Riot Games has announced the biggest piece of lolesports news since the creation of the North American League Championship Series itself, a move to a franchising model that would create ten permanent partners, abolishing the North American Challenger Scene as we know it.
In place of the current Challenger Series, an academy system – where each of the partners will pitch a sister team to develop future talent within their organization – will be introduced in 2018. While the move to franchising makes sense from a business standpoint to encourage investment and long-term stability, it has left many of the Challenger organizations with dreams of the LCS wondering, “is this the end?”
Since the inception of the regional Championship Series, the North American League of Legends scene has operated on a two-tier model, with the main league (NA LCS) and a subsidiary league (NA CS) in which teams competed for promotion. Similar to many traditional sports systems, bottom teams from the NA LCS would be challenged by the top teams in the NA CS to retain their spot every split in a Promotion Tournament.
The ideology behind this format was that it would help to maintain the competitive integrity of the NA LCS, creating a system where the true ten best teams and organizations in the region would be able to climb to the top of the ladder and incompetency would be punished.
Unfortunately, from an investors standpoint, the relegation system served to create uncertainty that a team you are investing in may not retain their NA LCS slot six months down the line. Demotion to the NA CS was understandably perceived to be a death sentence for an eSports organization and their investment opportunities within the League of Legends scene. Team EnVyUs owner Mike Rufail put this into perspective when his team barely escaped relegation this past split:
To put this into perspective, we could win 3 CSGO majors in a row and still not equal the gain (or mitigate potential loss) or our LCS spot.
— Mike Rufail (@hastr0) April 3, 2017
Team EnVyUs was not the only team pushed to the brink this split. After a huge influx of investment, Team Liquid also found themselves fighting off relegation as the split began to come to an end. In desperation, Team Liquid agreed to a loan of star AD carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng from Team SoloMid, a move that may have saved their LCS spot.
As part of their move to ten permanent partners, Riot Games announced they would be opening an application process for any interested parties and would pick the ten best organizations from the field of applicants. While they may claim this is open to any applicants, it is hard to believe that there are any organizations who may have an advantage over the ten current organizations in the NA LCS:
“We’ll be partnering with organizations who have the welfare and support of pro players on their teams as one of their top priorities.
“Part of our evaluation process will be examining how teams will support their pros, not only in coaching and training, but in career opportunities or higher education once their playing career has ended.
“We believe that the best results happen when pros work with teams that they’re motivated and proud to support throughout their careers.”
Riot Games Official Announcement
This is especially troubling for those teams in the NA Challenger Series who have been buoyed by a recent wave of investment in the scene or have invested significant resources of the own into their NA CS teams. Tempo Storm, Gold Coin United, and eUnited are just a few teams who have made significant roster moves between splits and have signed big name players to their rosters in the hope of reaching the promised lane of the NA LCS.
With franchising set to begin in 2018, the application period for a permanent partner spot closes on July 14. This means that current NA CS teams will not have even a full split to make a case for the strength of their new rosters.
With a host of unproven rosters and unproven League of Legends organizations, it is hard to believe any of the NA CS teams would be chosen over current NA LCS teams for a partner. With a weight of history and investment behind organizations such as Team EnVyUs, Echo Fox, and Immortals (including their work in other eSports titles), Riot Games would be foolish to choose one of the Challenger teams even in one of these three organizations performs poorly this split.
Despite the roster and organizational improvements undertaken by multiple NA CS organizations between splits, their resumes fall short when compared to those of the NA LCS organizations. After the permanent partners have been chosen, there is very little opportunity for outside organizations to enter the league in the near future.
With little chance of a spot in the future NA LCS, the announcement of the move to franchising is essentially a death sentence for the League of Legends teams of the NA CS.