When Riot first announced franchising for the NA LCS starting in 2018, there were two questions on everyone’s minds. The first concern was which teams would be involved, followed closely by whether or not localization, tying teams to specific cities, would be coming as well.
While we still don’t have an answer to the first question (though we have a few great guesses), the second question was a definitive “no” from Riot. Or at the very least, a definitive “not yet.” But with teams trying to look as strong as possible when submitting their final applications for franchising spots, we are seeing more and more teams are getting tied to specific cities, even before Riot themselves starts worrying about localizing teams.
After all, just look at how many of the current NA LCS teams have investors or owners that tie them to specific cities. Team like FlyQuest, Team Dignitas and Team Liquid have significant investments from the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards, respectively. Immortals and EU’s Misfits are tied to cities through the Overwatch League in Los Angeles and Miami. Now with this week’s announcement that Counter Logic Gaming have been purchased by New York’s Madison Square Garden Company, the NA LCS old guard have started to get into the act as well.
It’s no wonder that Riot is a little hesitant to dip their toe into the localization waters. The idea of tying teams to specific cities is something that has long been a topic of debate among esports fans and the idea of putting the success they have built in jeopardy in Los Angeles is something Riot wouldn’t do unless they had full confidence it would work.
On the one hand, localizing teams would give new fans a completely different way to watch the game and choose a favorite team, and it would greatly increase the availability of live LCS games. On the other, the logistical side alone would require a scale that Riot has never worked on before. Alongside the difficulty of getting every team to right place at the right time for games all across the country, teams would need to secure readily available venues throughout the year.
On Riot’s side, the production concerns of hosting a tournament in five different cities in the same weekend is immense as well. Do they turn the production end around to the teams or would there be several different crews that travel around the country to cover different games every week?
The good news for Riot is that the current franchise deal should put them in the perfect position to wait and see when the move to localizing is going to work best. As long as Riot choose some of the teams that already have connections to various cities, the hardest part of localizing, will essentially be done for them. With Blizzard starting their Overwatch League with localization in mind, Riot will have a perfect place to observe the successes and failures of another company trying the same thing.
Despite all the potential obstacles though, the fact still remains that localization is likely the wave of the future for esports. Providing fans outside of the Los Angeles area a way to connect with their favorite teams and their favorite game is a win-win for Riot and the organizations it partners with and it will be a key force in moving League of Legends into a wider audience, as well as securing ad deals in the future and to ensure that League of Legends as an esports is able to consistently grow.