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World

How Riot's age restrictions hurt it's brightest stars

“During the school year, I go to school for most of the day and try to see my friends afterwards. Usually though I have to come home for scrims, and after that I head to the gym or finish school work. Hopefully I can get a few games of solo queue in before I need to sleep on most days. I probably sleep around six or seven hours a night when I’m in school”

  Chres ‘Sencux’ Laursen is explaining his hectic schedule to me. The 16 year old Danish player is considered by many to be one of the most exciting prospects in Europe. He’s already been told by fellow players both in and out of the League Championship Series that he has the talent. There’s just one problem though, Sencux is too young to play at the top level of League of Legends.   “It’s definitely harder to break into the scene as a younger player. Most teams will be looking to qualify for the LCS so they don’t want to gamble on an ineligible player.”   The LCS is the premier event for League of Legends players to participate in. It’s where the big money sponsors are, it’s where the best players are, and it’s the only chance any western players will get to compete internationally. With room for only 100 players, the competition is fierce. There are some however that are handicapped simply by their age. Participation in the LCS requires that one is 17 years or above, due to labour laws in the U.S. These rules are transferred over to the European LCS hosted in Berlin, Germany.   Laws are laws and it would be understandable even without the laws that Riot would impose an age restriction on the LCS. Players are required to drop everything including school, jobs, friends, and family to move out to Berlin and play out the LCS season. Many argue that other esports have no such restrictions on pro players, with some as young as age 15 being hailed as prodigies, and while the path to pro is a great deal harder for talented League of Legends players, they still try.   “I got an opportunity to play in the first ever Riot sanctioned Challenger Series which was a huge break for me, A lot of teams usually just want five players who can play in the LCS so when I found a team I was extremely happy”   http://i.imgur.com/hvEp8tS.png   Sencux made his big break in the early stages of season four. The budding mid lane talent was spotted by the Danish outfit Reason Gaming and given a chance in the competitive environment. The first split of the Challenger Series was one of experimentation for Riot, but a success nonetheless, as lesser known players found some recognition and a platform to demonstrate their talents to a wider audience.   “I had a good team with me and support from the Reason Gaming organization. I feel like some players didn’t show much respect to me because I was so young, but I ignored that and instead focused on getting as much experience as I could. For a 15 year old player it was extremely valuable.”   The invention of the Challenger Series, though designed to encourage players to pursue a professional career while still able to attend school, used to be the perfect playground for these youngsters to refine their skills. With the addition of the automatic promotion from the Challenger Series in the 2015 season, even this competitive environment could be effectively off limits. Sencux calls it “extremely valuable” for players like him to get experience in a competitive environment from an early age. The problem arises when players under the age of 17 qualify for the Challenger Series playoffs, and are forced to sit out due to the automatic promotion ruling. Only players that are or will be LCS eligible are allowed to participate, because an LCS spot is up for grabs.   My first thought upon reading the rule was something along the lines of… “Well what’s the point then?”   What sane team would spend the entire Challenger Series league season playing and practicing with a player they would have to replace before the playoffs. With one hand hand Riot giveth, and with the other taketh away. The automatic promotion rule is vital for making the Challenger Series grind worth it, however forcing younger players to sit out the playoffs will potentially cripple the scene.   Sencux tells me he doesn’t really mind the LCS age ruling, considering there’s not much to be done about it. He will probably survive the latest bout of blows to the younger semi professional playerbase. He’s already been recognized as a talent by many players and organizations. His performance in the regular season with Dignitas EU is arguably the only reason they held a playoff position before being forced to forfeit due to these age rulings.   What about someone who hasn’t had a chance to shine? While Sencux is possibly worth the hassle, other youngsters face a much tougher task in their hunt for recognition and experience in a competitive environment. If teams quite rightly choose not to take the risk on an underage player, where will they develop their skills, get noticed by their peers, and essentially keep motivated to continue dedicating a large majority of their free time to becoming a professional player?   There are a few players who have run the gauntlet and dedicated themselves to joining the LCS even before they reach eligible age. Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten in Europe spent a year grinding through the Challenger Series with Cloud 9 Eclipse and H2K Gaming before he was able to eventually earn qualification. Other players like Lucas “Santorin” Larsen and Jonas “Trashy” Anderson took the even bolder step of moving abroad in pursuit of their goal. The former flew out to join Team Coast at merely 16 years old, while the latter honed his skills in Europe before opting to join North American outfit Enemy Esports.   http://genk2.vcmedia.vn/DlBlzccccccccccccE5CT3hqq3xN9o/Image/2013/01/anh-3-ce226.jpg or https://cdn0.gamesports.net/storage/12000/12575.jpg   One famous case of being forced to sit out was now TSM mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. The player was forced to miss several weeks of the first ever LCS season due to being underage. His talent was so obvious that Copenhagen Wolves decided it was worth the wait so instead used a substitute until the player could join. Perhaps the most discussed and referenced case of all time however belongs to that of Fnatic and their AD Carry prodigy Martin “Rekkles” Larssen. Towards the end of season two, Rekkles was already quite clearly top tier. During one of the largest international LoL events of all time Rekkles and his team managed to progress to the grand final before dropping to the outstanding World Elite. Despite being arguably one of the best players in his role in the world, Rekkles was forced to step down from the starting lineup of Fnatic. Instead of losing his talents, the European organization loaned the player out to the then amateur Copenhagen Wolves and allowed him to dominate the amateur circuit for a year until he was old enough to rejoin the team.   The difference then was that the Riot sanctioned Challenger Series didn’t exist, and instead the player thrived in constant competitions both online and offline. While no one doubts that the inclusion of a league season with a direct path to the LCS is a bad thing, the handling of the playoffs has come into question after the Dignitas EU incident. There is a serious issue at the moment in that no team will effectively waste time with an underage player, all the while knowing they will have to use a substitute when the important matches roll around. A simple solution would be lifting the restriction on age limits in the playoffs. This does contradict with Riot rulings in the past that only LCS eligible players can participate in a tournament that could grant promotion to their premier league. In an ideal world there would be enough talent in the scene to sanction yet another league below the Challenger Series with no such restrictions, however the incentive for Riot to invest in such a league would be practically non existent.   I asked Sencux for his final thoughts on how younger players could in fact be encouraged to participate. Knowing that he still has half a season to push through, his journey may almost be over, and here’s what he wants to see for the future. “at the moment there is no reason for a good challenger team to sign an underage player, so I think the most essential thing that needs to happen is to remove the age restriction on the playoffs/promotions, once they do that it’s already a lot easier for younger players to get noticed. Aside from that I wish there were some more tournaments outside of Riot so that amateur players can get more experience, but with the challenger series going on it’s hard to get the teams together for a tournament outside of Riot”