Schalke 04 joins the EU LCS in 2018

2018 EU LCS changes helping or hurting Europe?

Riot is rolling out big plans for European professional League of Legends, according to a recent report from ESPN esports. Jacob Wolf’s sources outlined a new format for the EU LCS starting in 2018, which includes “the league…[splitting] into four regions… 24 total teams,” “a number of group stages and a double-elimination playoff bracket,” and “a multi-year license from Riot Games.”

These updates come in response to several instances of dissatisfaction from organizations that own teams in the EU LCS. Top-tier European teams applying to join the NA LCS in 2018, and H2K’s recent public announcement to the community are two recent, high profile examples. These organizations cite financial unsustainability and insecurity as primary causes of strife within the EU LCS.

Maintaining the current promotion-relegation model creates an environment of uncertainty and risk for LCS teams, which scares sponsors from making high-value investments. European organizations also suffer from a more fragmented, regional market, when compared to those in North America. Without more certainty for organizations, and without the possibility of larger investment, the value of EU LCS slots has stagnated.

As reported by TheScore esports, EU LCS viewership is on the decline, especially when compared to the NA LCS. While Riot has developed and announced plans for franchising in the NA LCS next year, fans and players are worried that the EU LCS will suffer without serious change. The newest report shows Riot EU is looking to bring needed changes in the following areas.

BUSINESS & FINANCES

Misfits Academy sold to Mysterious Monkeys for $400,000

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

First and foremost, these changes aim at improving the economic environment of the EU LCS. Growth and excitement in esports, professional League of Legends included, revolve around money. Viewership, audiences and fans create opportunities for advertising, which allows developers, like Riot, to monetize the broadcasting of their games. Business organizations, such as Roccat or Splyce, view esports events as opportunities to advertise their products by sponsoring teams to compete. Players and coaches see esports as opportunities to make a living.

The decline in EU LCS viewership and the maintenance of the promotion-relegation model, coupled with the immense potential of an expanded, franchised NA LCS, present problems for European League of Legends organizations. While other regions and esports are taking major steps forward to increase revenue opportunities, the EU LCS is lagging behind. For example, while North America’s most recent LCS slot purchase (FlyQuest) clocked in at $2.5 million, Europe’s (Mysterious Monkeys) only sold for $400,000. Mysterious Monkeys was relegated within one split of entering the EU LCS, demonstrating the riskiness of such a venture.

From a financial perspective, the most compelling portion of Jacob Wolf’s’ report states “Participating teams will be granted a multi-year license from Riot Games to compete in the league, but a hard date on those licenses has not been established, sources said. This means teams won’t have to fear the possibility of relegation from their domestic leagues.” Doing away with relegation boosts the security for teams within the league, which, in turn, makes them more attractive as investment opportunities. This change removes the risk of a team, like Mysterious Monkeys, entering and exiting the LCS within a split or two.

Another element that should affect the business side of the EU LCS is the localization. Since there will now be four domestic leagues centered in Berlin, Paris, London and Barcelona, companies and organizations with more ties to specific locations may be more likely to invest. Spanish businesses may be drawn to sponsor a team in the Barcelona league, while French agencies might invest into Paris. Assuming this localization is more attractive to European investors, splitting parts of the LCS should be a beneficial move.

A final, less direct benefit of these new changes is the fact that Riot EU has tangible plans for next year. Financial backing is impossible without clear, executable strategies for the future, especially when organizations are targeting investments that may not return over several years. Once Riot unveils more detailed plans, organizations, team owners, sponsors and investors can begin to seriously consider their financial future with less uncertainty.

The only possible problem with the new EU LCS league format would be the need for more overall investment in a short period of time. There are currently 10 teams in the LCS and six teams in the Challenger Series. The reported 24-team league would require eight additional professionally funded organizations. This would mean each localized region would need to find two additional major organizations to enter the league from scratch. It is unclear if this is feasible. However, Riot EU has most likely analyzed the market to a point to determine this as a realistic goal for 2018.

COMPETITIVE INTEGRITY

Fnatic Academy sold to Ninjas in Pyjamas for $500,000

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

When talking about professional sports and esports, the competitive environment is of utmost importance. No one wants to watch matches that are excessively one-sided or low overall quality. The EU LCS has not struggled too much with these two problems up to this point, but the new reported format could have an impact.

Riot will break up the EU LCS into four regional leagues. The  increase in overall league size will bring in at least 40 new players to the big stage, most likely more. This will have an effect on competitive integrity by drawing in a larger pool of players, which may not be impactful immediately, but it will train a mass of players as professionals.

