With NA LCS franchising on the horizon, several esports and traditional sports organizations are hard at work going through the application process to secure a permanent spot in the league.
Now that the early part of the process is over, theScore esports spoke to Team Dignitas CEO Jonathan Kemp about the organization's application, what their ownership group brings to the table and what league expansion might look like.
When Dignitas was first brought back into the NA LCS through their acquisition by the Philadelphia 76ers, Kemp noted that they did not formally expect franchising to occur, Rather, it was an educated guess given the trajectory of the League of Legends esports ecosystem.
"I think... there was certainly no indication that was going to happen specifically, we had no knowledge of that," Kemp said. "Obviously there'd been no announcement, but I think, within ourselves as a management team and the board, I think we could all see that franchising was the next logical step, whether that was for League of Legends or for other games, that seemed like the next logical step. So part of the acquisition, part of the investment in the teams and in the management was around building ourselves up for the next step... which was largely based on the assumption that franchising would take place and we would have a seat at the table when that happened."
Franchising also brought about a lot of investment, particularly from specific regional bodies. As Dignitas and other North American League organizations start receiving funding from regionally-based organizations, Kemp doesn't seemed phased as to the nature of an investment's origin, including their own.
"We're very non-region specific when you look at us as an organization. I don't think necessarily that because any of those other teams you mentioned have had investment from various parties in various parts of North America means there's a greater likelihood regionalization will take place, I don't think that necessarily follows," Kemp said.
"But having said that, I'm sure people will be looking at the Overwatch model to see what happens there and to see whether that actually makes sense and make that sort of regionalized model work within esports. I think we're all looking at that very carefully ... But I think, I wouldn't attach too much influence to the teams being in certain areas. I think that's more by happenstance than deliberately."
Some North American LoL organizations, such as Immortals and NRG Esports received large amounts of investment prior to the formal announcement of franchising and, according to Kemp, the increased organization and structure was a boon to the move toward permanent partnerships.
"I think to be successful moving forward in the League of Legends franchising model, one has to be very well structured as an organization. Financially, with players, player development marketing, so on and so forth," Kemp said. "Does that mean, if you take the teams that were in the LCS two years ago, would they necessarily be the same teams who would be in a franchised model in 12 months time? Arguably not. Technically many of them would, but some would fall by the wayside. So better funded and organized and structured organizations will be what will help grow the partnership program with Riot.
"I think that [franchising] probably would [have happened regardless], but I think it's probably sped up the process. I think it's been a catalyst for change given what we've seen over the last 90 days, and given what we've seen has happened since franchising has been announced."
Dignitas, as well as other organizations, are not guaranteed their spot in the NA LCS, but Kemp said he feels Dignitas brings a unique position to the perspective league.
"I think that, I'm sure that everybody is putting their best foot forward and everybody is coming up with their own unique set of circumstances around their position. I think for us, we've got a very unique offering. We were one of the founding teams of the NA LCS, we have that sort of history there. We've had two good splits in terms of our player performances, coming to this stage and having a shot at Worlds is a good thing."
Editor's Note: This interview was conducted prior to the North American Regional Qualifiers.
"The fact that we have this vision around how we are going to attract new fans in addition to working with and managing and meeting our current fans expectations sets us in a really unique spot," Kemp said. "Because what we're beginning to do is leverage all of the know-how and the knowledge the Sixers have, not just around content and PR, just around [things such as] the day-to-day discussions between the nutritionist at the Sixers and the chef at the house in LA. Just think about what we're able to do around health and wellness and player benefits and so on."
With the amount of applications, and the potential expertise that each application is able to portray, Kemp believes that expansion of the NA LCS is possible, especially if the accepted teams all have unique qualities which benefit the whole league.
"I think, to be honest, I would welcome a range of teams coming on board into the new LCS if all of those teams are bringing something interesting to the table. And if that ends up being 12 teams because 12 teams brings us unique offerings, then great. I think we all have a role to play in this league and working with Riot to do that," Kemp said.
"We have a lot of strengths we bring to the table, not just around team Dignitas but in terms of our ownership, their knowledge of working around the NBA, this huge amount of experience of knowledge through the senior management of the Sixers and Devils about working with the NBA and the NHL. One of our ownership group is the founder of Fnatic's merchandising business, these are things we believe we can bring to the table and if there are other teams that have a similar level of expertise in certain areas they can bring to the table and we can all benefit, then great. I think that should be the priority that drives the discussion about the number of teams."
Gabriel Zoltan-Johan is a news editor at theScore esports and the head analyst for the University of Toronto League of Legends team. His (public) musings can be found on his Twitter.