Riot Games announced the 10 teams selected for the permanent partnership structure of the “League of Legends” North American League Championship Series — including four backed by NBA teams — starting with 2018 play.
The pro eSports league, which the video-game publisher first launched in 2013, has previously operated under a promotion/relegation model (similar to soccer’s English Premier League). The franchise model is intended to promote more stability in the league, to encourage teams to invest over the long term, said Jarred Kennedy, Riot Games’ co-head of eSports.
The 10 teams have ponied up $10 million each for a franchise-fee payment to Riot Games. In addition, the four teams that are new to the NA LCS are putting in another $3 million apiece, to provide a “parachute payment” to the teams that will no longer be part of the league going forward (Lionsgate-backed Immortals, Team EnVyUs’ Team Envy, Phoenix1 and Team Dignitas).
The teams granted franchises for the “League of Legends” North American League Championship Series are:
- 100 Thieves (new to the league): Established as a pro eSports team and streetwear brand by “Call of Duty” champion and gaming influencer Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, has received an investment by the Cleveland Cavaliers and venture-capital firms Detroit Venture Partners and Ludlow Ventures.
- Clutch Gaming (new to the league): The eSports venture of the Houston Rockets adopted a name that references the “Clutch City” nickname the basketball team picked up in its run to the 1994 NBA Championship.
- Golden Guardians (new to the league): Team owned by the Golden State Warriors.
- OpTic Gaming (new to the league): Organization specializing in first-person shooter eSports, with its fanbase known as the Green Wall, enters the realm of “League of Legends.”
- FlyQuest: Team formed and backed by Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wes Edens joined the NA LCS at the beginning of the 2017 season.
- TSM (Team SoloMid): Owns the only team in the “League of Legends” history to attend every World Championship and the only team to appear in every NA LCS finals.
- Cloud9: One of the first teams in the NA LCS, C9 has represented North America at the League of Legends World Championships every year since 2013.
- Counter Logic Gaming: Backed by Madison Square Garden Co., the organization has fielded a long-running NA LCS team that in 2016 were North America champions and MSI finalists.
- Echo Fox: ESports group founded by former NBA all-star Rick Fox, it first fielded a team in the NA LCS in 2016. The New York Yankees last month made an equity investment in Vision Esports, the largest shareholder of Echo Fox.
- Team Liquid (TL): One of the original eSports pro-team brands, founded in 2000, TL was acquired last year by aXiomatic, an ownership and management group led by Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning; Peter Guber, former head of Columbia Pictures Entertainment, who owns the Golden State Warriors; and Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards.
Riot Games has a multiyear deal for “League of Legends” with BAMTech, the streaming-video technology company now majority-owned by Disney that was formed by Major League Baseball. Under the pact, BAMTech has exclusive rights through 2023 to distribute and develop “League of Legends” eSports tournaments as well as sell ads and sponsorships. “BAMTech will be helping us to monetize content,” said Whalen Rozelle, who co-leads Riot Games’ eSports group, adding that the revenue from the deal will go into a pool that’s shared with the team owners and players.
To pick the 10 teams granted “League of Legends” NA LCS franchises, Riot Games had year-long, two-phase process: It first broke down the applicant pool to a more manageable list and then held a series of in-person meetings to understand the team owners’ philosophies and gauge their ability to invest in the franchise and grow their fanbases, Rozelle said. “Hopefully we’ve selected the best ownership pool, so they bring something new and special to the table – and in doing so level-up the league as a whole,” he said.
In a statement, Kirk Lacob, VP of the Golden State Warriors’ GSW Sports Ventures, said, “We are approaching our membership in this elite eSports community with respect and admiration — it’s our hope to bring our championship-sports roots to our new playing field and contribute to growing the league on a global level.”
Echo Fox’s Rick Fox commented that the company is “extremely honored and proud” to be part of the North American LCS, adding, “We welcome the new team owners to the NA LCS and look forward to stepping into 2018 with a strong lineup, ready to face off where it matters most — on Summoner’s Rift.”
Meanwhile, commenting on Immortals’ exclusion by the league, CEO Noah Whinston said, “While we are disappointed in Riot’s decision, we remain grateful to our fans and players and the entire ‘League of Legends’ community for joining us on an incredible journey these last two years… We will continue to build teams and communities around the core values that we believe set us apart, and lead to deep connections with our fans.”