The second part of the reported formatting that will affect the competition is this:

“The top two teams of each domestic league will automatically qualify into the greater league, which will run alongside the competitive seasons of the domestic league, similar to the Champions League, according to sources. The third- and fourth-place teams will compete in a play-in, while fifth and sixth places will play in an open qualifier. The greater league will house a total of 16 teams, with a number of group stages and a double-elimination playoff bracket.”

Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and London will now have their own domestic leagues with six teams representing each. These teams will play within their locality first to qualify for the greater league and the play-in. This format will create competition by having all teams competing to get into the greater league, rather than having only the bottom two LCS teams facing off against the top two CS teams for slots.

The major downside to this is that there will most likely be even more striation within localities than what currently exists in the EU LCS. For example, during the regular season this year, Group A created clear first, second, third, fourth and fifth place teams with Fnatic being a couple of wins ahead of G2, G2 a couple of wins ahead of Misfits, etc. Imagine this concept stretching to four groups, and that layered effect may be more extreme.

On the flip-side, this may create more competition, just more often at a lower level. Unicorns of Love may be able to crush all of the teams in the bottom four, but maybe the fights for third through sixth within the Berlin locality would be closer. Maybe the greater league will have closer match-ups more frequently between the bottom 10 teams, while the top six continue to duke it out for championship points.

It is also possible the concentration of high-profile players will decrease if the team market expands. Instead of having several star players within a few rosters, and less notable players meshed together for Challenger teams, perhaps more teams will be able to sign one of the very best and build around them with lower-profile and rookie players. 

FAN EXPERIENCE

Origen may rejoin the EU LCS in 2018

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Esports are nothing without an audience. This is where the cycle of monetization begins, and a major factor in the success of professional League of Legends. Making headway with EU LCS fans is vitally important to the future of the league. As stated earlier, viewership for the EU LCS has been on the decline, so investors, organizations, teams and players are looking at Riot to make changes to address the issue.

However, Wolf’s report does not really touch on this part of the conversation, leaving many questions unanswered. With so many more teams, there must be many more games. How will this affect streaming? Will Riot schedule simultaneous broadcasts in Paris, Berlin, London and Barcelona? Will they be in their native languages, or English for all? Are these going to be best-of-ones, twos, or threes? Are these the only changes directed at gaining more viewers?

Audiences have expressed dissatisfaction with best-of-ones and best-of-twos in the past. The two group format for 2017 has also been underwhelming. Splitting even further into four groups may make everyone even more fractured, causing viewership to further decline. If fewer of the match-ups are of higher competitive quality, then viewers may elect to spend time watching other regions, rather than Europe.

There is also the question of production staff. Can Riot get enough casters and analysts to effectively carry four different domestic leagues? Will the quality of the overall production decrease in response to the increase in the total amount of production? The EU LCS already has less week-to-week content when compared to the NA LCS. Will stretching those resources across more broadcasts affect this disparity?

Hopefully, more information will come to light to address these concerns. While it is understandable that Riot may be primarily focused on the health of organizations and the financial future of the league, they cannot completely forget about the fuel for esports: the viewers. Creating opportunities for investment into the league is not enough. Viewership has to scale with the investment, or else it will all be a sink.

PLAYERS’ & COACHES’ WELL-BEING

Paris St. Germain may join the EU LCS in 2018

Image from http://lol.esportsmatrix.com

The EU LCS is not the EU LCS without its players and coaches. These are the individuals that train day in and day out to achieve peak performance and beat all opponents. Professional League of Legends, and esports as a whole, would be nothing without them. Organizations sign contracts with these people to provide them enough resources to get on stage, play the game and gain viewers. Investors have no business in the EU LCS without these talents.

Of course, there is a bit of cyclic nature to professional esports athletes. Money and material gains are the incentives that bring high quality talent up to create professional teams. High quality players need to exist for audiences to watch regularly. But the players may not play if the financial incentives are not high enough.

It is unclear how these changes for 2018 will affect players and coaches in the EU LCS. Will most players’ and coaches’ salaries go up due to an overall larger pie, due to investment? Will the top players and coaches maintain the same pay and benefits, while only nascent teams bring in new money? Is it possible that the top players and coaches already make too much money, and they may see a decline, as the market expands into four separate leagues with more teams and players available to choose from?

