The Korea Herald


[Feature] LCK seeks return to glory with franchise system

By Lim Jang-won

Published : May 5, 2020 - 12:01

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T1’s Faker holds up the LCK trophy after winning 2020 LCK Spring Finals on April 25 at LoL Park Arena in Seoul. (Riot Games) T1’s Faker holds up the LCK trophy after winning 2020 LCK Spring Finals on April 25 at LoL Park Arena in Seoul. (Riot Games)

On April 7, League of Legends Champions Korea announced that it would be adopting a long-term partnership model for 2021.

LCK is the last of the major LoL esports leagues to adopt the long-term partnership model, also known as a franchise model, with the Chinese league LPL and North America league LCS having adopted the system in 2018 and European league LEC in 2019.

“We started looking into the franchise model in 2018. Back then, we had just built the LoL Park Arena and started broadcasting the games. We wanted to focus on stability before adopting the franchise system,” said a Riot Games official.

In the current model, the bottom two teams of the LCK at the end of the split face relegation matches against the top two teams from the LoL Challengers Korea. With the change, teams will no longer be relegated and the LoL Challengers Korea will be abolished. Instead, the teams in the LCK will be required to have an academy roster to foster new talent. Riot Games said it would do its best to integrate current players in the LoL Challengers Korea into the teams.

The new model will bring about changes to the LoL esports scene here.

Without the fear of relegation for teams, the teams can attract more investment from businesses. Although the top teams are sponsored by major companies, BMW and Nike sponsor T1, for example, teams in the lower end of the table have a hard time getting investment under the current system. The new system is expected to make a wider range of investment available.

Teams will also share income from the league, although the domestic market is smaller than foreign esports leagues. While finals in North America, China and Europe are held in stadiums with tens of thousands of people in attendance, the venue for the Korean finals is the only one in the major regions to have less than 10,000 seats. Teams entering the franchise system will have to find ways to cover the high cost of entering the franchise system, rumored to be on par with other LoL leagues at 12 billion won ($10 million), in addition to the allotted profits.

Teams such as GenG and T1 that have solid financial standing are looking forward to the franchise model.

“Franchising is advantageous because it affords all teams in the league the ability to earn additional revenue streams that are currently not available. It also allows the League and teams to reach our mutual goals in lockstep, which are to grow the global reach and viewership of the LCK and bring new fans into the fold,” said Joe Marsh, CEO of T1 Entertainment and Sports.

“We think the LCK franchise model will have a general positive effect. We experienced the franchise system in our Overwatch league and think that franchise model is the true way to go professional,” said GenG esports.

Also, companies will be required to pay a minimum wage of 60 million won per year, which is higher than any other professional sports league in Korea.

With the new model, teams in the LCK hope to regain dominance in the international tournaments.

Organizers hope the franchise model will also allow Korea to retain domestic talent, as many talented Korean players went abroad seeking higher pay.
The League of Legends Champions Korea logo and trophy are displayed at LoL Park Arena in Seoul. (Riot Games) The League of Legends Champions Korea logo and trophy are displayed at LoL Park Arena in Seoul. (Riot Games)

But without the relegation, some teams may lose their motivation to perform well. Riot Games are planning countermeasures, possibly benchmarking the system in other regions where teams that perform poorly in consecutive splits face penalties.

Another downside is the smaller likelihood that teams composed entirely of rookies will emerge in the LCK. In 2019, three teams promoted from LoL Challengers Korea -- Griffin, Damwon Gaming and Sandbox Gaming -- took the LCK scene by storm and placed in the top half of the pack. The aggressive and fast paced style of these teams was considered a needed change to the LCK, which previously preferred slow, methodical gaming that took minimum risks.

With the academy system, it is unclear whether such drastic changes can occur.

“Change in the form of franchising will always be scary to some, but I believe it is a natural progression for this league and is necessary for a stable, long-term growth,” said John Kim, COO of T1 Entertainment and Sports.

Riot Games have announced that the number of teams in the LCK will remain roughly the same, with teams in the LCK having an edge in entering the franchise system. With esports teams like Element Mystic announcing participation in bidding for a spot in the LCK, which closes Friday, the acceptance into the league will be competitive.

“We are trying our best to enter the LCK, just like any other team or company interested,” said Element Mystic.

APK Prince, which placed seventh during the spring split, and Team Dynamics, which recently qualified for the LCK summer split after winning the promotional series, also announced that they would try to enter the franchise system.

Other teams in the LCK gathering investment and preparing to apply for the franchise model were hesitant to give their views about the forthcoming changes as they were still in internal discussion. If a team fails to acquire a spot in the LCK, the team will either disband and the players will move on to other teams or the team will be taken over by a company without a team that was able to enter the LCK.

By Lim Jang-won (