Riot Games aim to end relegation in the NA LCS and implement franchising in the 2018 NA LCS Season with an official announcement expected soon, sources familiar with the situation told theScore esports.
League of Legends teams that currently hold NA LCS spots, or that will hold them the split prior to franchising's implementation, are not guaranteed spots in the league for 2018, sources say. An application process will allow prospective franchisees to submit applications for Riot’s consideration.
A spokesperson from Riot Games declined to offer direct comment. Instead, they directed attention to a post on the official Riot website from 2016 that noted that “the first step [in building long-term partnerships] is securing those partners and putting the right structure in place,” stating that they would be “looking to make this step in 2018.”
Riot’s post does not specifically confirm a franchising model, or that LCS spots are not guaranteed for teams who currently hold them, or offer any specific date for the beginning of that process or its ultimate implementation in the LCS.
A move to a franchising model in the North American LCS would follow widespread calls from team owners and community figures to end relegation, due to the threat it presents to teams and potential damages to outside investment.
The future of the North American Challenger Series in the face of this news is not clear.
The move comes in the wake of recent investment for NA LCS teams Cloud9 and Team Liquid. C9 raised at least $2.8 million in November 2016 and then completed a Series A funding round that included Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, NFL hall of famer Joe Montana and Golden State Warriors executive board member Chamath Palihapitiya, among others. In September, Liquid sold their controlling interest to aXiomatic eSports, an ownership group that included Peter Guber, a co-owner of the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Football Club.
In August 2016, discussion regarding LCS profitability and a potential end to relegation began to gain steam, and it exploded after Team SoloMid owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh, speaking in an interview with theScore esports, described his concerns regarding a relegation model and business aspects of running an LCS team.
A Reddit comment response to that interview by Riot’s president Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill accused team owners of refusing to “shell out for top talent” and investing profits earned from their League of Legends teams into other esports. His original post also suggested that TSM was “losing money” in those other esports, but it was later edited to remove that claim.
The post was denounced by some community figures, including then-OGN caster Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, as a tone-deaf response to valid criticisms of the LCS model.
The move to a franchising model in the NA LCS accompanies Riot’s recent messaging regarding longevity in the esport. The same post the company referenced in their response to theScore includes a pledge to create an ecosystem that will sustain LoL esports for years to come.
“We’re continuing to take steps towards a future where top LoL players have very well paid, long careers doing what they love,” the post said. “And where LoL esports team organizations are thriving business led by empowered owners who share responsibility and accountability for the long term prosperity of the sport.
“To help get us there, we’ll share LoL esports revenue streams and collaborate with our partners to develop new business models and actively shape the league. We want these partners to have permanent stakes, to be invested in a stable future and to profit from the continued success of the sport.”
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.
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.