The report also does not mention anything about revenue sharing or players’ associations, akin to the announcements for the NA LCS. While owning organizations and teams may be gaining more investment opportunities, there is no guarantee that players, coaches or other staff will actually benefit. Players and coaches should expect higher salaries and more resources, but that may be naive thinking. Some investors may simply view these updates as a chance to recoup losses before expanding their costs in any meaningful way.

OVERALL

Challenger teams may join EU LCS in 2018

Image from http://windandrain.org

These reported changes do seem to be overall beneficial for the EU LCS in the grand scheme. Creating four district leagues that compete alongside a greater regional league seems to address European investors’ issues with the small, localized markets. Removing relegation and introducing multi-year licenses should ease organizations’ fears of the risk-reward nature of the league. Formatting the LCS to include more teams may create a healthier environment for developing more European talent, upping the overall competitive spirit.

There are some concerns with regards to the logistics and quality of broadcasting, as well as the effects on players and coaching staff. These should be addressed more in-depth in the near future. More steps may need to be taken by Riot EU to ensure that these increased economic opportunities are not lost on the individuals that make esports work at the end of the day, audiences and players. Higher investment ceilings only mean so much if there are no consumers to drive the advertising and monetization of the broadcast.

Finally, organizations have been rather quiet in response to Wolf’s report. This silence may be due to non-disclosure agreements with Riot EU. However, considering how vocal owners and organizations have recently been, one would expect more public announcements expressing thoughts and feelings on the subject.

In the report, Wolf mentions “other teams with ventures in League of Legends, such as Paris Saint-Germain, Origen and Red Bulls, have expressed interest in participating.” Misfits’ owner, Ben Spoont, gave some brief insight on Reddit, and former H2K manager, Chris Kalargiros, wrote an opinion piece for Blitz Esports. However, not much else has been heard from the rest of the professional League of Legends community. This may turn out to be a critical moment for European League of Legends. The community is waiting for more clarity from European organizations.


Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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Unicorns of Love may lose some members for 2018

EU’s Final Showdowns: G2-UOL, FNC-MSF

The last matches of the 2017 EU LCS Spring Split are happening this weekend, April 22nd-23rd. The playoffs have been exciting thus far, and the final two series look to be just as juicy. Fnatic will battle Misfits for third place, while Unicorns of Love attempts to dethrone G2. All four of these teams have rounded out the past few weeks well, but here are some notes going into their last match-ups of Spring.

Misfits

Playoffs: Misfits mid laner, PowerOfEvil

courtesy of Riot esports

Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage has had an excellent playoff run. Among all of Misfits and Fnatic’s players, PowerOfEvil has been averaging the highest damage per minute: 620 (the next highest is Martin “Rekkles” Larsson with 497). He makes up 29.8% of Misfits’ damage. His average during the regular season was 495, or 28.8% of the team’s total. PowerOfEvil will need to maintain this high level of play and shut down Rasmus “Caps” Winthe if Misfits want to stand a chance of winning.

Their jungler, Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, will need to adjust. Between all ten Misfits and Fnatic players, KaKAO sits bottom two in KDA, kill participation, first blood rate, and experience difference at 10 minutes. This is not going to cut it if Misfits are to win this weekend’s series and secure third place. Many analysts have criticized his play on Rengar. His win percentage is only 33% on this champion, so he should try to stay away from it in the draft. Unicorns of Love were smart to ban Lee Sin and Elise, for which he holds 78% and 67% win-rates. His next best options are Ivern and Rek’Sai, for which he also holds 67% win-rates.

Overall, Misfits have mainly lost the early game pressure they exhibited during the regular season. So far, they have averaged 384 gold behind their playoff opponents, which is awful compared to their 820 gold ahead during the regular season. The largest discrepancy between Misfits and Fnatic has been their respective abilities to take the first three turrets. Fnatic holds the top spot among playoff contenders, taking their opponents’ first three turrets in 71% of games. Misfits have only achieved this in 44% of their games.

Fnatic

Playoffs: Fnatic's support, Jesiz

courtesy of Riot esports

Fnatic’s most improved player for playoffs has been Jesse “Jesiz” Le. Almost every statistic of his has improved over the past two weeks. His KDA went from 3.4 to 5.2. His kill participation rose from 60.3% to 68.9%. Jesiz has been a primary engage tool for the team on champions such as Camille, Thresh, and Zyra. He is also a big reason why Rekkles has been able to get through laning phase on off-meta marksmen. Hopefully, Jesiz is able to maintain this high-pressure playstyle.

