Since the earliest days of the North American LCS, the Challenger Series has existed to help teams go from amateur to professional. But with franchising moving in later this year, the position of this year’s Promotion Tournament isn’t quite clear.
In a quote given to the Rift Herald, Chris Greeley, Riot’s Senior Manager of League Operations, had this to say.
"While this year's Promotion Tournament won't have its usual impact on which teams will play in the LCS next split, it presents a unique opportunity for the players involved to demonstrate their skill level to the community (which includes fans, their fellow pros and teams that may be looking to fill out rosters or academy rosters for 2018). For Challenger players, this is an especially valuable opportunity since the reach of the Promotion Tournament is much higher than the average Challenger Series game."
And Greeley couldn’t be more right. But the truth about the Challenger Series, and the Promotion Tournament as a whole, is that it was never really anything other than an audition for the players. After all, as recently as last year, organizations could sell the LCS spot earned by their Challenger teams, leaving the roster high and dry with no guaranteed contracts and no bargaining power ... except their performance in the Promotion Tournament, where they competed against other NA LCS level talent.
This may seem like a grim view, but it’s no mistake that after 2017 the system is changing completely. It was a broken system and one that favored organizations far more than it favored players. But without franchising it was hard to see any other way foward. After all, if you simply took out the Challenger Series, these players would have no way forward at all.
But we are well on our way to something better. By swapping the Challenger Series out for the Academy League, Riot is putting the spotlight on the players and making sure that there is a true place for talent development within the soon-to-be franchised North American LCS.
There’s possibly one other thing at stake: Bloomberg reported that Riot will charge non-LCS teams $3 million more for a franchise spot. Riot has said publicly they don’t want to give preferential treatment to existing teams, and Bloomberg is the only outlet to report this. But if it’s true, there’s a little more on the line this weekend (for an org like Team Liquid with loads of money, the difference between $10 million and $13 million isn’t much, but it probably means more to the other teams involved).
So, does this weekend’s Promotion Tournament really mean anything? Yep, this year, it’s just a little easier to focus on what really matters, providing the chance for up-and-coming players and returning veterans to prove they deserve a chance to play at North America’s highest level.