo: Riot Games

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by Denis Matusovskiy
June 10, 2021

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