A majority of discussions and arguments regarding the competitive scene are currently conducted without an abundance of data or analysis, partly because it's not easily accessible, but mostly because intuition is still valued more. However, there is no established rubric to evaluate players and teams and these conversations generally devolve into a fruitless and circular mess. This article attempts to identify some unique elements that comprehensively provide a rubric to frame subjective debates. The information from the Summer Split's games between Cloud 9 and Curse as well as TSM and LMQ has been used to provide some numbers for each metric within the context of LCS.
Cloud 9 vs. Curse
Cloud 9 has finished 1st in three consecutive seasons of NA LCS, due to a combination of positive attributes. Most of the players have demonstrated a high mechanical proficiency and have carried the team when given the adequate resources. They were also the first team to demonstrate the value of synergy between players and compositions in the NA scene and have continued to maintain this strength due to the stability of their roster. Throughout the split, they have also shown a variety of successful compositions and strategies, and seem to have developed an intuitive sense, either through analysis or innate skill, to optimally allocate resources towards various team members depending on the meta, composition, and opponent. This recent article on their organization outlines the importance of Jack Etienne and Charlie Lipsie in how they handle defeats and internal conflicts, a professionalism that has transferred to their players on-stage as they have constantly portrayed humility during periods of overwhelming success and willingness to learn and adapt in the face of important losses.
The performance of Curse has been an anomaly since the inception of LCS, but with a relatively stable roster and the pickup of Xpecial, the team has once again managed to make the playoffs as the 4th seed. When compared to other rosters, the Curse lineup is relatively unimpressive in terms of individual talent, but the team has intelligently structured their team compositions and playstyles to best utilize the strengths of their members. They have recently shown decisive play in a variety of situations, but both their synergy and strategic depth are linked to specific champion picks. It's hard to speculate on their mental fortitude but the players are very active on social media and under constant criticism from the community. Furthermore, there is little transparency with regards to the organization's involvement with the Curse team, except the what seems to be a really comfortable gaming house in addition to strong sponsorship and other unique marketing opportunities.
LMQ vs. TSM
LMQ is a relatively new presence in the NA scene, but their dominance during the Summer Split demonstrated the importance of synergy and mental fortitude within the team. They have three extremely strong carry laners in ackerman, XiaoWeiXiao, and Vasili, while NoName and Mor adapt to facilitate the strengths of their composition. Being the only Chinese team in the LCS, their camaraderie translates to their play by quickly responding to opponent's positions and maintaining their aggressive tendencies in skirmishes and teamfights. While their play has slowly evolved, their strategic depth is limited to the combination of champion pool and teamplay, as they seem to struggle with using passive or poke-based compositions. That being said, their determination in moving to the United States and drive to compete has sustained them through defeats and conflicts within the organization, while consistently maintaining their league ranking.
TSM as on organization has invested heavily in players with high mechanical ability, but it has come at the cost of team synergy. The TSM roster has gone through a tumultuous year with changes in multiple positions, diminishing their intuitive cooperative interactions that many experienced teams possess, a fact that's heavily evident in their awkward teamfight focus and objective control. Also, the lack of experience also inhibits them from maximizing the utility of certain strategic compositions, despite having the individual skill to play the champions. However, the organization has hired a coach who seems to have brought structure to the team by maintaining practice schedules and helping the team respond to losses, increasing the team's mental fortitude and allowing them to focus on their next game. This new resilience has recently returned TSM to a level of consistency and most likely helped TSM recover from their first loss to Dignitas in the quarterfinal match last week.
Team Evaluation Metrics
Individual Ability is the measure of a team's raw potential as an aggregate of mechanical skill and depth of their players' champion pool. Teams with high individual ability can consistently beat teams with low synergy, because they have the ability to outplay their opposition. The competitive scene in the west currently prioritizes changes to their roster to maximize this metric, often balancing the long term investment in developing the players against the short term losses in synergy.
