Image courtesy of Riot Games
When Team Liquid released their jungler Xmithie to sign Broxah last November, it seemed like nothing would stop them from winning their fifth consecutive split come spring. As it turns out, nothing except maybe for visa issues. As we approach week 3 of the LCS 2020 spring split, we still have no definitive date on when, or even if, Broxah will be allowed to join his team.
Liquid co-owner Steve “LiQuiD112” Arhancet has recently said on a podcast that they’ll be getting an update on February 6th. However, that update could range anywhere from Broxah being good to go, to being flat out denied a visa altogether. The entire situation is an embarrassment, and not for Riot or Liquid, but for the United States.
Esports Is Not Going Anywhere
Esports is one of the fastest growing industries in the country, with popularity among younger fans ballooning. With the World Grand Finals seeing viewership on the order of nine digits, esports can no longer be ignored. Now the best team in North American history is struggling to get their star jungler and head coach into the country. That’s an absolute travesty.
This issue exists in traditional sports as well, although typically not in this type of context. Typically, you see issues like this in baseball, when a rookie prospect from Cuba or Latin America is denied an athletic visa. Established stars generally don’t have these kinds of problems. It goes to highlight that many in the US government remain woefully behind the times.
North America’s Talent Problem
The LCS isn’t innocent in this either. We’re not privy to what conversations are going on behind closed doors, but it’s painful to not see Riot raising holy hell about this in the public space. I can’t help but wonder if the visa issue would be expedited by a couple million LCS fans breathing down their neck?
However, this also highlights a bigger problem in North American esports. Other regions don’t seem to have these problems as much because they don’t import nearly as many players. North America continues to rely on outside talent because our homegrown talent simply hasn’t gotten to that level yet. So while it’s completely unacceptable for a player to be having trouble getting a visa at this point, it also highlights our need to focus on our own homegrown talent.
The Road Forward
I believe that as more of our infrastructure comes online, this problem will phase out over the next 10 years. As esports becomes prevalent in high school and college, more young people in North America will see competitive gaming as a possible future. Remember that potential esports athletes are scouted in middle school or earlier in countries like South Korea. They’ve been building out their player-base for the better part of twenty-five years. Already, organizations like the Collegiate Star League and TESPA are helping close that gap.
It takes more than just a professional scene for young people to consider esports a viable option. Only the best of the best will actually be able to play professionally. However, if you can earn a scholarship or even a varsity letter, there’s still value in playing competitively. This will entice more people to join, and as the number of players increases, so to does the level of competition.
However, those are solutions for the next decade. Here and now, it remains solely on the U.S. government to get its act together. Team Liquid should be in a prime position to win an unprecedented 5th consecutive split, and instead they are 2-2. It’s going to be a shame, both for Liquid and for the team that emerges victorious for this season to have a giant asterisk on it if this doesn’t get resolved.