H2k-Gaming's leadership has waded into the ongoing debate over relegation in the League of Legends Championship Series with an unsigned statement that harshly criticizes Riot Games and its current two-tier league system. The post, published Wednesday, suggests an alternative league format that preserves the importance of Challenger Series and the "path to pro" for casual LoL players.
In the letter, H2K argue that relegation creates an untenable situation for teams, who struggle to justify further investment, maintain sponsorships and keep up player morale. The statement claims that the threat of relegation "limits EU LCS teams’ access to capital, significantly reduces the value of the teams, and makes their sale very difficult."
H2K points to FC Schalke 04, claiming that when the team was relegated to the EU Challenger Series at the end of the summer season, the German football association that backed the team at the beginning of the split lost a sizable investment. Schalke's misfortune "has sent shockwaves through other Soccer teams, VC's and high net worth individuals," the letter says.
"The teams should not be subject to the risk of having their substantial investments become worthless, and make meaningless the huge personal efforts of the team owners," the team writes. "Unlike the [English] Premier League, relegated teams in the League of Legends do not receive compensation payments from RIOT nor do they receive revenue sharing from RIOT as occurs with FIFA for a Division 2 soccer team."
The letter warns that the threat of relegation is very real for even top teams in the league, who could easily end up in Challenger if they have a single bad season. That amplifies the risk of common and inevitable issues like player injuries, illnesses or internal disputes.
"The risk of poor performance (leading to potential Relegation) is magnified because the starting five consists of only five players so the unavailability of any one is generally devastating," H2K writes, adding that "teams cannot afford to maintain quality substitutes for each position."
The debate over the financial viability of LCS membership burst into the open in August, when Team SoloMid owner Andy "Reginald" Dinh and Riot co-founder Marc "Tryndamere" Merrill got into a public dispute about the revenue options Riot makes available to teams. More recently, Slingshot Esports published a draft of a letter to Riot that was allegedly endorsed by 18 of the 20 teams in the LCS, which demanded a moratorium on relegation in 2017 and an agreement that each LCS team receive a minimum of $700,000 in compensation from Riot.
Many fans and other community members have since come forward in support of relegation, arguing that it pressures teams to keep up their performance and ensures that matches between lower-ranked teams remain competitive throughout the season. Riot has also argued that relegation — and its flip-side, promotion — ensure that new teams and players have a shot at earning a spot in their region's premier league.
H2K attempts counter these points in their letter, suggesting that Riot expand the number of teams in each LCS region to 16 over the next two years by incrementally adding the teams that finish at the top of Challenger each season. "Expanding the leagues to 16 teams (perhaps four divisions) will create more competition and present a broader range of opportunities for the players," they write.
They recommend that Challenger be maintained as a "community based" league, where younger players can develop the skills necessary for the LCS and be drafted by the premier league teams. Further, they suggest Riot implement "meaningful" minimum salary caps that force teams to hire talented players and train them properly to justify their investment, rather than coasting along at the bottom of the league.
Ultimately, the team dismiss concerns that removing relegation would make the LCS less competitive, claiming that "the competitiveness of the EU LCS (and NA) teams will be assured by their natural desire to be successful."
Annabelle "Abelle" Fischer is a writer for theScore esports with a love for Dota 2, birds and cheese. You can follow her on Twitter.
Jeff Fraser is a supervising editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.