How the LCS is set to change eSports in 2017

From ranked queues to franchising, Riot has the future of eSports in their hands.

Riot are a bit antsy to get the new year started in League of Legends, so 2017’s starting a little earlier than expected. We’ve looked at a lot of the ways in which the game itself will be changing, with the assassin reworks and jungle changes headed to the Rift, but, as always with eSports, the game is only half the story.

Preparing for what could be a momentous year in the professional scene, Riot have started showing their hand with some post-Worlds decrees on the way the LCS is run. A lot of these changes should see better conditions for players and others could change the face of the industry entirely. So what’s in store for League of Legends outside the Rift in the coming year?

On (or around) December 7, Season 7 will officially begin, with the reintroduction of solo and duo queue. It’s fairly radical for Riot to do something so many of the fanbase have been asking for, so this is already an eventful pre-season. With the return of solo queue, and the morphing of dynamic queue into something called flex queue (basically the same), ranked gameplay also takes a more competitive place on the road to pro.

The best players in North America have already been squaring off in a combine hosted by Riot in order to show off their skills. At the event, the top 20 players from the Challenger leaderboard are being assessed and scouted by pro teams for their chance to get into one of League’s major divisions. This creates a more direct link between how well you perform in the ladder and your ability to pursue a career in the game.

For new and existing players, Riot is starting to shore up their overall infrastructure support with more specific assurances for talent, too. Plans for the 2017 season include making player contracts mandatory for all teams competing in the LCS, including coaching staff, qualifying them for employment benefits. This means players no longer need to worry about some of the more difficult financial aspects of being a pro player, such as agonising over smart investments to ensure their future now that they are entitled to a pension plan as well as paid vacation, healthcare and sick leave.

With the road to pro now more defined, benefits of being a pro must follow suit, and what better way than with actual employment benefits. It’s an entirely missable development given there are several organisations who currently employ their players full-time (Cloud9, TSM, Liquid to name a few), but raising the rest of the field to this level creates a further air of authenticity and professionalism for the league. Obviously the top tier of play should aspire to such lofty ambitions, but at the moment the top is a precarious place to be.

League of Legends SKT T1
SKT T1 won’t be worried about their security © Riot Games

On top of the increasing costs of providing full employment benefits to those playing under them, organisations are still going to need to be wary of relegation. The Challenger series, while offering a neat route for players into the limelight, is far less of an appetising prospect for the teams themselves. In fact, so unappetising that all of the teams currently in this season of the LCS have banded together to send Riot a letter requesting more concrete assurances they’ll survive the year.

The wage stipends offered by Riot to organisations below the top level are not as lucrative, making expensive player transfers without the safety of a guaranteed LCS slot for any more than a few months a dangerous gamble. The letter sent to Riot, and co-signed by owners of almost every major team in the league, proposes something be done about this difficult scenario which is stopping them from making more chancy acquisitions.

The thrust of their demands is the basis of franchising, a way for teams to keep their league spots without fear of relegation, giving them the security to make deeper investments into their teams. However whether Riot want to adopt this model, to create a superstar elite of established teams with more stable rosters, or continue trying to keep dreams of upward mobility alive for the Cinderella story of groups of friends is still unclear. 2017 is likely to be a landmark year as Riot seriously consider this fork in the road for the future of the LCS.

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