NA LCS franchising: 3 things we’ve learned so far

With Spring Split nearing the playoffs, we take a look back at the biggest changes from franchising so far.

realsport user by admin

Image Credit: Gabriel.Gagne

Increased investment in team infrastructure

Now that teams no longer have to worry about relegation, investing in infrastructure is now not just a viable option, but a necessary one.

Because teams no longer have to worry about their spot in the league, spending money on things like team training facilities and upgraded team housing is now a sound investment. In fact, Team Liquid recently unveiled their new training facility, which will house not only their NA LCS team, but several other TL esports teams as well.

Facilities like this will ultimately elevate the way teams practice by creating a buffer between the team house and practice environment. In turn, this will enable players to practice harder, experience less burnout, and achieve higher quality competitive play within the region.

Additionally, several organizations now employ multiple coaches; a luxury afforded to them because of increased budgets due to investments brought in from franchising. Similar to the coaching structure in arguably the world’s premier league, the LCK, most NA LCS teams now have several analysts and positional coaches in addition to a head coach. Recently, TSM recruited their former support and LCK star, Lustboy, to be an analyst and work alongside their head coach, Ssong. Taking a similar approach, Team Liquid hired Cain as their head coach, in addition to two assistant coaches, Dodo and Jarge, as well as a team manager.

With in-game coaches helping to refine their play and team managers working around the clock to accommodate their needs, players should be able to spend more time focusing on the game than ever. These changes, all prompted by franchising, are what will enable NA to finally compete on the international stage.

North America, a destination region

The introduction of franchising has resulted in an influx of import players. Zven and Mithy left G2 to join TSM, Huni returned from Korea to join Echo Fox, and Febiven departed from H2K to join the Houston Rockets’ owned franchise, Clutch Gaming. All of these players came to NA for reasons that are a direct result of franchising.

The first, and perhaps biggest reason, is player salary and benefits.

Due to the increased amount of money in the league, player salary has skyrocketed recently. Franchising has also brought several big-time investors into the scene, allowing teams to spend huge sums of money to acquire new talent. In the offseason, Team Liquid signed Impact, whose salary is rumored to be at or near the $1 million mark. Although not everyone in the scene is making that much, a survey conducted by ESPN in January states that the average salary of an NA LCS player is $105k per year, compared to the average of $80k for players in the EU LCS. Furthermore, North America offers new opportunities for players to advocate for themselves in the league.

In conjunction with the announcement of franchising, Riot also announced that an NA LCS Players’ Association would be formed. Headed by Hal Biagas, former counsel of the NBA Players’ Association, the NA LCS Players’ Association offers players a seat at the table when it comes to discussing league matters.

Additionally, moving to NA has the potential to payoff big in terms of sponsorships. Several North American teams already have large deals in place with big name sponsors. These deals not only have the potential to bring in income to the team as a whole, but also solidify the brands of individual players. Case in point, TSM’s star mid laner, Bjergsen, is the sole subject of an ad that Gillette is currently running.

This not only bodes well for Bjergsen from a monetary perspective, but also enables him to expand his influence past the esports scene and into the mainstream.  

A new emphasis on fostering raw talent

One of the most notable differences in the NA LCS following its franchising has been the league’s dedication to fostering new talent.

Following the announcement of franchising, Riot decided to do away with the “Challenger Series” and replace it with the North American Academy League. In the Academy League, each NA LCS team has an Academy counterpart, a full five-man roster filled with developing talent. The goal is that the players on the Academy teams will eventually make it to the LCS, and without fear of relegation, teams can sign young talent to their Academy squad and let them grow as players in the long term. Teams are incentivized to invest in their Academy rosters, as players who turn out to be LCS-caliber can either be called up to the main roster or traded away to another team for assets. On the players’ side, the Academy offers a great opportunity. Young players get to experience high quality matches and scrims against other Academy teams, as well as train alongside their LCS counterparts, hopefully learning the skills necessary to become LCS players themselves.

Additionally, during the offseason, Riot Games hosted the second annual NA LCS Scouting Grounds, a multi-day event meant to expose LCS teams to new talent. Further proving their commitment to developing talent, Riot held its first ever NA LCS Scouting Grounds Draft at the end of the event. In the draft, teams were able to supplement their new Academy rosters by choosing standout players from the weekend. Furthermore, the Academy League enables teams to invest in international talent, even if they lack an import slot on their main roster. One of NA’s newest franchises, 100 Thieves, took advantage of this by signing the Gigabyte Marines star jungler, Levi. Although 100 Thieves’ two import slots are taken up by Ssumday and Ryu, they were able to still sign Levi by adding him to their Academy roster. This allows them to keep their main roster intact, and call Levi up once Ssumday or Ryu naturalizes into NA. 

What else do you think we’ve learned from franchising? Let me know in the comments below.