As the end of the 2017 NA Spring Split approaches, the bottom three teams destined to fight for their place in the LCS have all but been determined. For Echo Fox, Team Liquid, and Team EnVyUs, relegation is a very real threat, the effect of which could potentially shove these organizations (with large financial backing) out of the spotlight of invaluable sponsors. Relegation may well be a death sentence for these organizations’ League of Legends teams.
Investment exploded in the NA League of Legends scene during the transitional off-season of 2016/2017. While a few teams already had significant financial backing, organizations such as Team Liquid, Team Dignitas, and FlyQuest all received significant investment from organizations looking to put down roots in the blossoming eSports industry. The value of player contracts skyrocketed to a level never seen before, as top talent from around the globe flooded into the region.
With the amount of money now pulsing through the veins of the NA LCS, the stakes have never been higher. The expectations from investors and sponsors are at an all-time high, and the rapid growth of the eSports scene has created financial targets that some organizations will never feasibly be able to fulfil. In competitive League of Legends, the risk is heightened by the requirement to earn your spot in the game’s most prestigious leagues, assessed by a team’s performance each split.
For the teams who finish in the bottom three slots of the NA LCS for example, the opportunity to remain in the spotlight for the next split is decided through a playoff tournament, featuring the top two finishers of the NA Challenger Series. This split, those two teams include many familiar faces to the LCS.
The threat for the bottom teams of the NA LCS is omnipresent. For historical context as to the potentially devestating effect of relegation, you need only look at the team who’s spot in the Challenger Series Gold Coin United purchased for a warning.
NRG eSports made a splash in the NA LCS as one of the first teams to have a high-profile investment in the Unites States. With names such as Shaquille O’Neal, the co-owners of the Sacremento Kings, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson buying into their organization, NRG had the financial backing to field a star-studded roster in the NA LCS. They immediately made a splash bringing over top Korean Mid laner Lee “GBM” Chang-suk, widely considered one of the best in the world.
Unfortunately, the increased investment and high-profile signings did not translate to success for NRG. After a disappointing finish in their first split, NRG made multiple roster changes bringing in LCS veterans Santorin from Team SoloMid, Diego “Quas” Ruiz from Team Liquid, and Alan “KiWiKid” Nguyen from Team Dignitas. They also added highly touted Korean AD Carry Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min.
Despite loading their roster with known names and high profile acquisitions, the talent and experience never translated to success as NRG fell to a 4-14 record and a ninth place finish. This forced NRG into the Promotion Tournament where they were unable to retain their position in the NA LCS. This proved to be the end for NRG, as the decision was made after their relegation to release their players and sell their spot in the NA CS. NRG would continue to invest in other eSports titles, but their run with League of Legends was over.
Soon, NRG may not be the only cautionary tale of rapid investment, high-priced talent, and disappointing results…
Echo Fox joined the NA LCS behind a group of investors led by NBA legend Rick Fox. They quickly made a splash with their new roster, announcing the acquisition of star Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, and filled in their roster with a blend of LCS veterans and promising Korean talent. After a disappointing end to their season, they completed a complete roster overhaul and flashed yet more cash to bring in more big names, including former World Champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok.
Team Liquid can also be held to a similar timeline, with a flood of investment before the season that has led to what might be NA’s most expensive current roster. With high priced free-agents such as Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin and expensive loans in Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, Team Liquid may not be able to financially afford losing their spot in the NA LCS.Echo Fox, Team Liquid, and EnVyUs are staring down relegation, and there may be a concern of dissolution if these organizations find themselves relegated from the NA LCS.
Echo Fox is also currently the only organization of the three fielding two League of Legends teams, as they also have a sister squad Delta Fox who compete in the NA CS. If Echo Fox were to be relegated it would be a difficult decision for the organization as to how many players they would retain, if any at all. At the very least one of the spots would have to be sold, as you can not field two teams in the NA CS. Still, Rick Fox has been extremely vocal in his passion and belief in eSports and it is likely that at the very least the main roster would be retained if they were to be relegated.
With their deep history in the LCS including that of their co-owner Steve “Liquid112” Arhancet, Team Liquid would also be unlikely to disappear from the League of Legends scene if they were to be relegated. The idea of their highly-priced roster sitting in the NA CS would definitely still be a tough pill for the organization to swallow, and major changes both to the organization and their roster would likely have to be made. Players such as Piglet would likely not be a part of Team Liquid’s future plans if relegated and may still not be even if they remain as a bottom squad in the LCS.
If there is any real threat of an eSports organization disbanding its League of Legends division all together if relegated, it lies with Team EnVyUs. EnVyUs is still a relatively new organization to the League of Legends scene, but has enjoyed great success with other eSports titles. With little holding them to the LCS if relegated, they may find the best option to be to dump their expensive League of Legends contracts and focus on their other teams.
NRG serves a warning of what may be to come if an LCS team is relegated. Most LCS teams currently operate at a loss when you look at the cost of their players and staff compared to the revenue they generate; the investment in these teams is based on future opportunities, and a fall from the LCS could be a breaking point for many investors and venture capitalists.
While we may not expect any of the current LCS teams to be relegated, the disappearance from the League of Legends landscape is a frightening prospect that none of these rosters should overlooked.