Riot Games is changing the residency rules for competitive League of Legends, the organization announced Monday. This will be accomplished by 1) increasing the length of time players need to reside in a region before being granted residency status and 2) changing the process by which players are granted that status. The changes will have many ramifications both in the short-term and long-term for many teams across the globe.
League teams are required to field lineups with at least three residents of that region. Previously, imported players would be able to earn resident status after living in the region for at least two years. So if a North American team (like Team Liquid) signed a Korean player (like Gwang-jin "Piglet" Chae) in 2015, he would count as a non-homegrown player until the 2017 season, at which point he would count as homegrown (allowing the team to sign another non-homegrown player).
That time has been bumped up to four years, and requires additional steps from the player as well (emphasis ours):
Future imported players will no longer be able to become IMP residents simply by residing in a region. Instead, they will need to make a credible commitment to the region by acquiring lawful permanent resident status (for example: citizenship) as specified by regional league rules.
Why was the original rule put in place?
Residency rules (also known as "homegrown player" rules) are not common in traditional American sports, but they are something that have existed in soccer for some time. They are designed to help grow talent within a region, rather than allowing teams to just import the best talent in the world (in the case of League, simply signing a roster full of South Korean players).
As Riot explained in Monday's release:
The IMP [Interregional Movement Policy] was introduced to help balance local and foreign talent on professional and semi-professional teams. It was originally designed to grant IMP resident status for prolonged presence in a region, with the goal of preserving opportunities for local talent while maintaining options for pro players who wanted to compete abroad.
However, we misjudged the degree to which foreign talent would be prioritized over local talent and crowd out local player development. In 2014, the ecosystem was much younger, players' careers were typically shorter, and players switching regions was a less common occurrence - factors which made the original IMP requirement seem appropriate at that time.
Demand for foreign talent has only increased since 2014, and an increased requirement for residency is needed to ensure that local talent has a chance to flourish and to represent their region, while also preventing excessive talent drain from certain regions. We're making this change in a further effort to preserve the distinct regional identities that help keep competition interesting to watch and regions meaningfully distinct.
This all started after a Chinese team, LMQ, up and left China for North America, qualifying for the NA LCS with a 100 percent Chinese roster in 2014. LMQ eventually rebranded as Team Impulse, one of the teams banned by Riot before the Spring Split.
Who will the changed rule affect?
Immediately, Team Liquid, Cloud9 and H2K appear to be the LCS teams that will suffer the most. Team Liquid has two players who were set for homegrown status in 2017: mid laner Kim "Fenix" Jae-hoon and Piglet, who no longer starts for the team. Cloud9 (top laner Eon-yeong "Impact" Jung) and H2K (mid laner Yoo "Ryu" Sang-ook) each have one.
In the long-term, this rule impacts nearly every team ... outside of South Korea. The LCK, Korea's top league, does not have any imported players, and that seems unlikely to change significantly any time soon. But most teams in the world's premier non-LCK leagues have two Koreans, and any team that imports players from outside of its region would have to adjust its roster building strategy with this new process.
Who is exempt?
When the original rule was put into place in Summer 2014, certain players were grandfathered into homegrown status. Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg, Lucas "Santorin" Tao Kilmer Larsen, Shin "Seraph" Woo-yeong, Marcel "Dexter" Feldkamp, Maurice "Amazing" Stückenschneider, Ham "Lustboy" Jang-sik, Yu "XiaoWeiXiao" Xian, Shin "Helios" Dong-jin, Mitch "Krepo" Voorspoels and Jang "Keane" Lae-young are the players still exempt in North America, per ESPN's Jacob Wolf. Only Bjergsen, Santorin, Seraph and Keane are currently on NA rosters.
Is it possible more players will be grandfathered in?
Great question, dear reader! It seems likely organizations like Cloud9 and Team Liquid will fight this potential rule change, so it's certainly possible Riot will rule that players like Fenix, Ryu and Impact still get homegrown status in 2017. But in the release, Riot says the four-year requirement will exist for current non-residents.
For current non-residents, we recognize that some of them planned on staying long term, so we'll still allow existing non-residents to become residents, but will be raising the period of time it takes them to become an IMP resident from 2 to 4 years.