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The League of Legends Japan League’s DetonatioN FocusMe shook the world on Oct. 7 by qualifying for the 2021 League of Legends World Championship Group Stage as the first seed out of their Play-in group. It was a feat over seven years in the making for the region’s oldest team. On Saturday, DFM officially dropped out of Worlds 2021 without earning a single win at the main event.

The LJL has been able to assert its strength in the past, and its teams have played spoiler at international events by pulling huge upsets. Now that DFM have made it to the main event, it’s only natural that people will start taking the LJL more seriously when it comes to examining the region.

With DetonatioN FocusMe’s run at Worlds 2021 finished following an unfortunate 0-6 in groups, it’s time to look ahead at what could be next for the LJL in terms of development.

The road ahead

DFM left the Worlds 2021 Group Stage with a 0-6 record.
DFM left the Worlds 2021 Group Stage with a 0-6 record. | Provided by Riot Games.

Throughout Worlds 2021, DFM’s lineup of players were referenced multiple times as the best possible roster that the LJL could have sent to the tournament. Now that the region’s supposed best players are now out, despite pushing through and qualifying for groups, what does this mean for the future of the region in terms of player and team strength?

LJL English casters Sam “Initialise” Hapgood and Alex “MaskedSwan” Swan said both DFM and the LJL need to trust the process. 

“There are definitely other talented parts of the LJL,” Initialise said. “Rascal Jester and Axis really impressed towards the end of summer. V3 Esports as well.”

Due to the size of Japan’s player base and the generally lower quality of solo queue (most players practice on the South Korean servers), it’s quite common for LJL teams to import one of two South Korean players. DFM’s roster is one such case, sporting Lee “Aria” Ga-eul in the mid lane and Yang “Gaeng” Gwang-woo in support. MaskedSwan identified AXIZ, the last-place team from summer, as a team to watch going forward for those interested in talent development within the region.

“This was the team that never made it out of last place,” MaskedSwan said. “This was the org that threw out a lot of tenured players who really helped them out for a while, and they’ve just scrapped everything, stuck with their Korean-imported jungler Kim ‘Hoglet’ Gwang-hyeop and then built a team around them. They played this hyper-aggressive bot lane carry-focus through their mid imported player Park ‘Honey’ Bo-heon.”

Initialise chimed in to clarify that while there are plenty of up-and-coming Japanese stars, the road to a sustainable future for the franchised league will mostly depend on where Riot Japan and those calling the shots choose to inject their money.

“NA is often an example,” Initialise said.  “You have players come in and just not adjust, and money injected and teams not really making the most of it. That money is fantastic if it’s adding to a good foundation or you pick up somebody who was super invested in improving the league or sticking around like Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in.” 

A recent initiative between League of Legends Champions Korea legacy org T1 and the LJL’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks enabled select Japanese players to utilize some of T1’s resources and facilities in order to improve at the game. The program’s first class was recently inducted.

We know for sure that some of that money is going into the correct places, however. The LJL recently revamped its version of scouting grounds and has quite a healthy Academy league full of prospects like V3 Esports Academy top laner Daito “Washiday” Suzuki, who was specifically called out by Initialize. Other top regional prospects are Rascal Jester top laner Yuto “Kinatu” Enomoto, who famously solo-killed DFM’s Shunsuke “Evi” Murase on his LJL debut with his signature Camille pick. Another pick would be AXIZ mid laner Hayate “Megumiin” Kubo. 

Positive practice culture and more investment into amateur are key

DFM's EVI is one of the oldest players in the Japanese League of Legends scene.
DFM’s EVI is one of the oldest players in the Japanese League of Legends scene. | Provided by Riot Games

Former V3 Esports coach and former Team 8 bot laner Ainslie “Maplestreet” Wyllie thinks there won’t be major progress from 2021-22 for the LJL. But another play-ins run? A win in groups? Whether it’s Detonation FocusMe or another rising squad, we’ll have to wait and see.

I’m not sure if there’ll be a big boom because really you need to have a player base that’s super excited about the game and people joining, too, so then you get the future superstars.” Maplestreet said. “Right now, the numbers on the Japanese server are pretty bad, honestly, and I would say most games are just players from other regions. In terms of popularity of the game, FPS shooters are much more popular, and even Pokémon UNITE I would say is almost a bigger game than League of Legends in Japan.”

While a general low interest in League amongst gamers could be one of the things holding Japan back, Maplestreet clarified that the region is in a good position at the moment where they can get valuable practice with other Asian teams from bigger servers. Despite the barriers keeping fresh new talent from entering the LJL, Maplestreet said the league’s veterans have been making great strides in improving their own play and setting an example for the new generation with their worth ethic. Evi, for example, has been known to invest plenty of his own time and resources into helping the LJL amateur scene as a whole.  

“People would criticize the fact that there’s a lot of like recycled talent,” Maplestreet said. “But in the most recent years, it’s actually improved a lot. And it isn’t necessarily because of solo queue numbers… they introduced a whole lot of initiatives such as their own version of scouting grounds. I think at last year’s scouting grounds in Japan, they brought 20 or 25 players and they played a round-robin of like 40 games. An incredible amount of potential scouting right there with help from Riot Japan to set that up and to give access to all the players to play against each other over and over. Some of the players there got picked up, but like in general, in the past two years, their support has gone from virtually nothing to a lot of tournaments that help players get scouted.”

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