This past weekend, the LCK announced that it would follow the moves of the LCS, LPL, and LEC in moving to a franchise model for future years. In doing so, it becomes the final major region in League of Legends to make the move after Europe in 2019, signed up to the same franchise model that was already in operation on North America and China.
Riot games made the announcement stating, “In 2021, we plan to implement the long-term partnership [franchise] model in LCK to create an environment where fans, players and teams fan can form a long-term relationship.”
“With this change, we plan to strengthen LCK’s competency and ultimately create a more satisfying experience for all participants of the league.”
A new website has given details of how the new league will look, as well as details on how organizations can apply to partner with Riot and become a holder of a franchise in the league. The deadline for the applications for this is June 19. Teams will then undergo a formal review process between June 19 and August before Riot announces which teams have successfully been granted a franchise in September.
Benefits of LCK Franchising
One of the advantages of the LCK franchising move is that the league will become more streamlined with a revenue-sharing system in place to ensure teams benefit equally from the success of the league in terms of media deals, sponsorship and merchandise sales. Similarly, players will be guaranteed a minimum salary for each team of around $49,000.
The core benefit of franchising is developing fandom. For so many years teams have developed a stable audience or following which is put under threat due to relegation. Origen back in Europe, Samsung Galaxy in Korea, or Dignitas in NA who waited 3 years for a shot at getting back into the LCS. Franchising eliminates one bad season from relegating a team away from their core audience.
As a franchise, teams will no longer be eligible for relegation from the league with the final promotion and relegation series taking place this year following the Spring Split.
The Argument Against Franchising – Protectionism
However, there are many who argue that using the franchise model flies in the face of what the true essence of esports is about. There are many vocal critics of the franchise model, who claim that the future of the esports industry is being taken away from people playing the games and instead is being controlled by wealthy companies and individuals, who are using esports as an investment tool only.
They argue that franchising means that the rags to riches stories that have become part of the folklore of esports over the years can no longer happen. Teams can no longer progress from being newcomers one minute to a top LCK or LPL team as until they can afford to apply and purchase a franchise, then they will not be able to gain a place at the top level of esports.
The figures for owning an esports franchise are not inconsiderable and will likely run to many tens of millions. Figures that a newly started esports team could not hope to raise themselves without significant investment from a benefactor or sponsor.
However, the success of franchising models in the LPL, LCS and LEC, not to mention the Overwatch League and forthcoming Call of Duty League, means that for many top esports leagues, it is the only way to go. Furthermore, Riot Games Global Head of Communications David Higdon has also intimated that the Brazilian and Turkish League of Legends competitions will also switch to franchise models in 2021.