In just a few weeks, League of Legends fans will pack into Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum to watch the NA LCS Spring Finals. The winner will receive a trip to Brazil to play in the Mid-Season Invitational, as well as bragging rights over the region for the next six months, until the Summer champion is crowned.
But the most important matches in North America over the next month will take place in Los Angeles, between two struggling LCS franchises and two Challenger Series hopefuls.
Yes, this weekend’s Promotion Tournament is far more important than the upcoming NA LCS Playoffs, and it’s not particularly close — even if the quality of play will be higher in Vancouver.
What’s on the line in the playoffs? Pride, for one, and that sweet trip to Brazil. Also points towards the World Championship in October and $200,000 in prize money.
But for the Promotion Tournament, the stakes are much, much higher. Established esports organizations Team Liquid and Team Envy are playing for their League of Legends futures — lose, and you’re sent down to the Challenger Series, with less money, less talent and less opportunity.
One bad break and you’re out. We’ve seen it before with NRG and Dignitas, organizations with significant financial backing (NRG) or history (Dignitas). Both caught bad breaks in the promotion tournament after bad seasons and abandoned their League of Legends divisions rather than go down to the Challenger Series (Dignitas was resurrected by the Philadelphia 76ers this year).
So for a team like Liquid, one of the most visible NA LCS organizations since merging with Team Curse in January 2015, this tournament could very well determine the future. For an organization that recently received major funding from outside investors, that’s a whole lot of risk. Liquid brought in former CLG and TSM AD Carry Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng on a loan to try and save them from relegation, and there will be a tough fight ahead to get out of the tournament -- both Challenger teams feature multiple players with experience in top-flight domestic leagues.
For the Challenger teams — Gold Coin United and eUnited — a win means a spot in the NA LCS, one of the fastest-growing esports leagues in the world and the premier League of Legends competition in North America. In recent years, NA LCS spots have sold for seven-figure price tags, which speaks to how highly spots in the league are valued.
Even if spots aren’t for sale anymore, that high valuation shows how much is at stake in this weekend’s promotion tournament — millions, and the entire future of some organizations. That’s a whole lot more than what’s at stake during the finals in Vancouver, exciting as they will be. And hey -- after this promotion tournament is over, you’ll have plenty of time to focus your attention on the playoffs.