The League of Legends Championship Series Player Association has taken to Twitter to share what it hopes to achieve from opening negotiations with developer Riot Games, should LCS players vote to walkout over recent changes to North America’s Challenger League system in the hit MOBA game.
Among the requests, the LCSPA calls for the institution of a “Valorant style promotion and relegation” system between the LCS and NACL, salary funding from Riot itself, and greater security for players across both tiers of competitive play. As per journalist Mikhail Klimentov, a vote has been called among the region’s top stars for Sunday, May 28, to decide whether or not to walkout over what has the potential to be an incredibly damaging change to NA’s talent pipeline.
While a number of the demands have been deemed fair by parts of the community, much of the discussion has cemented itself around the expansion of the LCS’ current franchise-based system to one akin to that implemented by Valorant in the Valorant Champions Tour this season.
Riot’s hit competitive FPS game currently has ten partnered teams in each of its three International Leagues, with one Tier-2 team moving up each year via the Ascension tournament. The victorious team isn’t a permanent part of the league, however, and drops back down into VCT Challengers after a two year stint at the top. As such, there isn’t a traditional promotion/relegation system like those found in non-franchised sports, with partnered teams never having to worry about dropping down into the lower division.
When the LCS originally announced that it was moving to a franchise model back in 2017, Riot set a $10 million buy-in fee as part of the process. In the event of promotion/relegation coming in, some have suggested that the original fee will have to be paid back to LCS teams, though this can perhaps be circumvented if relegation is only possible for NACL teams that move up into the LCS. How this would actually materialise, however, remains to be seen.
So why is the LCSPA taking action in the first place? At the request of LCS organisations, Riot recently made the decision to remove the requirement for those orgs to field academy teams in the NACL – the region’s amateur league.
While Riot framed it as a move “to unlock more operational and financial flexibility” during a time of economic uncertainty, it was met with resistance from the LCSPA. In a public statement made in response to the announcement at the time, the LCSPA said that “as many as 70 players, coaches, and managers” would lose their jobs overnight, as orgs like 100 Thieves, Cloud9, and Team SoloMid swiftly moved to pull support for the league. It further claimed that it had not been forewarned about Riot’s decision.
Should the walkout take place, it could certainly represent a huge step towards further collective action in esports’ upper-echelons going forward – the significance of such a moment cannot be understated. Speaking to Klimentov, LCSPA executive director Phil Aram even says that he motioned to Riot that strike action over its decision could follow.
While it looks like there will now be considerably less investment into Tier-2 League esports in NA, the incoming true promotion/relegation system for NACL could drive the competitiveness up for those major orgs which are still fielding a team in the upcoming 2023 Summer Split. Right now, however, the league lies in tatters, with only Evil Geniuses, FlyQuest, and Team Liquid keeping their hats in.
Fortunately, fans won’t have to wait long for news from Riot. During a LoL MSI 2023 pre-Finals press-conference, global head of LoL esports Naz Aletaha says to expect an update on “what that [the NACL system] will look like for the summer split in the next week or so”, indicating that we’ll hear more by the end of May.
When asked by The Loadout if collegiate-level esports will garner greater focus moving forward, Aletaha says that it’s “a real opportunity space that’s been a little bit overlooked in terms of how we create that fuller, clearer path to pro.” As such, fans can expect some movement in that realm in the future.
Although NA as a region looks to be in a precarious position right now, it still possesses plenty of potential. We can’t help but feel, however, that the events to come over the next few weeks will have lasting effects on the way that it develops long-term. With a multitude of moving parts, it’s impossible to predict which way it will go.