EU LCS franchising: A fading spark

Franchising—or long-term partnership—is about to be implemented in Europe! But have we seen problems in the system since it's North American introduction?

(Image courtesy of Riot Games)

When Riot Games first announced the NA LCS was going to be switching to franchising, the message evoked a mixed response. Eventually, though, the idea of having a stronger competitive scene won the fans over, and most agreed that the switch was a necessary step for League of Legends esports. 

But is that really the case? Now that we had almost an entire season of franchising in North America,  it’s clear the system isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And considering it’s about to be adopted in Europe, this might be a grim foreshadowing of things to come.

Lack of growth

One of the main arguments in favor of franchising is increased stability. After all, it’s much easier to attract sponsorships and make long-term plans if your team doesn’t run the risk of getting kicked out of the league. But while franchising did bring more security to North American organizations, other parts of the ecosystem remain in disarray. 

The BamTech deal that was supposed to be a huge stream of the league’s income fell through. And while there are other agreements with ESPN+ and State Farm, these are nothing but breadcrumbs compared to what BamTech was supposed to bring to the table. With that, the increase of outside investments between franchised and non-franchised iterations of the league is minimal. And when you consider the difficulty of selling an English broadcast in a region as diverse as Europe, will the EU LCS really gain much from the switch? 

The position of players doesn’t seem that stable either. Granted, their salaries went through the roof, but so did the expectations of the team owners. And while the NA LCS did create a Players Association to represent their interests, that didn’t stop Echo Fox from kicking three of their players hours before the roster lock deadline—a move you’d expect from a wildcard league instead of a major region that’s just entered the era of franchising. 

No room for miracles

Still, the lack of notable improvements doesn’t automatically mean franchising is a bad concept. But implementing it in the EU LCS can take away one thing that made the league so competitive in the first place. Of course, we’re talking about the Promotion Tournament. 

It’s no secret that the promotion/relegation system was something of a mockery in North America. Towards the end, it was packed with secondary teams and organization whose only mission was to farm NA LCS slots, so it made sense to remove the competition altogether. But the same doesn’t apply to Europe. 

Organizations like Origen, G2 Esports, Misfits Gaming, FC Schalke 04, and Unicorns of Love all started out in the Challenger Scene, and it’s only because of the Promotion Tournament that they got the chance to compete on the big stage. As far as Europe is concerned, there’s still an immense pool of talented up-and-comers. And when these players consistently get the chance to qualify for the EU LCS… well, isn’t this the promotion/relegation tournament working as intended?

With franchising, this system goes right out the window. The talented up-and-comers won’t have a clear path into pro play, so they will have to settle for playing in smaller regional leagues or serving their penance on secondary teams for a slim chance to get noticed by the management. And the idea of five promising players banding together and taking the EU LCS by storm will be nothing more than a pipe dream.

Better future

In spite of what we’ve outlined above, franchising isn’t necessarily evil. On the contrary, it’s a tool that has the potential to do a lot of good for the League of Legends scene. But much like with any tool, you have to know how to use it.

If Riot don’t learn from the North American introduction of franchising, EU LCS franchising can easily break a successful system without giving much in return. 

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Daniil Volkov

I craft League of Legends narratives and cover LCK, NA & EU LCS.