Monopolizing or Professionalizing Esports: Riot’s Plans

Dec 19, 2015

The 2016 season is shaping up to be a tremendous year. Not only for the viewers but players and organizations. Organizations folding or breaking into the LCS for the first time, selling their LCS slots and acquiring new talent to compete for this upcoming season. Most of the dramatic changes, such as Team8’s buy out and re-branding or the Doublelift fiasco, are settling down as the preseason draws to a close. With 2016 season barely a month away from starting there exists the possibility for this season to be the ending of an era. In the early months of the preseason 2016 Riot discussed moving towards a Franchise model for 2017. Riot made some changes to player contracts with organizations as well as new formatting for the NA and EU LCS. They feel that even more radical steps must be taken to ensure the industry’s growth.

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Proposed Changes to 2017 LCS:

By moving to the Franchise system, Riot hopes to create more stability between players as well as the Organizations that support them. In addition to gaining more stability between player and organization, Riot granted themselves the ability to police the League. For instance, if there is a team that Riot deems unworthy of LCS participation then Riot issues a “forced buy out” for the team’s LCS slot (more on that in just a minute). These proposed changes contain both positive and negative aspect to them that, potentially, could change the landscape of League of Legends.

The landscape currently benefits all types of organizations and teams. Organizations that are properly funded as well as organizations that are not. Some of the larger organizations are well known like Team SoloMid, Fnatic, Cloud 9, Immortals and SK Telecom T1. Each of these organizations can afford to have their players in gaming houses to practice and hone their skills for competitions. This is the dream of lesser organizations to one day be able to obtain this level of success. Currently, all of these teams can make trades and financial transactions dealing with their LCS slot without Riot approval. Under the new system each team that qualifies for LCS is then leased a slot by Riot. Riot then retains all the rights to that slot and if a team should fold or an organization is offering to sell its slot then Riot needs to approve the transaction. No longer could an organization be able to sell their LCS slot for an outrageous sum. As Team Dignitas owner Michael O’Dell can attest to, he reported offers in the neighborhood of $750,000 . While that is an astronomical amount for an LCS slot that money could run O’Dells organization for future years.

In the interest of creating a controlled space for all Riots involvement in these transactions ensure a fair amount paid to the current owner of the LCS slot as well as ensuring that the buyer is capable of performing at the level of competition that LCS fans expect. Returning to the “forced buy outs,” this could be another mechanism to keep the fields of Summoners Rift filled with professionals who are capable of competing. Instead of having investors and venture capitalists taking over the scene and producing lackluster entertainment with more commercial branding than the Super Bowl. Riot’s ever present veto for an organization could force them to play by Riots rules instead of their own. This gives Riot substantial control over organizations than in previous years.

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Organizations containing large fan bases carry great weight within LoL as it is and Riot fans typically speak their mind regarding any changes that Riot makes to LoL. However, the addition of the buyouts clause could force a clamp over the mouth of the owners of these organizations. Forcing them to keep quiet about changes that they do not agree with. Often these changes that are made on the business side of League never filter down to the players themselves.Making it impossible for an owner to tell their side of the story.Patch 5.14, the HUD Update

One proposed change for the 2017 franchise system will filter down to the players and deals with the seasonal stipend that is paid to the teams. This, already allocated money ($12,500), provides players a salary to live on while playing and representing LoL. The stipend lasts through both summer and spring splits. On some occasions the stipend has been used by teams to pay for entry into LCS instead of going to the players. While in the league those teams attract and receive sponsorship to then pay their players. If they do not think long term they could exit LCS without the proper funding to continue and then be forced to disband.  

Riot proposes to take away the seasonal stipend for the coming 2017 season. Nothing reached agreement yet but this forces teams to be self sufficient. Teams that currently support themselves have no issue with this other than the fact that this money will now be missing from their income and they must find it elsewhere. To the teams in developing stages this heartbreaking scenario takes a vital crutch away from them. They must now find funding before entering into the LCS. While this could mean that many teams do not reach the LCS because of financial reasons the ones who do make it will be financially sound and reputable. Increasing the potential for them to draw additional sponsorship for their organization.

As the reputation of these organizations increase we could see repeat teams competing on a higher level. A level that rivals current sports teams such as Boston Red Sox and rival New York Yankees. Teams with the fan base of Counter Logic Gaming and Team SoloMid could build on their rivalry throughout years of competition within the league. This contains the possibility to create games that are about more than the points they will earn for LCS. The teams will start to compete for their fans bragging rights. In turn, this creates a bigger connection between the fan base and the organization. The players who compete will still be an integral part of this but the spotlight gets shifted to the organizations they represent. Thus creating a stable stream of fans for the organization.


Silver KayleWhile these changes are still in talks at Riot they are making whispers throughout the eSports community. As players and organizations find out more information about the changes they realize that this year will play an important role for next year. Their success could come down to making it into LCS this year to gain enough reputation to be able to compete in 2017. This could very well be the last year we see surprise organizations pop up and take some glory away from well established organizations. As the 2016 year kicks off keep an eye out for more of these changes and information that Riot will release on their plans for next year.

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John Kelly
John Kelly fostered an early love for esports. By the age of twelve he played Diablo for the first time and the rest became history. Each game after focused his passion for competitive gaming and while he never engaged in competitive esports he loved the idea of becoming a pro gamer. John studied History at West Chester University and received his Bachelors for his efforts. Writing about multiple games such as League of Legends, CS GO, Halo and Destiny increased his passion for knowing the latest information in esports. As a journalist he is tasked with keeping the fans updated on developments within the esports universe.
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