The Chinese counterpart of our League of Legends Championship Series, the LPL, has thrown a little bomb in the eSports world. They will be the first competition that will start with franchising. But what is this franchising? And why will it change eSports? Read on!
The whole franchising story is mainly a copy of how regular sports are operating right now. Every team has a dedicated city in their country. Teams will battle in home and away matches throughout the year and will have to travel to each others city to compete. It’s a model that has been living in the regular sports scene since forever, but can it make it into eSports? There’s a fanbase that believes in the concept and there’s an even bigger party who’s been sceptic about the new road LPL is about to take.
But what does this mean exactly? At the moment, there are 16 teams in the LPL, divided into 2 groups of 8 teams. In the coming 2 years, teams will be unable to relegate to the lower scene. At the end of the season, 2 teams from the lower scene will promote to the LPL. In the season after that, another 2 teams will promote, while none will relegate. Making the LPL end up with 20 teams by 2018.
For the hardcore LPL followers, this didn’t came as a big surprise, although it all happened pretty quick. The first year, only a few teams will leave Shanghai to settle in their “own” city. The LPL hopes to dedicate a city to every team starting from 2018.
But why would the LPL want to make the move to a franchising system? First of all it really opens doors for eSports. Instead of filling one arena every week, they can now attempt to fill up to 10 arenas per week. This doesn't only give the growing fanbases new opportunities, this also opens up the doors for new sponsor- and partnership deals, which can now be split over 20 different teams, in different geolocations, instead of one arena and one organisatoin (like Riot Games). Last but not least, China can also be a strong case to prove that eSports is or isn't ready for the next big step.
But there’s a flip side to every coin, and there already are tons of people who have showed concerns about the new system. The first roadblock that comes to mind is “Can we fill multiple studio’s?”. Experts have stated that chances are high that it's possible in China. The fanbase is immense, the biggest on the entire globe, making it possible for the LPL to fill up to 10 arenas every week instead of one. But experts also call that it would be hard to fill those same arenas in other regions like North America or Europe. The userbase is way more niche and eSports isn’t as globally accepted as it is in China right now.
Next to filling stadiums, other concerns rise. Many think that the travel time, especially in China, will hurt the competitiveness of the LPL. Greater travel times means increasing fatigue and less practice. And might those two now be some of the biggest aspects of an eSports professional's life. A travel from Shanghai, one of the biggest and most eastern cities of China, to Tsjoenking, situated in central China, already takes a minimum of 3 hours on flight and a staggering 19 hours by car.
A final that doesn't go unnoticed is that there will be high probabilities of tech issues in cities that aren’t in the “elite” cities like Shanghai. This will put certain teams at a big disadvantage compared to top teams located in top cities.
After taking such a negative approach on the franchising eSports story, we might’ve forgotten the most important question: what’s the perception of the fanbase? The people that made eSports what is is now. Biggest chunck of the mass isn’t made warm or cold by it. The biggest fear that the fanbase shows is that the bottom teams might just become “point feeders” to the top teams. Trevor from Yahoo eSports disproves this approach, stating that it isn’t like this at the moment and it will not become like that. We took a look ourselves and checked the LPL final standings. In Group B, we see that the bottom team Game Talents managed to secure 4 wins out of 16 games, which isn’t the greates record, but afte rall, they have played their role in the LPL.
More interesting is when we look at Group A. Last spot LGD gaming has the same record as Game Talents. Just above them is Snake eSports, with a 7 wins/9 losses run, they nearly end up break even and are only 2 wins short of the SECOND PLACE in their group. Have you ever seen that happening in a football competition? I think not!
From our point of view, franchising seems like a good opportunity and a strong test case. Yet it’s a good thing that franchising wasn’t rolled out in all regions at once and only time will tell if the franchising story can make it fully into the eSports scene.