The looming threat of relegation from the NA LCS is gone. In its place stands permanent franchise spots for teams in League of Legends’ most publicized Western league.
At the time of the franchising announcement, there were extensive debates about what it would do for the scene. Would it affect viewership? Would people be less interested in a league with fewer stakes for failure, or would they glom onto teams more easily if they were guaranteed permanent spots?
Now that the first split of the new NA LCS era is coming to a close, it’s time to take a look at its initial successes and failures.
Rooting For An Underdog
If you’ll allow me, a personal story: I’m a big Counter Logic Gaming fan. For some reason or another, I found myself drawn to them when I first starting keeping up with professional League of Legends back in 2011-2012. If I had to guess, it’d likely be because I tend to lean towards sports teams that often struggle, but are scrappy enough to occasionally eke out successful seasons. To put it in baseball terms, I’m an Oakland A’s guy–basically, I love an underdog.
When CLG struggled back in the promotion/relegation era, I was stressed out. During the 2014 Summer Split, the squad finished in sixth place and were forced to play in the 2015 Spring Promotion Tournament. If they had lost to Curse Academy in a best-of-five, they would have been kicked out of the NA LCS entirely, forced to try and re-qualify at a later date. Thankfully for CLG fans, they won the series 3-2, climbing their way back into the league.
But what if they hadn’t? Would I still care about the NA LCS as much without my favorite team? Covering League of Legends was–and still is–a huge part of my job, but I can tell you that it just wouldn’t feel the same without a League of Legends’ version of the Oakland A’s scrapping it out with the middle of the pack.
As League of Legends esports continues to evolve, team history will matter more and more. Ups and downs of particular organizations won’t feel so dire when favorite teams could get entirely knocked out. I, for one, am happy that CLG will always have a place in the league. And what’s better than your team overcoming the odds after years of failure to finally hoist that trophy?
Competing For The Online Audience
There’s been a lot made of the early viewership numbers for the 2018 NA LCS. The initial weeks were getting overshadowed by the Overwatch League and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s ELeague Major’s numbers.
Right away, the discourse began. Had the NA LCS lost its luster after six years? Could Overwatch and CS:GO finally slay the long-standing king of esports? Is the era of MOBAs over, overtaken by a resurgence of shooters?
Of course, comparing the first week of a long-running league to something as exciting as the premier of the OWL and one of the biggest tournaments of the CS:GO year isn’t exactly fair. Subsequent weeks saw the NA LCS regain its lead in the esports world, with the OWL just barely lagging behind. Then the Major ended, and the CS:GO scene went on to its next tournament.
But the fact that all three happened on the same weekend showed something new in esports: Competition is officially fierce. Something new is happening. When the OWL ended, viewership spiked over on the NA LCS, and vice versa. It seemed that there was at least a bit of crossover between the two.
Obviously, it’s near-impossible to really judge how many people are truly jumping from game to game, but at first glance, it certainly seems that games are competing for the same audiences. In times past, most esports fans had their game and stuck to it. Dota folks didn’t watch League of Legends, League of Legends folks didn’t watch CS:GO, and so forth.
Now, the audiences seem intermixed — at least based on public numbers. The result? Consistency will be king going forth. The game that manages to garner the most dedicated fans will be the one to win the viewership battle in the long run. Both viewers and sponsors love known entities, and ensuring a league looks the same month in, year out is going to be appealing to both.
Looking To The Future
At the end of the day, massive viewership spikes over the course of a single tournament matter, but they don’t matter quite as much as consistency. And franchising provides exactly that.
For fans, franchising allows dedication to a team without worry of relegation. They can commit to a brand and stick to it.
For non-endemic sponsors, it gives a sense of stability that a non-franchised league may be missing. There’s a reason State Farm is sponsoring this year’s NA LCS.
Overall, the franchising experiment has been fascinating to watch. Its long-term success or failure won’t be known for years, but for now it looks like it’s on the right track. For me, my CLG fandom is set in stone. I’ll be following that squad, Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black at its helm or not, until League of Legends goes away–or I do, whichever comes first.