In light of recent milestone announcement detailing changes to EU LCS in 2018, it’s time to take a closer look at the direction LCS is going to take next year. One thing is true though – Riot has heard and acted upon the feedback received from fans, teams and its professional players. Exactly how these core structural changes will affect the North American and European league remains to be seen.
EU LCS Changes
Less Matches, More Money
EU LCS will switch back to Bo1 double round robin in 2018. Apparently, the fans protested the lengthy Bo3 series as the main reason for tuning in less. Additionally, the two groups format proved to be ineffective as well, so the teams will all duke it out in a single group next year.
These changes leave enough room to have only a single stream running during the broadcast, allowing fans to commit less time into following their favourite teams’ games, as well as being able to stay in touch with more teams in the same amount of time.
Based on the poll results, Riot has decided to schedule broadcasts on Fridays and Saturdays. They expressed interest in the after-work hours, somewhere after 5pm CET, which really makes sense from the viewership standpoint.
Riot has also announced increased financial support as a short-term fix. Rumours are the fixed amount has been raised from 350k€ to 500k€. On top of that, teams will be entitled to viewership bonuses, rewarding teams who invest in growing their fanbase and building their brands.
To further increase the team stability from the business perspective, Riot has decided to remove mid-year promotion/relegation in 2018. This will now enable teams to plan ahead for two splits and will potentially attract more sponsors as well.
No More Challenger Series
The EU Challenger Series will be no more in 2018. Instead of it, we’ll have two pan-European tournaments next year. The plan is to get the local country teams participating in these. Riot plans to strengthen and increase support to local teams and leagues across Europe to widen the talent pool taking part in the top echelons of competition.
This change raised concerns over the teams that already invested and took part in the EU CS. The timing of the announcement is a bit late too, so Riot will really have some explaining to do in the coming weeks and months. They did promise more in-depth post on the new structure and format, so hopefully we’ll get a clearer picture soon.
Partnership System Postponed to 2019
The announced splitting of the league into four regions totalling 24 teams was ultimately abandoned over the logistical and structural concerns. Riot still plans to eventually set up the same or similar partnership system in EU LCS as it will be in NA LCS next year, but the plan has been postponed to 2019.
Four of the current EU LCS organisations – Fnatic, G2 Esports, Misfits Gaming and Splyce – have sent their applications for permanent partnership in NA LCS. They were ultimately all denied the opportunity, which makes sense considering the local following these teams have in Europe.
However, Unicorns of Love and H2K, another two established EU LCS teams, have openly voiced concerns and discontent over the lack of financial stability and overall support from Riot, leading to all of these changes.
How Will All This Affect the EU Scene?
The news are still fresh and it’s hard to tell yet, but the decommission of EU Challenger Series will definitely be a short-term blow for the organisations that invested into it.
It was already a highly risky endeavour for many organisations. Ninjas in Pyjamas took a shot at EU LCS this year, buying a spot off of Fnatic Academy team. After inevitably failing to get a footing and getting relegated to EU CS in the promotion/relegation tournament, they disbanded their LoL team, focusing on PUBG and CS:GO instead.
The EU LoL scene has always been tougher to break in and manage, mainly due to cultural difference between countries. This left teams and organisations not very many options. Endemic sponsors and Esports-oriented brands were pretty much the only routes go.
With EU CS completely gone now and plans for permanent partnership system in 2019, the local and regional teams face uncertain times in the near future now. With no clear route to the top any more, the pan-European tournaments are legitimately of dubious relevance. Why would anybody care about these when the results ultimately matter very little or not at all?
Many fear EU as a whole fading out of relevancy on the international scale as well. Most recent worlds results, namely Misfits almost making it into semi-finals, prove that EU is still strong. However, in light of H2K’s and UOL’s open pleads to Riot to change things for the better, it’s really hard to see how these changes are going to improve things in the long-term.
Hopefully, things will take a turn for the better, but we’re in for some rough ride now, for sure.
NA LCS Franchising
NA LCS permanent partnership process has basically arrived to its end. The teams have been finalised, and the league will welcome four new teams, 3 NBA affiliates and OpTic Gaming, an established Esports brand which recently received a round of funding from Neil Leibman, the Texas Rangers co-owner. The three NBA affiliated teams include Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers and the Warriors also ventured into NBA 2K League next year due to their partnership with NBA.
Four established NA LCS teams, Immortals, Team EnVy, Phoenix1 and Team Dignitas, didn’t make the cut in the end. The four new franchises will pay an extra $3 million on top of the mandatory $10 million league buy in. This $12 million pool will go to these four teams that didn’t make it back in as a compensation. There have been no major announcements regarding these teams’ plans for 2018. Most likely, they will either take part in the academy league.
The departure of Immortals, Team Envy, Phoenix1 and Team Dignitas from the league raised a lot of eyebrows. These teams inevitably built part of the identity and brand that is NA LCS of today. With them no longer in the picture, a portion of the fanbase is going to feel let down. As much as Riot has to make business decisions like this, they wouldn’t be in the position to do so without fans in the first place. Hopefully, these four teams will receive additional support by Riot on top of the financial reimbursements.
NBA-themed NA LCS in 2018
Riot’s interest in NBA teams is in line with the interest in premier football brands over in Europe. Backed by pre-existing fanbase, Riot hopes to broaden the reach and capture new audiences. However, it remains to be seen how these brands will adapt to LoL’s Esports environment. Money surely won’t be the problem, but the screening and hiring process will have to be impeccable if they want to be competitive against the 6 remaining NA LCS teams, namely Team Solo Mid and Cloud9, for example.
Houston Rockets hired Sebastian Park, the former CEO of Archon, as their director of Esports. Rockets were acquired very recently, in September, for a whopping $2.2 billion by Tilman J. Fertitta, a billionaire with a background in restaurant business.
Cleveland Cavaliers hired a Call of Duty pro Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag to take care of their Esports operations. They’ve been actively seeking to branch into Esports for a while now, exploring investing options into Team Envy and Team Liquid, as well as investing into Wavedash Games studio, which is in the middle of developing a fighting Esports game. Hopefully, these teams solidify their staff and logistics by November 21st, when the transfer period begins.