While having a wide champion pool can be good, it is not always necessary. Fnatic’s odd champion choices essentially ended their series against G2 last weekend. Vayne, Tristana, Kayle, Annie: these selections were not necessary. The flexing of Camille and Kennen have generally worked well for Fnatic, but branching out much beyond those picks is a bit much. The surprise factor does not outweigh the execution factor.

One area where Fnatic has excelled during playoffs is Baron control. Fnatic has taken the first Baron in 86% of their playoff games (compared to 38% during the regular season). They have also maintained a 71% Baron control rate (compared to 33% during the regular season). This focus is much better than Misfits, and will more than likely be the biggest factor in Fnatic’s favor. Mads “Broxah” Brock-Pedersen and crew will need to continue to prioritize this objective.

Unicorns of Love

Playoffs: Unicorns of Love's top laner, Vizicsacsi

courtesy of Riot esports

Unicorns of Love have strong players at every position except, arguably, their AD carry. During playoffs, Kiss “Vizicsacsi” Tamás and Fabian “Exileh” Schubert have averaged 605 and 600 damage per minute, respectively (third and fourth highest of all players). Andrei “Xerxe” Dragomir tops the competition in KDA (10.5) and has the second-lowest death share of all player in playoffs (8.9%). While Samuel “Samux” Fernández Fort generally averages behind in CS at ten minutes, he stays ahead in gold and experience, and he maintains the third lowest percentage of UOL’s deaths (13.3%).

One of the Unicorns’ biggest strengths is their champion pool. Xerxe has 75-100% win-rates on four champions with three or more games (Warwick, Ivern, Rengar, Rumble). Vizicsacsi has 75-100% win-rates on four champions with three or more games (Renekton, Rumble, Nautlius, Shen). And Exileh has won games on 11 different champions this spring. Pinching their pools will be virtually impossible for G2.

As a team, Unicorns of Love has secured first blood and first dragon in every game of playoffs so far. UOL has also secured the first Baron in in 75% of games with a 71% Baron control rate. If they are going to beat G2, it will most likely be off the back of a Baron trade. G2 have averaged a poor 25% first Baron rate during playoffs, and a 50% Baron control rate. During the regular season, G2 secured first Baron 72% of the time and maintained a 74% Baron control rate.

G2

Playoffs: G2's mid laner, Perkz

courtesy of Riot esports

G2 will be a formidable foe for Unicorns of Love. They offer similar strong players in virtually every role. Luka “Perkz” Perković has really shined throughout playoffs so far. He has the highest damage per minute (635) and percent of his team’s damage (33%). He has the lowest death share of all players in playoffs (8.5%), and he has the third highest KDA (7.0). UOL’s Exileh showed a bit of weakness against PowerOfEvil during laning phase last weekend. Perkz will be even more difficult for him to overcome.

G2’s other primary carry has been Jesper “Zven” Svenningsen. Although he was not quite as dominant in the Fnatic series last weekend, his match-up with Unicorns’ bottom lane should be much easier. Zven has averaged 6.5 CS and 164 gold ahead at ten minutes. If there is a player who needs to step up in this series, though, it is Kim “Trick” Gang-Yun. Trick’s regular season KDA was 4.7. So far in playoffs, it is 1.8. He averaged significantly ahead in gold, experience, and CS at ten minutes. In the playoffs, he has averaged 7 CS and 108 experience behind.

G2’s early game was phenomenal against Fnatic last weekend. The squad averaged 877 gold ahead at 15 minutes. That was the case during the regular season, as well. What looks like a weak spot is taking early towers. During the regular season, G2 took first turret in 64% of games and the first three turrets in 73% of games. In their series last weekend, they only did 50% and 25%, respectively. Unicorns of Love take the first turret less often, but the first three turrets more often. G2 will have to transition their early game leads into early objectives if they want to stand a chance against UOL. Teamfighting may not be the correct strategy. Smart rotations and perfect execution will be their only chance at victory.

predictions

Fnatic has looked much stronger in the past few weeks than Misfits have. I do not think it impossible for Misfits to take this, but it is highly unlikely. Just as Misfits took one game off of Unicorns of Love, they should get one from Fnatic, but Fnatic should win 3-1.

The finals series will be much more exciting. G2 have looked a bit weaker, while Unicorns seem hungry. Either way, it should be a five game series. If UOL wins it will be from snowballing the top side of the map, while G2 should look to snowball the bottom side. While both will likely happen, Vizicsacsi’s gameplay lately is seemingly unstoppable. This should be Unicorns’ spring split playoff victory.


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