Splyce and Immortals CEOs talk NA LCS franchising

By Red Bull eSports

Riot rocked the LCS world by announcing the end of relegation in the NA, but how do the team owners feel about the new look league?

A few weeks ago, Riot made what might be the biggest announcement the eSports world has ever seen. But if you’ve only been watching the LCS every week then you might not have noticed any difference. While this split is functioning as normal, once it’s over, the LCS, at least in North America, will never be the same again.

Once we hit the 2018 League of Legends season, the NA LCS will be a franchised league of 10 teams. This means that no teams will be relegated, and those that are in the league from next season will be in it for ever, unless they do really badly over the course of about four years. It’s a move that many team owners have been wanting for years, and they even threatened Riot that they’d refuse to play if they didn’t implement it last year.

The league will also include bonuses, such as revenue sharing for teams, players and Riot, and the stability means more long term sponsorship deals can be negotiated. Players will also be guaranteed a hefty minimum salary and Riot is in the process of helping set up a players’ association. This move is setting the foundations to make the NA LCS one of the biggest sporting leagues in America, and makes it a lot easier to grow the competition.

“There are a lot of amazing things to read in the announcement that were, I think, defining moments for eSports as a genre, not just League of Legends,” says Marty Strenczewilk, co-founder and CEO of Splyce, a US-based organisation that currently fields an EU LCS team. “True revenue sharing, that reflects what we see in places like the NBA. ‘Hey players, you’re guaranteed to make this much money, but if we make more, you share it too’ – just like basketball or other sports like that. All those great ways for this to be very successful.”

Right now teams that want to be a part of the league – and there’s no guarantee that the current members of the NA LCS will get in – are submitting proposals to Riot. These proposals will outline why they should be included in this franchised league and include all of the important information about how they will work within the league, including how they’ll stump up the $10 million buy in.

“Honestly, Riot probably could have asked for more money,” says Noah Whinston, the CEO of Immortals, an organisation that currently has a NA LCS team. “The fact that they didn’t gives me a lot of confidence in their desire not to find the partners that are willing to break out the biggest cheque books, but the partners that share their long term view and their philosophy. I think it was a real show of good faith by Riot.”

Some have questioned Riot’s decision to let anyone submit a proposal to join the franchised league. It means that organisations that have worked hard to stay in the league could be left out, and for the newer teams in the competition – not to mention the teams who were hoping qualify via the Challenger league – the millions they have spent so far could have been for very little return.

Others claim that it’s the only fair way of doing things, as investors who have recently picked up Challenger Series sides would only have one chance of making it into the league through this split’s competition.

“I would say that the application process is incredibly important not just for Riot, but even for me,” says Whinston. “I want to be a part of North American LCS franchising and if I’m going to be a part of that permanent partnership, I want to make sure that all the other teams that I’m working alongside are similarly well capitalised, similarly well run, and similarly motivated philosophically so that I know that we’re all building the league together. Ultimately, that’s what’s going to make sure that the league succeeds in the long term. If you just lock in the 10 teams, there’s too much of a risk that people aren’t going to be on the same page.”

Making sure that everyone is one the same page, and that all the teams involved are reliable and stable is certainly the main reason for the application process. While in it’s current form the NA LCS is made up of a lot of very reputable organisations, Strenczewilk mentioned during our chat that a few years back Riot would certainly have dropped a few organisations from the league due to “unscrupulous owners.”

For Immortals, the franchised league presents an opportunity to do things how they have always wanted to. The organisation has been a leader in a number of areas, and now, with the security of a franchised league, they can continue with this vision, as well as encouraging the other teams in the league to do the same thing.

“I care a lot about making those long term investments, not just in players, but in infrastructure, branding, content, sponsorships and partnerships. You can’t make those long term investments if your organisation disappears overnight if you get relegated. The reason that you can see rookies go from the draft into the NHL and succeed three years later is because you don’t need to worry about getting the player who’s the best right now, you need to worry about who’s going to be the best player in the future. That’s kind of how we’ve started working with our League of Legends team already, despite the fact that it’s not necessarily in our best interests this split to do so.”

For Whinston, who seems confident of making it into the franchised league next year, the decision to try and secure a place in the competition is an easy one. They are already competing in the league and have the infrastructure to continue to do so. But for Splyce things are a little different. Despite being an NA organisation, they field an EU team, and if they were to get into the league they’d have to make a lot of changes. However, Strenczewilk did not rule out the possibility.