Riot plans to roll out a number of changes for the NALCS in 2018. Namely, the league is finally franchised. After what seems like years of team owners, players, analysts, and the odd fan begging, demanding, and even imploring Riot to franchise, they listened. The structure changes will open a variety of avenues and opportunities for organizations.
Structure changes encompass the franchising plans for NA. Franchising means that regardless of how well a team does in the regular season, they will not face relegations – even a tenth-place team with a zero and eighteen record will retain their place in the following split.
Not only are teams going to be “permanent partners of the league”, they will also have Academy spots. The Academy League will be the replacement for the Challenger Series. Each team will have an Academy team and the teams will play more games than the current Challenger teams. The Academy will be where NA talent goes both to develop and to prove themselves. Teams will be able to take a chance on unproven solo q stars, or uLol standouts, without the risk of hurting their LCS teams.
Riot stresses that these changes are both being implemented in order to further bolster NA talent. The idea is that teams will have more leeway to take risks and try out new players for longer periods of time. This makes sense: giving a player that you believe in a second or third split to prove himself will allow teams to take more chances on promising rookies. The old way of the risk averse win now mentality will fade as organizations give their teams multiple splits to develop before deciding to make changes.
The newly franchised league will not be open for everyone. In fact, getting into the league will be an extensive process. Teams must submit a lengthy application that outlines their branding and business plan, as well as who the owners are and their overall team strategy. Riot understands that this application will only happen once, and they will only have one shot at getting it right. Riot doesn’t want to risk allowing a seedy team to slip into the league, just because they can afford the buy-in fee. They also don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to work with a less financially powerful, but well-structured team. Therefore, Riot set the buy-in at a relatively low 10 million, with five million up front and the later five due over time.
Riot’s process should filter out any team that might not be good to its players, or might collapse within the next two years. Riot, with this structure change, is looking to create a better professional atmosphere for fans, orgs, and players.
Many fans were worried that the implementation of a franchise would decrease the stakes and the quality of play. This is an especially prominent worry with bottom tier teams. Riot has a solution to these issues.
Riot created increased monetary incentives for higher placements, and “teams can lose their right to compete in the league if they finish in 9th or 10th place five times over an eight-split span”. This type of incentive will keep teams hungry for higher placements, as well as wary of consistent low finishes. This will keep games engaging and exciting. Teams will still want to avoid consistent losses, but an immediate loss won’t spell the end of an organization’s investment. Riot has created a league that is set up to protect team’s investments while still having enough incentives to keep teams playing with a competitive drive.
By implementing a permanent partnership with league orgs, there becomes a larger incentive for sponsors to poor money into teams. This has been a major point for org owners since the beginning of the franchise discussion. More money in means more money out. Teams can spend more on players, facilities, and staff because they will be able to afford it. This means that organizations might not have to choose between two rookies, and can afford to hire both. Orgs can afford to send their players and staff to elaborate training facilities, or maybe own one themselves. With franchising comes stability, and stability brings money.
There will also be significant effects on the professional league scene. The move to franchise is a great step towards increasing the longevity of League of Legends as an esport. The franchise will bring in sponsors and the sponsorship money will allow the teams to spend more on things like advertisement and PR. The advertisement and PR will bring in more fans. The fans will increase the incentive for sponsors, and the cycle continues. Another factor to note is that more stable teams will keep fans watching. When your favorite team or player gets relegated, many would just stop watching because they didn’t want to root for anyone else. Now with a franchised league, many fans will stay and be the basis for creating generational fandom.
All told, the new structure of the NALCS will benefit all areas of professional League of Legends. The fans will be able to continue to watch their team both suffering through harder seasons and enjoying great ones. The orgs will have more money and greater stability. The players will see an increase in pay as well as job security. Finally, Riot will get to watch their already unprecedently large game grow even larger.
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