Team Liquid has been a key North American organization for a long time. It has presences across esports, and has kept up one of the premier gaming websites around.
RealSport caught up with Team Liquid co-CEO Steve Arhancet in an exclusive interview to discuss LCS franchising, roster management, League of Legends investors, and Team Liquid’s plans for the future.
RealSport: As someone who’s been in the scene for so long, how do you see franchising changing the League of Legends landscape?
Steve Arhancet: I’m hoping it will lead to real prosperity for League of Legends and the wider gaming community. I know some fans may be nervous about what franchising means for the LCS, but a secure structure should help team owners, investors, broadcasters, and marketers to invest more confidently.
While I know as well as anyone that we do it because it's our passion, currently things are stacked heavily in the favor of the league. The set-up Riot is proposing though will mean better revenue sharing, which benefits everyone - players, analysts, coaches, teams and fans, everyone in the ecosystem. The business side has caught up with the passion, and we’re going to see cool developments that parallel other pro sports.
RS: Riot announced that they’re looking to offer franchising slots for $10 million apiece. What do you think of this value proposition? Will it push away any existing LCS teams and Team Liquid in particular?
SA: Honestly, I think it’s lower than what they may have been able to sell it for. It could have easily been triple, or quadruple that because of the potential revenue that the league can bring. I believe Riot priced it this way though, so they could receive as many applications as possible without pricing anyone out.
RS: Team Liquid had to go through several roster changes in the 2017 Spring Split to keep its LCS spot. How would the removal of relegation change your roster management style?
SA: There are many aspects that lead to poor performance. Sometimes it’s how the team gels, sometimes it’s leadership and coaching staff, or training methodologies, sometimes it's a small combination of these different factors which means it doesn't quite click into place.
You need to look at and identify the issues, and then work on them in order to improve – find the right strategy – you don’t want to make changes unnecessarily, but you can’t wait too long to make the required change. It’s ok to perform poorly but not consistently. There’s always going to be a team at the bottom, but the league is more exciting when everyone is competitive, rather than watching the same top teams compete week after week.
RS: Would you have still made the same roster moves if instead of relegation the LCS would have, say, monetary penalties for finishing in last place?
SA: Honestly, I don’t know what the best solution is, but I’m sure there will be plenty of incentives not to finish in bottom place.
RS: Do you see franchising and revenue sharing as enough to support teams monetarily? How do you think it compares to team sponsorships?
SA: I cannot comment on specifics, but the hope is that the revenue that is received, will be far greater than any other sources, making supporting a team more sustainable. The other aspect of this franchise model is that if a team is added to the league with media buys and sponsorship deals, they are distributed. It’s my hope that those revenues would benefit the league overall.
RS: There’s currently a hazy understanding of who will be looking to invest in League of Legends moving forward. Could you paint us a picture of the average investor?
SA: While I don't have intimate knowledge of who is looking to invest in the LCS, there is tremendous opportunity in esports and it's a space that's currently creating a lot of investment opportunity and interest. Victor and I took investment into TL last year, from a brilliant group called aXiomatic, which is chaired by traditional sports team owners, media, technology and investment entrepreneurs Peter Guber, Ted Leonsis and Jeff Vinik, with Bruce Stein as CEO. With the LCS, I'm sure any investor that is considering it, is looking at the opportunity in terms of broadcasting, sponsorship and audience demographics.
RS: What's your vision of Team Liquid in the post-franchising world? How do you see your organization evolving both in-game and out of it?
SA: In-game, we will field a roster of the best players in the world. While we had a challenging Spring Split this year, currently in-between seasons, most teams are not willing to trade. However, a lot of contracts expire at the end of the season and Team Liquid is prepared to be aggressive in our movements - we want to be competitive each season in the LCS.
Out of the game, we’re making substantial investments to strengthen the franchise - we are developing a work and training facility near Riot headquarters for example which everyone is super excited about. We will also look to build on the additional support we currently offer to our players (on top of coaches, analysts, and housing) which include a team chef, mental game coach, and gym memberships etc.
RealSport: Is there anything you’d like to say that I haven’t asked you about?
SA: There are tons of exciting things happening across Team Liquid! We recently announced our entry into FIFA, with Lasse "Kongen" Baekkelund, joining the Liquid ranks. Our Dota2 team also recently emerged as EPICENTER 2017 champions. There's a lot going on both competitively, and behind the scenes, so stay tuned.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.
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