On May 1, China’s top League of Legends competition, LPL, announced that it plans to eliminate relegation and introduce franchising to the league. Put simply, franchising is creating a permanent set of teams that are in the league every split, similar to many traditional sports leagues such as the NFL or the NBA. These teams would be official partners of the league, and would not have to worry about being relegated after a bad split. In China, franchising will come with a future expansion of the league from 10 teams to 14 as well as team localization, which will create home cities for teams across the country, leading to home and away matches.
This marks the first major League of Legends region to franchise their top league. Similar changes have been mentioned, or hinted at, for many other major regions.
With one league finally taking the leap and starting the trend, it could be that franchising comes to the rest of the League esports landscape sooner rather than later. Here are five of the benefits that franchising could have for the North American LCS.
1. Team infrastructure
The first and most easily recognizable benefit of franchising is it would give teams the ability to create a large scale support staff around their players and plan long-term.
In the current LCS environment, the idea of sinking large amounts of money into a staff is one that can only be entertained by the largest and most well-funded teams. Even for teams that aren’t really threatened by the prospect of relegation, it can still be considered a bit of a luxury.
This is due, for the most part, to the short term nature of sponsorships in the NA LCS. In the past, even well-established teams have discussed the struggle to get sponsors to sign on for more than one-year contracts, since the risk of a team dropping out of the league was always present.
The inability to sign sponsors to contracts longer than a year also means that teams can’t themselves sign their employees — coaches, players, analysts, and the rest of the staff — for anything more than a year either. If advertisers were willing to sign teams for multiple years, teams would have more financial freedom to sign their employees to safer long-term contracts as well as build a support staff to better help the players.
For instance, sports psychologists have already proven to be invaluable for a few teams, though they tend not to keep them on for a whole season thanks to the cost. Meanwhile a team dietitian and chef would help lead to teams with happier players and who have fewer things that they have to worry about in their day to day lives outside of the game leading to better play overall.
2. Established fan bases
One of the hardest things for an LCS team is creating and maintaining a fan base. In the case of most teams, this is because their first and only draw is their players. Some teams have managed to overcome this hurdle by creating content that helps highlight things like team management, coaches, analysts and owners. Fans can even name the investors for their favorite team now.
But these things can only take a team so far, and once again represent money that could be spent on players to help the team avoid relegation. After all, relegation for a newer team could essentially mean losing most of their fans overnight.
Plus, the easiest way to acquire a loyal fanbase is...
Closely related to the idea of helping teams keep and retain fans through franchising is the new opportunities that would be opened up for localizing teams — something that is part of the LPL’s franchising deal. If the LCS were to localize, teams would be located in various cities across North America, instead of all in Los Angeles, as they are now.
I want to be clear about one thing first: this would be the single largest change the LCS has ever gone through, and some fans wouldn’t be happy about the city their team moved to. But the risk would be worthwhile, as the move would open up a huge number of possibilities for growth in the LCS.
Pulling in fans that don’t play League of Legends or maybe even video games in general has always been both a goal and a challenge for Riot. With the addition of localization, teams would have the perfect opportunity to pull those fans in as people from those cities want to check out their newest sports team.
This also provides a huge boost to some of the smaller teams, particularly those that haven’t made much of a run in the playoffs, as rooting for them suddenly get’s easier when they represent an area near your home, giving those teams fans they might have never had before.
4. Talent Development
From a playing perspective, the people who would see the most benefit from franchising are the rookies. Those players that will come in fresh to the competitive scene after franchising has gone into effect would have the full benefit of the new and improved coaching and support staffs as well as the increase infrastructure of teams as a whole.
More importantly, however, these players would actually get a chance to play in the LCS, on the main stage. With teams no longer being able to promote their Challenger Series teams, the league doesn’t have much of a place to develop new talent. In the LCS the risk of playing an inexperienced player, in hopes of developing them for the future, is far too high with short seasons and the constant threat of relegation breathing down your neck.
Even if a player does get a chance in the LCS, it’s a sink or swim game with them either being up to speed the minute they start playing, or getting replaced after only a few weeks. All this makes for an environment where developing a rookie becomes almost impossible.
Even more important, if teams had their spots secured, they could focus on their futures if they weren’t going to win a title during a particular season. This would give teams an opportunity to experiment with new roster combinations and develop a more competitive team for the seasons to come.
5. A better Challenger Series
Speaking of the Challenger Series, what exactly would this change mean for that league? Well, it would mean it could finally be a player development league. After all, that’s really more what it has been like in North America over the last several years. A couple of years ago teams would build ten man LCS rosters then send the five they weren’t using to fill out a Challenger roster.
But this was never really a system that had player’s best interest at heart. After all, even if they won the Challenger Series, they would sold to a new owner and could risk part of their winning formula being altered. Even if the team stayed the same, they would no longer be developmental players anyway, they would be LCS players. And if they lost they weren’t likely to stay on their team anyway. It was a constant push and pull that always put winning over the actual development of the players in question.
This new and improved lower league would give teams a low stakes environment to help shepherd new players into the competitive team, bringing in another way to effectively guide rookies and help develop their talent.