The Hazy Vision of Players Association Explained Through Champion Queue
We have an update.
On April 13, Riot Games announced changes to their Champion’s Queue system. A follow-up statement was released by longtime LCS Players Association President Darshan Upadhyaya giving his insights and thoughts.
There is a lot to digest.
Over the past few weeks, there has been an increased conversation around the state of the system. Players have reduced their use of the system – citing several reasons that leave fans and pundits scratching their heads and raising pitchforks. An environment intended to provide a high training system for players has instead garnered mixed levels of interest. And with Riot’s preliminary tweaks, it’s starting to become a single question: what do gamers really want?
Upadhyaya has literally stepped into an unprecedented position as the first – and currently only – president of the LCSPA. He was elected to the position by a group of his peers, with the rest of the cabinet filled by current or former members of TSM. It’s always comical to mention this fact. Darshan is widely respected on stage for his poise and professionalism in the competitive spotlight. Although he’s potentially not the first player to come to mind for the job, he was incredibly deserving of it given the circumstances.
He was propelled into this position during a relatively disappointing split with Counter Logic Gaming, balancing these new responsibilities while balancing the volatile nature of being on a struggling team.
This is a difficult work.
The AP’s area of focus has changed drastically since 2018. In 2020, there’s been a general push for players to be better educated, whether it’s in terms of contracts or health. The AP had to maneuver through COVID – which really became the starting point for massive distrust of the playerbase by fans. The association itself has effectively been rebuilt recently, bringing in new industry leaders to replace Hal Biagas.
But the one individual who remained a constant was Upadhyaya.
This isn’t to discredit him or devalue his accomplishments in the position, it’s just a significant wrinkle in things. Players continue to rely on him to represent their best interests and he seeks to deliver just that to the public, to Riot, and to the members of the Players Association Board of Directors. He is the figurehead.
In his statement following Riot’s announcement, he addressed the public. Focusing on players’ training habits, most of his points were about how players approach improvement differently, different habits and different lifestyles. Players should be more intentional with their practice, more drills.
When he talked about the state of Champion’s Queue, he talked about the flaws in the system. He pointed to clear issues that distorted the matchmaking experience – a poorly designed MMR system and a lack of moderation regarding player behavior. He would even highlight his take on the lack of use of the champion queue:
This is on a personal note, but I really don’t believe the majority of NA players are lazy. Some may be, but I believe that if something clearly adds value to your career, you would do your best to keep it a constant in your life.
And while that potentially wasn’t the answer the community was looking for, they were valid points – although the takeaways aren’t necessarily so valid. This also raises the question: wWhy did players push a narrative that solo queue was poor for a long period of time? Why did they want Champions Queue?
The state of the solo queue ladder in North America has been a hot topic of discussion. Every offseason, players make the trip to Korea, whether it’s to embarrass themselves at Worlds and say “we’ll get them next year” or to practice on the line-up ladder. much appreciated south korean wait. The culture, the ping, the people, it has become the Mecca of League of Legends players. If you don’t suck in Korea, you have bragging rights for life.
The North American scale seems to be the exact opposite. The solo queue scale is constantly criticized. Although professional gamers and content creators are mostly located in California, moving the server to a centralized location in Chicago in 2015 simply ruined their lives. Or at least that was all we talked about on social media (and still is all we talk about on social media). The region itself has a smaller player base with greater geographic distance compared to other popular regions. Players from Canada, the United States, Central America, and even South America and Western Europe make it to the leaderboard.
A frustrating environment for players has become fertile ground for hostile attitudes.
But that seems a bit too extreme for the solo queue to be considered the reason North America isn’t improving. Players often cited their surroundings as worse than their associates as the reason they were falling behind – unable to upgrade their skills appropriately.
It’s a bit like trying to get better at playing on a concrete floor rather than an indoor basketball court. That shouldn’t drastically influence things, but it’s understandable. But, you might get upset when the gust of wind can disrupt a shot. The key mechanics, behaviors, decision-making and intentions are still the same. North America’s regression in recent years cannot necessarily be explained by problems related to environmental differences.
Champion’s queue was meant to address this massive pain point that players have been expressing for years. And almost everything about the system should indeed do just that. There’s just one problem: Players weren’t taking advantage of this shiny new system.
Split 2 of the Champions Queue took place between March 14 and April 11 – 28 days. Assuming an average of 2 games per day – not a huge request – one would roughly assume that 56 games in total would have been played by some of the best players in North America. Of the 198 players who played at least one game, only 50 players reached the threshold of 56 games in total. And sadly, not all of those 50 were LCS players. Worse still: not all of them replaced it with games on the solo queue ladder. Instead, it is assumed that they were “training” or only training with their respective teams.
Riot has continued to show its willingness to help players improve their quality of life when demand is reasonable (not bringing the server back to California completely). The company needs a clear vision of what gamers need and are looking for. And players should take advantage of the resources provided to ensure the proper support is provided.
With the champion queue, there seems to be a difference between what is communicated and what is truly valued by players. It’s the fault of the players’ association.
It’s no surprise that the PA has had the most success in improving education – learning things, creating a contract database. It doesn’t necessarily require a ton of effort and not a ton of player input.
In more collaborative efforts, they fumbled. They struggled to communicate a clear and consistent vision not only to the public but also to Riot Games.
What do you want?
For a union to be successful, there usually needs to be a unified view of what the collective group wants. This does not appear to be the case for the Players Association. And that’s a problem. On social media, players have become more vocal about how they think other players are not keeping their end of the bargain.
There is now a general mistrust.
This is why the role of Upadhyaya is incredibly important. He is able to act in the best interests of his peers and his recent statement does not necessarily address that. Instead, he shunned the criticism and did what some players and the majority of the community are fed up with: he created excuses.
The AP is still a valuable tool but continues to lose its value as a respected league partner. LCSPA Executive Director Phillip Aram has yet to comment on the recent case and it is frankly concerning.
There is no good solution readily available and it looks like it could take many months as the world prepares for the Mid-Season Invitational. A poor performance by any team representing North America at the event will likely lead to a massive outcry in the community and Champion’s Queue will be first on the talking point.
The organization continues to try to push back obstacles rather than jumping over them and continuing in stride. Not only has it taken time and energy away from more pressing issues with the league, but it continues to remain an unproductive effort. For an association that continues to want more responsibility (and more money), it continues to become the one thing it shouldn’t be: unimportant.
Key stakeholders need to understand the significance of what is wrong with their efforts. The lack of player investment continues to seep into general operations which can and will have a dramatic impact on the overall state of the league. It’s up to senior PA members to make people care rather than irritate them.
And if that can’t be done, maybe it’s time to try someone else.