Team Liquid’s Steve Arhancet: The 2018 NA LCS is 'the first time a developer created a true esport'

by Colin McNeil, Daniel Rosen, Josh Bury Nov 29

Podcast video topics and time stamps:

2:48: Steve Arhancet on how TL put together their franchise application
6:19: Explaining "The Story of Steve"
8:16: TL's poor performance in 2017 and how that affected their application
13:53: Why didn't teams like Immortals and Dignitas make it into 2018?
17:33: What does success look like for TL in 2018?
22:34: On a player union and Riot's Players' Association
28:03: aXiomatic's ownership conflict of interest
29:55: WTF is a manga?

Steve Arhancet has a hell of a year ahead of him.

As the co-CEO and owner of one of seven already existing esports brands to be granted a spot in Riot’s franchised 2018 NA LCS, the man once known as LiQuiD112 is among the vanguard when it comes to esports taking a critical step into the future.

Appearing as a guest on theScore esports Podcast, Arhancet said that the plans to move the NA LCS to a permanent franchise model was “the first time a developer created a true esport.”

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With a rumoured 200-plus franchise applications submitted, the exact process by which Riot Games approved and selected the 10 teams that would make it into the 2018 NA LCS is still not publicly known.

But the man behind TL shed what light he could on the process.

The initial phase of the process, he said, had applicants answering three groups of questions, with three to six questions per group. Riot never specified how those questions needed to be answered, beyond a stipulation that responses couldn’t include audio or video.

Liquid’s response was to submit a glossy 259-page tome which, according to a page on Team Liquid's website, included everything from architectural renderings of planned housing facilities to a 15-page biography of Arhancet himself titled The Story of Steve.

“There’s just a lot of history to explain,” Arhancet said. “It’s I think important to convey my heart is in this, not just my motivation to run a profitable business or an enterprise that’s worth a considerable amount. I do this because I love it. And that’s evident because of the history of where this is all from, when that wasn’t the opportunity that was clearly on the table.”

The cull after that first phase was massive, with Riot narrowing down the applicants to a rumored “30 or 40.” Phase two was a “sit down meeting with Riot, face to face.”

As you might expect, TL’s franchise pitch highlighted their long history with the LCS. Arhancet though admitted that the team’s performance in the 2017 spring and summer splits were a cause for concern. “We’re piggybacking on a pretty horrific season last year in terms of performance. Is everybody going to just remember that?” he said.

Liquid’s 2017 was marred by bottom-of-the-league performances in the spring and summer splits that had them fighting for their spot in the LCS two promotion tournaments in a row.

“I was worried about that and it really motivated me to make sure we put our absolute best foot forward in terms of each phase of the application process,” said Arhancet.“It’s important to be self-aware, transparent about what issues or problems you have as an organization. Each organization has its different issues. Let’s say for FlyQuest for example, if I had to guess, I would say one of theirs was branding and content for their community and fans, and building fandom.”

“You recognize something like that,” he said. “For us it was the performance that we had last season and you come up with a solution … and it’s either sound or not.”

That solution is already being put into place, said Arhancet.

“For our plan, you’re seeing some of that realized real-time with the confirmations that we’ve put in place, one of those being … when we announced Doublelift on a three-year agreement.”

“That’s a multifaceted strategy from a performance perspective: length of agreement, quality of player, North American resident. It all kind of is follow through to an answer to that specific problem.”

RELATED: Team Liquid confirms Doublelift acquisition, TSM announce signing of Zven and Mithy

No team, according to Riot, were guaranteed a spot in 2018. With that said, Team Liquid’s inclusion may not be the most surprising news for anyone following League of Legends or esports at large.

Liquid had obvious advantages. “We have tradition and history,” said Arhancet. “We’ve been around for 15 years and proven that across that time we’ve run a high quality organization with integrity and professionalism.”

“Yes we won the International. Yes we have the best Smash player in the world. Yes we’ve done probably the largest sponsorship in all of esports in the Western world. We are the organization that fields the most teams and players, we have the largest staff, we have the largest square footage of any esports team aggregated for living and working space in both Europe and North America.”

The feathers in Liquid’s cap go beyond tournament results and physical assets, said Arhancet.

“I think as an organization we do a great job of taking care of players,” he said. “Our Dota team did a significant number of bootcamps that we provided — housing, chefs. We hired a licensed sports psychologist” which, he notes, “is very different from all these kind of mental coaches that went through college and had a degree in psychology. We’re talking about a real professional here that was working day-to-day with our Dota team as they were playing through The International.”

But not every LCS team with history and infrastructure made it into 2018. The question on many people’s lips remains: Why not the other teams who, along with Liquid, showed dedication to content creation and fan building? Why not Immortals? Why not Dignitas?

“I really, honestly do not know the specific reasons,” Arhancet said. “My personal thoughts are that I believe that the folks at Riot that were involved in this process are some really f--king smart people, asking great questions.”

“When you create a franchise or partnership system it’s like you’re getting married to these people. You’re going to have to figure shit out when times are tough and when times are great and they’re going to have to be good business partners.”

The 2018 NA LCS will be markedly different from the model fans are used to seeing. For one thing, promotion and relegation will (mostly) go the way of the dinosaur. With the threat of being booted out of the league for poor performance no longer looming each split, Arhancet said his goals are set on making sure the LCS lives up to the expectations resting on it.

Success for the LCS “spurs investment and infrastructure that continues this journey where organizations and players become more paralleled with other professional sports," he said. "And it’s my dream personally … to accomplish that. To prove out this case study. To deliver confidence on the speculation associated with esports franchises.”

“And to me that’s what’s most important."

Colin McNeil is a supervising editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.