‘League of Legends’ takes a page out of pro sports with league overhaul
The premiere League of Legends league in North America is getting a major face lift in 2018, including giving teams permanent spots, opening up revenue sharing, and forming a player’s association.
Riot Games’ North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) will begin to emulate traditional sports leagues like the NBA and MLB next year by expanding revenue sharing and increasing player pay, kicking of a player’s association so players have a say in how things run, and introducing team franchising — the first existing esports league to do so. This means team owners will have permanent partnerships with the NA LCS and will no longer have the fear of relegation looming over them if they’re having a bad season.
This changes will be implemented at the start of the 2018 season. In the meantime, Riot will be accepting applications from teams to be permanent fixtures in North American League of Legends. With these applications, Riot will be focusing on team branding (connecting with fans and merchandising), the owners’ business plans, team development and strategies, and the owners themselves.
All of these changes kick off today with the franchise application period open until July 14. In August, there will be an update on the player’s association, and in November the NA LCS team partners will be announced.
Franchising teams and changing leagues
The way the NA LCS currently works is like this:
Teams in the NA LCS play in regular spring and summer seasons. While the top teams move onto Worlds in the fall along with top teams from other regional leagues, the bottom teams have to compete against teams in the League Challenger Series (a step below the NA LCS). If those bottom NA LCS teams lose to Challenger teams, the NA LCS teams will be bumped down to Challenger while the Challenger teams will move up to the NA LCS.
That means if a team has a bad season or hits a rough patch, they could lose their spot in the top league. That’s a huge loss of visibility for that team and could mean loss of sponsorships along with Challenger’s smaller prize pool.
In November, 20 teams in the NA LCS and European LCS sent a letter to Riot that touched on their frustrations with the leagues and their structures, specifically mentioning how the threat of relegation hurts the livelihood of teams and players. Today’s announcement seems to be in response to that discourse.
The buy-in will be $10 million
Now the teams that are accepted into the NA LCS won’t have that issue and can make investments and sponsorship deals with the knowledge that they won’t be kicked out of the league in the near future.
This has brought up fears from fans that some teams will just plod along and not try as hard as they used to because that fear is gone, Riot Games’ co-heads of esports Whalen Rozelle and Jarred Kennedy said in the video above. Teams who appear to be “bottom feeding” will be faced with escalating consequences to ensure that teams remain competitive.
Additionally, franchising means that teams outside the league won’t have a shot at making it into the NA LCS, barring some endemic esports teams from competing in the league. Not only that, but the Challenger Series league is being completely transformed.
The NA Challenger Series is being rebranded as the Academy League and will host developmental teams owned by NA LCS franchises. This will work very similarly to Major League Baseball’s Minor League, where “farm” teams compete in their own league and develop their skills until they’re ready to be brought up to the Major Leagues.
Another issue mentioned by LCS teams in their November letter was the league’s weak revenue sharing model. To keep teams happy and monetarily healthy, Riot is expanding how much revenue it’s sharing with teams.
When Riot makes a deal like selling the rights to match broadcasting to a media company, it will now divvy up some of that revenue among teams.
On the flip side, this also means that teams who sell merchandise and make sponsorship deals will have to share a portion of those revenues with the league, too.
To get in on the league will cost a pretty penny though, Kennedy told Yahoo Esports. The buy-in will be $10 million for interested teams.
With more money being shared throughout the league, Riot is raising the minimum salary requirement for NA LCS players to $75,000 with the goal of making League a viable career for top players. This means players can focus on playing in the league and don’t need to rely on other sources of income to pay rent and buy food.
Player salaries can increase, though. Riot said that all of the players in the NA LCS will be guaranteed at 35% of league revenues. So if there are 10 teams with five players each (the current LCS league model) and the league makes $20 million, each player is guaranteed $140,000 that year.
Riot is also introducing a player’s association to give players a voice in league matters.
The NA LCS Player’s Association will have players choose which player representatives they want to have a seat at the table with Riot and team owners and negotiate for their fellow players.
Additionally, player’s association provide players access to legal and financial advisors to help them with their careers.
All of these changes work toward making the league a better place for existing teams. It may cut out a lot of organizations that can’t afford the $10 million buy-in or get denied by Riot, but those that make it in look like they’ll be in a better spot than before.