Content of the article: "LCS IS a retirement home for Pro Players – an Analysis on age statistics in the 4 Major Leagues (+LCS Academy as a Bonus)"
In the past weeks and months, maybe even years I've read so much about the problems of LCS. About their players being washed up or the League being a retirement home for professionals. Today I wanted to check myself. On Leaguepedia you can find dates of birth for the majority of pro players so I decided to put them all onto an excel sheet and calculate means to compare.
I considered almost all players listed as starters or rotating players on Leaguepedia for their team. I only didn't consider Ray (KT Rolster) and Forgiven (Schalke 04) since they are inactive. And I only considered players listed as substitutes if I knew they were already starting this split, happening for chenlung17 and iwandy (LNG Esports). A couple of NA players were counted twice since they were listed for both LCS and LCS Academy.
Obviously, missing birthdays make the whole thing slightly inaccurate but since that those only make a small portion of all data (LCS: 2, LEC: 5, LCK: 1, LPL: 9, LCSA: 12) the overall trend at least remains true. Also the majority of missing birthdays are likely of some of the younger players. Having a higher number of missing birthdays could therefore likely decrease the average age slightly
Here are some of the results:
|League||average team age||U21 Players*||O24 Players*|
For U21 I counted players (as of today) aged 21 or younger while O24 are players at the age of 24 or older*
Now we have to keep in mind that LPL has 7 teams more than the other major leagues and that LCS Academy has more missing data which would likely make the average team age slightly younger than calculated.
LEC and LCK both having quite similar age splits. Both are heavily using young players and rookies with a couple of veterans leading the charge. LPL teams are running even younger rosters. You can argue that having 7 more teams helps because more bottom tier teams can do experiments with young players without risking their playoffs spot because they never had one in the first place. But actually there are also very few veteran players in LPL these days. The oldest one being 25 is ping who is a rotating jungler for Victory Five who didn't play a single game so far. Vici Gaming actually even has three 17 year old players on their roster, two of them currently on their starting roster, the other one played a couple of games in spring already. Rosters without any experienced player are not unusual. Also the 17 teams of LPL have more U21 players than the 20 teams of both LCK and LEC combined. So the high number of young players is not solely due to the higher number of teams. And even though LPL has more teams the number of O24 players is the lowest.
LCS however has a completely different age split compared to the other 3 regions. The average age is almost two years higher compared to the other Leagues, even 2 1/2 compared to LPL. Also LCS almost has as many players aged 24 or higher as the other 3 Leagues with a total of 37 teams combined. In LCS 8/10 teams have average ages over 23 (both GG and TSM could make it slightly younger though due to one player with missing date of birth). No team in any other League however is remotely close. In LEC Misfits is the oldest team (22,5), no other team is older than 22 on average. In LCK Team Dynamics (22,6) and KT (22,5) are the oldest teams with the other 8 teams being younger than 22. In LPL Funplus Phoenix is actually the oldest team being only 22 on average. Team WE and Vici both even having rosters 18,5 years on average. Those 2 are by far the youngest teams in any major League.
The LCS Academy League is also not really a youth development League if you compare it with the other Major Leagues. Even if you count all missing data as under 21 players, the age split in LCS Academy would be more similar to LEC and LCK and still older than the LPL regular league. You would expect that in Academy all teams ran rosters like the LPL WE and Vici rosters but that just isn't the case.
You could argue that considering only starters would make things different but it really doesn't change the overall results. For rotating players (especially in China) you have both scenarios: an older starter while a younger player gets rotated in. But you also have scenarios with a younger starter and an older player that got replaced. The overall result remains the same.
Now we can take a look at some of the major contestants for world championships
Now here I included the (supposed to be) top teams of all 4 major regions. Gen.G being the youngest team here, however overall you can see a trend that the super teams are usually teams that have at least some experience. Only the two LCK teams are more towards the younger teams of their league. Cloud 9 actually just fits in here but they are by far the youngest team in NA. And then Team Liquid doesn't fit at all. Even with Tactical as the youngest LCS player (with data) their roster is just old compared to the world elite. TL has three 25 year-old players with Impact, Jensen and CoreJJ. 25 would be already considered very old and maybe even retirement worthy in all other Leagues (remember there's only a single 25 yo player in LPL, none as a starter). To LCS standards Team Liquid doesn't look very old though.
At last I want to take a look at problems and chances. We have to admit that based on recent results China's LPL is the strongest League right now and their age split is probably part of the reason. Rookies get experience on a top level very early on so they can play their career high at the age of around 20-23 before their reflexes decline and then they retire to make space for new young talent. Part of the reason for the amount of young talent is obviously their large playerbase. That's something that other regions don't have and that teams cannot really change. However China still has something in common with NA. Both regions are still using a lot of imports. But while China went from recruiting Korean star players back in earlier seasons to recruiting (mostly) soloQ talent in the recent years, NA haven't really imported a lot of young talent. The only names would be Closer, FBI, Ryoma and Brokenblade. Aside of FBI (birthday not available), they are still 20-21 years old already. In China they recruited players like Zeka (VG, 17), Morgan (WE, 18), Plex (WE, 18), Samd (V5, 19), Kanavi (JDG, 19). These are just some of the youngest players. Also players like TheShy and Doinb have already played their whole career for Chinese clubs.
In NA especially mid and bottom tier teams seem to be too stubborn to import younger players that might take away an import slot. Especially if homegrown talent is rare, import slots should be used for younger players. I could see why Flyquest, C9 or EG wouldn't want to change their roster as they were successful in the last split (even if EG and FQ are objectively too old for international play). You see similar trends in LPL and LEC where the top teams aren't the youngest teams but rather young teams that developed well during the last 2 years. However it's up to the bottom tier teams to make changes and open slots for young players that have more room to grow. I'm being sorry here, I really like Froggen and aphromoo, but if you're Dignitas and didn't make playoffs last split with them, you probably won't be reaching playoffs next split either. And certainly you will never be able to be a worlds contestant with that roster. Froggen and Aphromoo are very experienced already, they won't get any better. If you pick up young players, you might end up with a worse roster immediately but you'll get a roster with potential and a roster that might make something out of the experience so you at least have the chance of building a roster that could do well on the international stage in the future.
Now for homegrown talent, if there isn't enough talent in Challenger or grandmaster, teams could look into master and diamond, probably even unranked to find U19 players that could be able to reach top level with more coaching. It's easy to say that NA soloQ is bad, but if teams are not willing to invest into youth development they are simply not doing enough. Trainee programs are common in Korea and China and that also helps their soloQ being better. In EU most young players get better through teamplay in their regional leagues having a coach or a veteran player on their roster. I know that 100 Thieves is actually trying a youth development program so I can't just hate on any team here. I just want to point out that there is the option of fielding younger rosters in any region. Playerbase isn‘t the only important factor.
The last problem would be the LCS community. Fan reactions have been pretty harsh for teams when they benched some of their older players. Recently Immortals not starting Xmithie got many comments. As I said benching an older player in favor of a younger one usually doesn't result in a stronger roster immediately, you rather invest into a possibly better future. Questioning roster decisions as a fan is okay however if fans are too stubborn if some of their "icon" players get benched, teams will naturally be more scared to take these risks to avoid a shitstorm on social media.
Right now LCS is probably at their worst state in history. The only team in LCS that is doing pretty much everything like their international competition is C9 and I don't think NA will do any better in the future if the other teams don't follow their example.
If I miscalculated any age, I'm already sorry. But the overall result should still be correct.
Just look at the two tables but it took me some time for the whole thing so I'd appreciate it if you could read it.
My Excel Source:
Source: reddit.com for game
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