Franchising in esports is new and it is taking some getting used to for fans who had grown accustomed to the relegation system, especially in League of Legends. Overwatch, the LPL and the LCS started this trend, and the LEC recently followed. The Call of Duty World League has also announced that they are following Overwatch’s system but details are very sparse about where it is currently at.
Franchising is normally the next step according to the precedent set by traditional sports. It helps leagues and the teams involved as they do not need to worry about the turnover involved in a relegation system. While the relegation system works in the English Premier League, many worried about it in the esports scene. Franchising for esports seems to be a move to help investors and team owners to feel more comfortable with their investment. Pete Volk of The Rift Herald wrote back when LCS franchising was announced, “As for the loss of promotion and relegation, it’s no secret the threat of losing their LCS spot has hampered many teams’ ability to secure long-term sponsorships.” Clearly, for esports, franchising was needed for the longevity of the leagues and even games.
Following the traditional sports method, there are a few more steps to take in order to help flesh out the leagues and their following. A couple of these steps include expansion and geolocation. For the LCS specifically, it seems that these two methods might be implemented sooner than many fans might think.
Where’s it at now?
There are a couple of esports that have already started to implement elements of geolocation. The Overwatch League was made with the intention of geolocation as every team was branded to represent a city from the very beginning. The NBA2k league similarly has teams attached to cities, but more directly to the NBA team cities they represent. Both of these leagues have yet to move teams to their cities.
The only league to try the physical aspect of geolocation so far is actually the LPL in China. Chinese League of Legends was franchised and geolocated in 2018, the same time the LCS and Overwatch League were franchised. It seems as though the Chinese market is ripe for esports as fans are enjoying having their teams attached to their cities.
In an article by Emily Rand, caster Dom Roemer stated, “When I first heard about specific geographical locations per team, I thought it was massively ambitious.” He then went on to say, “In traditional sports, this works because of the wide support for the sport across the culture, and though esports is growing, I was initially dubious that any video game, let alone League of Legends, could possibly sustain anything of this scope. I’m proud to say that I was wrong.”
While still new, geolocation is getting positive early reviews in the LPL. The Overwatch League has also announced that they will be having their teams head to their cities next season and will try a traveling schedule. How the travel schedule will work is still not known but, the Philadelphia Fusion announced that they were building an entirely new arena in Philadelphia right next to where all the traditional sports teams play.
What does this mean for the LCS?
So what does this all mean for the LCS? During the Spring Split Finals in St. Louis there were conversations being had about geolocation. In an interview with this publication, LCS Commissioner Chris Greeley was asked if there had been any conversations about it and he responded with, “Yes, expansion and regionalization. Two things that we talk to our owners about a lot.” He then followed up by saying, “We have an expansion committee that we work on with our owners. We have a regionalization committee that we work on with our owners. There are tons of questions, things that we all kind of need to figure out. We are all working through that together as a group.”
This shows that not only has the LCS considered it, but they are already discussing what it would look like. Having committees involving team owners could mean that geolocation or more specifically regionalization may be on the horizon. Regionalization is the exact wording that the commissioner uses though. This brings up the question, could the LCS teams represent a region instead of just one city? This has not really been tried, but as there are not enough teams for every major city in traditional sports, most teams do have major areas where their fanbases are.
During the Spring Split Finals post-game press conference with Team Liquid, team owner Steve Arhancet was asked a similar question by Christopher Bilski.
“Yes, I am a big fan of geolocation or regionalizing the league to develop that ferocious fanbase, that fervor for an organization. Excited about the future of that. We’ve seen some stuff with Overwatch but this is different at least for us as we are focused on the LCS not the global league. How that pans out in the future, I am kinda excited to see the narrative. I am in favor of that model.” -Steve arhancet
He also mentioned that he enjoyed that Team Liquid fans could be anywhere in the world. That said he acknowledged that there is a strength to attaching to a city. Teams could grow a multigenerational fanbase that creates, “A strong DNA strand”, meaning something that current fans could share with their kids and so on.
It is clear that not only is it being talked about but, both the LCS Commissioner and the owner of the team that has won the last three splits are both in favor of having teams geolocate or possibly become regionalized.
In the same interview, Chris Greeley talks about an expansion committee. While there is not as much to comment on here, it seems as though the owners are at least entertaining the idea. For those who don’t know, in traditional sports, the owners all must agree to an expansion. The commissioner echoed this stating, “It is really important to us that our owners feel as though they are partners, and that they have the ability to shape what the future of the league is going to look like.” It is not known what rights the owners have but, one could assume that they would vote as a whole on expansion.
Has it happened before?
With all this discussion, it is important to keep in mind that it would be interesting to see the LCS expand at all. The only time the LCS ever expanded was after the 2014 season when they added two more spots taking it up to the 10 that has been known ever since. This time though, it would be very different. These wouldn’t just be spots up for grabs for whoever goes on a run or who can put together the best teams. The spots in the LCS are now permanent ownership, so not only would the number of teams added be important but who was added ownership wise would be too.
The good part about expansion would be that there would be plenty of solid candidates to choose from. According to a report back at the end of 2017, “more than 100 applications have been submitted, of wildly varying lengths.” It was then claimed that some applications ranged from seven pages to nearly 100. Hopefully that would mean that the owners of the new spots, should the LCS expand, would have knowledge of the process and a solid foundation as to how they would build out their org.
The last question for expansion would come down to, is there enough talent? Looking at how much better academy teams have been since the creation of franchising, it seems like the answer is trending more towards yes. Teams like TSM Academy and especially C9 Academy have shown that there’s possibly more talent than spots in the LCS currently. Another indicator is how many rookies have come up to the LCS stage since franchising came about.
With players like Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, Robert “Blaber” Huang, Tristan “Zeyzal” Stidam, Andy “AnDa” Hoang, Tanner “Damonte” Damonte, Jonathan “Grig” Armao, Juan “JayJ” Guibert, Philippe “Vulcan” Laflamme and Omran “V1per” Shoura it seems as though talent in NA is starting to grow. This can partially be attributed to franchising. With Challenger changing into Academy, the players are able to work with their LCS teams while learning and being treated like a pro every step of the way. If expansion were to happen, it seems as though the talent, while still young and relatively inexperienced, would be there.
Scouting Grounds has also not only been interesting to watch but, a few current players including Blaber, were found there. The players get the taste of being with teams for a week and not only grow in skill but learn what it means to be a pro. Should they continue this, more LCS ready players will be available for teams to pick up.
There have not been any official announcements yet as to if or when there will be geolocation or expansion. What is known is that there are talks happening, and there is a least one owner who is in favor of seeing the league grow in different ways. If Chris Greeley and Steve Arhancet seem to want to support the idea, then it wouldn’t be out of the question to assume some of the other team owners may feel similarly.
Normally the team owners and the important individuals running the LCS have a major meeting on Friday of the LCS Finals weekends. It seems as though this would be the time where they may discuss and decide the future of the league, especially heading into the next season. Thus one could assume that if either geolocation or expansion were to happen the decision would be made then. That means that as early as the end of August, fans could hear rumbles of a decision being made, one way or the other.
Either way the LCS has been doing well. Early return viewing numbers from the Spring Split Finals were outstanding and it is clear that leaders like Chris Greeley and Steve Arhancet are not only willing to further the league but seem to be in favor of doing so. It seems to only be a matter of time before the LCS continues to mature and take its next steps as a franchise league.
What do you think of geolocation or expansion in the LCS? Do you think there is enough talent to support it? Let us know in the comments below!
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