Riot has announced this past month that starting in the eighth season of League of Legends, in 2018, they will implement franchising, or “permanent partnership” as they have called it. Organizations will go through a rigorous application and screening process that encompasses financial status, financial and market growth potential, competitive history, and more, and at the end of it all, Riot will then choose the teams that they will like to work with moving forward.
While it is assumed that the number of teams will remain at ten, the current number of teams is not set in stone, and could potentially increase depending on the quality of the applicants. There’s a laundry list of details that come with an infrastructure overhaul as large as this, but some of the key takeaways are things such as player unions, increased minimum salaries, lack of relegation/safety in the league, and the potential growth outcomes that result from a more stable infrastructure. To some, such as current LCS/CS owners, this can be a fantastic thing.
To others, such as the owners, players, and staff of amateur teams, the way they do business has basically ended for good: leaving many in an adapt or die scenario. Now, having been on both sides of the coin, as an amateur player, coach, owner, and OQ consultant, and as a pro staff member, I feel like I understand what both are feeling and am able to give my general opinion. On one hand, a number of amateur owners in which I am good friends with have had their chances of qualifying and owning an NACS/LCS team essentially disappear. Because Riot, in efforts to support the longevity and safety of their permanent partnerships, will be removing relegations, this means there are no more open qualifiers: the most important tournament(s) of the year for amateur orgs. The motivation to own an amateur LoL org has been pulled out from under many people. On the other hand, for orgs like Dignitas, Immortals, etc, who have previously toed the line of relegations, this leads down a golden brick road of stability and a greater future earning potential.
There will always be two sides to situations like this, and I personally see merit in both sides. However, the question I had to ask myself was, do we gain more catering to the small fish swimming near the dock, or do we cast our line out further into the waters and net the big catch? Overall, I think League of Legends, as an entertainment business, greatly benefits from re-structuring the upper echelon of their business to gain the most value from their work and if this means closing the doors to amateur teams and small time NACS buyers, then so be it. I believe that this is a good change. Throughout my time as an esports consultant, I have met with a number of large buyers and organization owners that I did not feel were capable of successfully running a LoL organization that met the standards of season seven infrastructure; Either they were previous owners and their numbers/methods were outdated, they were owners of organizations that specialized in other games and are therefore unfamiliar with the infrastructure needed for LoL, or they were first time buyers/owners. These people get through the cracks all the time and run organizations into the ground.
There are a multitude of examples of this in LoL, one of the more recent NA examples being Team Impulse: an organization that lied about paying their players. These people are not fit to run an organization, and should not be given a chance to at the cost of the livelihood of their staff and players. On the same note, I am certain in saying that one hundred percent of amateur LoL owners would not even come close to being able to handle running an LCS, even an NACS organization, no matter how diluted their perception of the business is. These people fit into the same category as the ones mentioned previously: not deemed fit for competitive ownership. Riot developing this permanent partnership is an excellent way to hone in on the exact people they need and should be working with. However, this is only if Riot follows through with their criteria. In my opinion, there are multiple current LCS organizations that should not make the franchise cut based on the merits indicated from Riot, but I lack the confidence in knowing that Riot will put their foot down and stick to their guns: rejecting multiple current LCS owners. There are multiple non LCS organizations that deserve to make this cut, and sticking with lackluster ownership in the LCS will not only shaft them out of working with good owners, but it will dilute the quality of the league as a whole.
If Riot follows through with what they have on paper, then it’s more than likely we will see some “new” faces in the LCS next year. Something that should be noted as well is that each LCS team will be required to field an academy team, aimed at developing players and increasing the depth of skill in our region. This is overall a hazy topic for me, because I personally think numerous organizations, if allowed to stay in the league, will take the lazy way out and import players. However, because NA as a region has such a small playerbase, I do see why they would pay extra to import greater talent rather than scrape the barrel for domestic players. I think it just comes down to what route organizations take when it comes to academy teams. Some organizations like Immortals will almost guaranteed take five NA players and give them the infrastructure to thrive and grow, where some organizations like Liquid, would most likely import players due to their history of negligent spending and, aside from the diamond in the rough that is Dardoch, sub par player scouting and team building. Although the player situation is yet to be really set in stone, a huge benefit to this set up is that there is a large increase of staffing positions available for those looking to get their “big break” into the scene. Academy teams can be just as effective in developing staff as much as players. It all just depends on how the organizations execute. The last section of the totem pole is the amateur scene. What happens to the hundreds of amateur organizations that dream at qualifying for NACS through Open Qualifiers? Well, realistically most of them will dissipate. There is not enough room, time, nor resources to spend on less than capable owners, players, and staff, and this is a good thing. In order for LoL to function as well as it can as a business, it must cut the extra fat. As said earlier, I am certain that even if on some stroke of luck that one of these teams qualified through Open Qualifiers, they would be completely incapable of running a professional organization.
However, for the few amateur organizations who have stuck around throughout the years and have had consistent development, they should be smart enough to adapt their business model. They can be the last cog in the machine: the development center for the academy and collegiate scene. Yes, they will not be able to own their own LCS organization, but they can re-create their brand as an amateur development center and craft the next generation of players from the ground up. Overall, this is the structure that League of Legends needed in order to become a consistently thriving business. Not only will franchising provide stability and increased growth, but it could open the doors to a world of business possibilities that were simply not plausible in the past due to the sheer cutthroat ride or die nature of a relegation fueled league. I am excited to see how this all unfolds, and am looking forward to what we as a community will gain from it.