In mid-November, less than two weeks after the conclusion of Worlds 2016, Slingshot Esports reported that multiple NA and EU LCS team owners had sent a letter to Riot Games. The letter outlined their concerns about the future of the LCS, specifically around issues of relegation and the financial difficulties associated with managing a team. The letter met with no public response from Riot, who have refused to comment.
Today, Riot announced the changes it would be making to the North American LCS in 2017. While they haven’t fulfilled the team owner’s demands, they’ve taken a stab at addressing the issues at hand.
Teams will be a little less likely to face relegation in 2017
We looked at the issues surrounding relegation back in November; essentially, the visibility and income of teams which drop outside of the LCS effectively vanish. The letter from team owners called for an abolition of relegation altogether. Riot hasn’t acquiesced to that, saying in the announcement that they “believe it’s important to the overall health and entertainment value of the NA LCS to balance the relegation risk that teams face with a competitive and engaging league.”
However, teams will be a little less likely to face relegation in 2017. In the former system, the teams that placed eighth, ninth and tenth at the end of a season drop to the promotion/relegation tournament, where they must fight for their spot in the LCS—and consequently their livelihood as a team. In 2017, the eighth team will no longer be at risk of relegation.
One thing team owners requested in the letter, to assist in the financial challenges of running a team, was a better deal regarding digital revenue, which mostly came from team icon sales until now. In 2017, Riot will be “creating more opportunities for fans to show their allegiance with in-game content,” though they have not specifically listed what form that content will take. They’ve also promised that “every NA LCS team will be guaranteed a minimum of $50,000 of new digital product revenue per split (in addition to their existing revenue from team icons).”
This is a step towards ensuring teams can better monetize on digital sales, but it also falls well short of what the Slingshot letter claimed was Riot’s previous position on the guaranteed minimum, $100k. If that’s true, Riot has cut back on their original notions of what guaranteed income for teams should look like, but they seem to have doubled down on their winner-take-all approach. The prize pool for the NA LCS is rising to $200k, twice as high as 2016’s pool, which will be distributed among the top four LCS teams per split.
Riot does seem to be offering some form of olive branch to its disgruntled LCS team owners
In 2017, Riot is also instituting a new system for arbitrating disputes between itself and LCS teams. With the new process, teams can challenge rulings that have resulted in large fines or suspension from games. In the new arbitration system, Riot has said that the goal was “to provide an independent body to give both Riot and affected teams an opportunity to validate and present their findings after a serious judgment, without putting an overly burdensome cost on the team or player.” This will give teams an easier way to contest penalties they feel weren’t fairly meted out.
There are a host of other, smaller changes coming to the 2017 season, which are less likely to majorly affect teams. Head coaches will now receive the same poaching protection that players do; LCS teams can now add “inactive” players to their roster, allowing these players to commit to a team while sorting out visas or suspensions; challenger teams playing under the same brand as an existing LCS team will no longer be able to compete in the promotion/relegation tournament, to make way for upcoming teams.
While very few of the team owner’s demands have been met outright, Riot does seem to be offering some form of olive branch to its disgruntled LCS team owners. Whether the few concessions they’ve made will be enough remains to be seen.