Team Synergy is the measure of how well teams communicate and understand one another in game and is slowly developed through experience. This metric has a direct correlation to how well players focus or disengage from teamfights, or the amount of cohesion they display in high-pressure situations. It also allows teams to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their players in specific situations and allows them to identify the best strategies and compositions to support these tendencies.
Strategic Depth is the measure of how well teams can adapt to long term changes in the meta or short term situations between games in a series. Teams with great strategic depth can successfully play multiple types of team compositions and understand where to allocate the proper resources during the game in order to ensure victory against a variety of opponents. This is a higher order metric that comes from application of analysis and introspection, and is supported by individual ability and synergy. In the same way that a skilled team with great synergy can lose due to poor strategic direction, a team that displays a deep understanding of the game still requires skill and synergy to translate that analysis into victory.
A team's mental fortitude is the measure of their resilience against allowing results to affect them. In the long term, mental fortitude allows a team to stay tough during a period of losses, and humble during periods of success. Teams with high mental strength can stay focused on adapting and preparing for the next set of opponents. Tournaments and matches are times where it's critical for teams to calmly evaluate the previous game, use the information from their opponents, and quickly adapt their strategies. Competitive League of Legends is comprised of a very young population of players, so it takes either a strong leader or a mature figure of authority like a coach or sports psychologist to instill this attribute in the team.
The organization sponsoring or supporting the team plays a critical role in that team's success. An organization can help hire proper support staff, market their players and brand to increase player earnings, fund team houses, gaming gear, bootcamps, travel, etc. Alternatively, an organization can also harm the team by making ill-advised roster swaps, or over-marketing team potential and creating unnecessary pressure for the players, among other things. This is often overlooked in the current League of Legends scene despite its relevance, mostly due to lack of transparency in the community regarding the organization's resources.
Player Evaluation Metrics
A player's individual ability is a measure of his raw mechanical talent in his role. Players demonstrate this by mastering the fundamentals of the game and their prowess on a variety of champions against high level opponents in the solo queue ladder. This skill has to be constantly maintained and developed as it directly affects the level of strategic depth their team can achieve by relying on the player's strength and knowledge.
Synergy is a measure of how well the player is able to support a team's strategy in game through communication, positioning, decision-making, among a variety of other actions. A player slowly develops synergy by learning how to complement his teammates in skirmishes and other high-pressure situations where a team's intuitive cohesion is paramount. Duo-queing and scrimmages are popular ways to build this trust and understanding between players.
Adaptability is a measure of how flexible a player is regarding champion selection and playstyle, to remain relevant in the evolving meta-game. This can include a player having to learn new champions, discover new item builds, deal with different lane matchups, and maintain composure in unfamiliar situations. This is a rare skill because even mechanically exceptional players struggle with learning how to use certain champions at the optimum level because it requires them to change their approach in playstyle or game. As a result, players are almost expected to fall out of prominence at times, excused by "the meta doesn't favor them," implicitly dismissing the importance of adaptability as a valuable attribute.
A player's mental fortitude is relevant because many teams don't have the resources to hire support staff like coaches or sports psychologists. The marketing by organization and the heavy interaction between the players and community puts a lot of pressure on players to consistently perform, which is incredibly taxing at such a young age. This is one of the most overlooked and undervalued attributes when teams look for players to replace their rosters, because a mentally strong player can support his teammates in times of adversity and help them focus onto the next opponent or game.
Many players have additional strengths that are equally important regarding their value to the team. These can be related to the game like shotcalling ability or data-driven approach for analysis or external like leadership acumen or calm personality etc. Each team is different and sometimes a player with a unique skillset is much more important to bolster the team. Like mental fortitude, this metric can't be easily evaluated by spectators, but should be considered by organizations and teams.
Another step in transforming League of Legends into a legitimate e-sport is learning how to build a roster of skilled players that work well together, before using a solid support staff to augment the roster with strategic depth and mental fortitude. Creating a comprehensive standard for evaluation will help the community to engage in more meaningful discussions when comparing players and teams. Hopefully it will eventually allow organizations in the western scene to understand the impact of their decisions on teams and find value in developing players because they contribute significantly more than just mechanical ability.