Franchising was always a tricky subject. Some thought it was a necessity in order for esports to become sustainable in the long run. Others, however, despised what it represented. Back when the North American LCS was being franchised, the community was split in half and no one really knew what to expect. Now, after two and a half years, it feels like we have the perfect sample size to talk about the whole thing and whether or not franchised actually changed anything as far as the LCS is concerned.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
Presumed Benefit: Freedom to Experiment
Team owners wanted franchising to become reality because it was supposed to usher in a different kind of era — one that was freed of relegation. Without the threat of being removed from the LCS, teams could, in theory, experiment to their heart’s content. They could take their sweet time, develop synergy, click as a five-man unit, and find an identity to call their own.
They could sign unproven talent and foster the superstars of tomorrow. Franchising was supposed to allow teams and organizations to play and compete without pressure. By having more sponsors and a more stable revenue stream, they could dedicate fully to competitive League, knowing that it’s here to stay. In other words, while there was a lot of money circulating in the LCS, it wasn’t being shared appropriately. Franchising was supposed to change that, at least in theory. By selecting ten (financially stable) permanent partners, Riot could develop multi-year-long relationships and therefore make the LCS a sustainable product for everyone involved.
On paper, all of this sounded great. In actuality, however, things didn’t pan out as expected.
Actuality: No progress whatsoever
It’s hard to point out even a single organization out of the ten permanent partners that changed the way it did business once franchising kicked in. Those who had the tendency to sign washed up pros and veterans past their prime continued to do so — probably in an attempt to save even more money. We didn’t see an influx of new talent, experimentation, or anything similar. Other than a couple of big-name sponsors and a slightly revamped interior of the LCS studio, everything felt and functioned exactly the same.
Those who strived towards success and victory continued to do so — the franchised model changed very little as far as their day-to-day schedule was concerned. Those who wanted to break even and stay afloat (the majority of the region, to be more exact), continued to utilize the exact same methods as before. The only difference was that relegation no longer loomed over their heads.
For an organization that’s bleeding millions of dollars annually, that’s a huge relief.
Presumed Benefit: International Competitiveness
Some thought that franchising would make North America more competitive internationally. How could it not, after all? With so much money coming into the region, teams should’ve been able to sign the best and most talented players, the most capable coaching staff, and actually evolve, both on a micro and macro scale.
Eventually, this would’ve resulted in North American teams competing on even footing with the likes of China, South Korea, and Europe. If you’re a competitive North American organization that has high aspirations, odds are you’re dying to leave a mark internationally.
With a bigger budget (and, by proxy, infrastructure), such a goal would be within reach.
Actuality: No progress whatsoever
In reality, none of this happened. Teams with deeper pockets continued to import foreign players (for better or worse), and those who were a bit more budget-conscious opted for B or C tier players who were practically unknown to the broader public. Names like Tommy “Ryoma” Le (current mid laner for 100 Thieves) and Jérémy “Eika” Valdenaire (Immortals) meant nothing to the average LCS viewer and after multiple weeks, that still hasn’t changed.
They’re two imports without anything special to offer, and the fact that they got the nod before Tanner “Damonte” Damonte (of Echo Fox and Clutch Gaming “fame”) and Eugene “Pobelter” Park certainly boggled the minds of many, to say the least.
Team Liquid, North America’s most successful and dominant champion in history, failed to prove its mettle on the World Championship stage for two years in a row, despite having some of the best players in each and every role.
The only team that has managed to leave a mark internationally was Cloud9, but they’re the exception, rather than the rule. They’ve already found international success even before franchising — their triumphs are inherent to the organization itself, not the region they’re competing in.
So in the end, franchising changed very little when it comes to the overall strength and potential of North America as a region. More money only meant teams could take a breather and compete without the same amount of pressure as in years prior — international competitiveness be damned.
- Yes, sick of seeing washed up veterans bring teams down 100%, 14 votes14 votes 100%14 votes - 100% of all votes
- No, veterans have tried and true potential. We don't even know who the rookies are. 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
Presumed Benefit: Fostering Native Talent
This is a big one, and it’s a problem that has been plaguing North America for years. One could argue that it’s perhaps the biggest problem of them all, although that’s an entirely different debate. Franchising was supposed to give teams more stability which, in turn, was supposed to give them freedom of choice and — as mentioned above — the luxury to experiment.
The North American server is by no means humongous when compared to Europe, China, or Korea, but it does have many talented players across all five roles. The problem, however, is that they’re not being scouted properly, and they’re not being given the chance to show what they’re worth.
Even those who played in the LCS Scouting Grounds didn’t get a fair deal. That whole thing was just used to create the illusion of progress. Two and half years later and practically none of those players were able to transition into the LCS, and it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying.
Almost every single organization in the LCS would rather sign a washed up former player than “risk” playing with a rookie or a solo queue superstar. There are a couple of exceptions like, say, FlyQuest, but they’re in the minority. No one’s taking any chances and if you’ve followed the LCS three or four years ago, odds are you’d still recognize the vast majority of players who are still competing.
Some of these individuals are seemingly impossible to get rid of. At worst they get slotted into Academy before once again climbing their way up to the LCS. It’s a consistent perpetual cycle, and it’s getting out of hand.
LCS Academy is still a mess. Heck, it might be an even bigger mess than ever before. No one’s taking it seriously, and that rings true for a good number of players competing in it as well. The whole “little league” system quickly became a farce. Team Dignitas is the biggest offender with its LCS-caliber line-up in Academy — you know, the same place where unproven talent should be able to climb the ranks and eventually reach the pinnacle of competitive League in North America.
This means there’s no well-functioning way to funnel new talent into the LCS which means the region itself simply cannot improve..
The main reason why the LCS is still struggling is because the vast majority of the people involved — team owners, coaches, players, etc. — don’t really give a damn. This might sound like a dramatic hot take, but it doesn’t make it any less true.