North America’s academy system will have a completely new look starting with the 2023 season.
When talking about imports in LCS or the international success of NA, or more so the lack of it, as a region, the foremost problem always seems to be talent development. LCS organizations historically have cold feet when it comes to promoting players from the Academy, or they are usually quick to cut them and turn to more familiar faces. People in the past claimed this was due to the talent pool of LCS Academy not being too deep, which is true to an extent, despite having big prospects like Milan “Tenacity” Oleksij or Bill “Eyla” Nguyen.
And to be fair to the LCS and Riot, they have been trying to improve their talent development in the North American scene. In 2021, they started LCS Proving Grounds, a tournament featuring talent from both LCS academy teams and amateur teams, which was a huge success. This tournament had open qualifiers and it led a lot of amateur players to show themselves to the community. So, following the success of this circuit, Riot decided to combine Proving Grounds with the Academy in an effort to create a more structured developmental ecosystem called North American Challengers League (NACL).
Promotion and relegation is back with the NA Challengers League
Promotion and relegation is a process where teams are transferred between multiple divisions based on their performance during the season, and it was highly popular among the community before Riot’s tier-one leagues switched to a franchised system. It is still used in the European Regional Leagues with great success and it will be a part of the NACL ecosystem starting after the first NACL Spring Split concludes.
NA Challengers League will introduce six more teams to the ten former academy teams attached to each LCS organization. These ten teams will be called Fixed Teams and they won’t be eligible for relegation. Former amateur teams will participate in NACL as Provisional Teams, with all LCS organizations having been guaranteed a spot for their Provisional Teams in the inaugural split in Spring 2023. If there are not enough LCS Provisional Teams to fill these six slots, the NACL will consider applications from other teams.
While the full official rule set for NACL hasn’t been released yet, Riot highlighted a few critical rules for the new league.
- All players on Provisional Teams must be at least 15 years old and NA residents
- Provisional Team players are eligible to be on the Global Contract Database if they meet the same salary requirements as NACL Fixed Team contracts
- Contracts for Provisional Team players are limited to two years maximum
- Provisional Teams are required to field a seven-player roster, a head coach, and a manager
NA Challengers League format will have double elimination
Double elimination is another big talking point in LoL esports. Fans have been asking for it at Worlds for a long time and Riot recently confirmed it wouldn’t be happening in a press conference before the Worlds 2022 Finals. But teams will go through a double-elim bracket both in the NACL itself, and its promotion tournament.
NACL format itself will be similar to the current LCS Academy, in that it will run parallel to the LCS Spring and Summer splits and will be played in a single Round Robin of best-of-two matches. Because the league’s main reason for existing is talent development, this regular season will not eliminate any teams but only seed them for the sixteen-team playoffs bracket. Which once again will be a double elimination bracket with a mix of best-of-three and best-of-five matches.
For the promotion and relegation aspect, there will be two NACL Qualifiers hosted during each NACL split. These 32-team qualifiers will first lead the top 16 teams into GSL groups, followed by a single elimination bracket for the Top 8. The NACL Qualifiers will award points based on placement, which will reset after a split ends.
The actual NACL Promotion Tournaments will be played after NACL Playoffs, and they will feature the bottom four Provisional Teams against the Top 4 NACL Qualifier teams (on points). The NACL Promotion Tournament format is a Double Elimination Bracket. Best-of-threes in the Upper Bracket Round 1 and Lower Bracket Round 1, best-of-fives in the Upper Bracket Round 2 and Lower Bracket Round 2.
The first of the North American Challengers League will kick off on January 2023.
Image credit: Riot Games/LoL Esports