League of Legends publisher and developer Riot Games announced significant plans for its esports initiative Thursday, addressing long-term league partnerships with teams, increasing prize pools and team profits through digital revenue streams, and focusing on sponsorships and media relations.
Riot’s statement comes in light of recent public criticism and disputes involving the publisher’s esports division and its players and teams. This includes an unprecedented ban of three teams and a multiday public dispute between Riot co-founder Marc Merrill and Team SoloMid owner Andy Dinh. The statement was made via a news release.
Riot says its changes are intended to put more money in the pockets of players and give more power and responsibility to team owners and organizations. Increased investment from big-name athletes, celebrities and investors have engorged player salaries and team costs, making it increasingly difficult for leagues and teams to keep players, and for organizations to keep up with the quickly changing landscape.
Starting with the League of Legends World Championship this year, Riot says that 25 percent of Championship skins and Wards will be put toward the Worlds prize pool, and 25 percent of the Challenger skin will go toward the Mid-Season Invitational prize pool. Had this been applied to last year’s Worlds, the prize pool would have more than doubled. This model is similar Dota 2’s The International, which raised an industry record $20 million.
Teams that win Worlds will be compensated with 25 percent of their championship skins sales going directly to the players, team and league. Riot said this move is retroactive to Season 1 champions, Fnatic.
Esports promotions, in-game team-branded items, increased revenue share on Summoner Icons and “other opportunities” are mentioned in the news release, with each of Riot’s 13 regional leagues guaranteeing a minimum amount to each team to help “address an immediate gap in team revenue.” In its example, Riot stated that each European LCS teams would have a minimum guaranteed revenue of €100,000, with 50 percent of that going to players as supplemental income.
To address the issue of team stability, Riot stated that it is looking for long-term partnerships with teams that will allow for more roster and player consistency from one season to the next. While the concept of franchising versus relegation has been a hotly debated topic in the LoL community, Riot owns the game League of Legends, and it has not revealed any plans to offer teams an ownership stake in LCS the way an NFL team has an ownership stake the league.
“The idea of a long-term partnership is a major step. That allows teams to think on a longer time frame … the future [that we want to build] will be highly unlikely without the teams thinking on the same time frame that we’re thinking,” Riot co-director of esports Whalen Rozelle told ESPN.com.
“You make different decisions when you’re thinking in the short term and the long term. And the increased economic activity in the scene will ensure both security long term and give teams the confidence to sign players to longer-term contracts.”
With each of the 13 League of Legends leagues around the world at different stages of growth, long-term partnerships could look different per region. Riot looks to take the partnership step in 2018.
Riot said it has been working for over a year on expanding the way it tackles sponsorship sales and media distribution, but would not share details while the deals get finalized. However, Riot does say team merchandise as resonated well with fans, and it will continue to work with organizations to get gear into the market.
“Permanence matters,” Rozelle said. “Having long-term partnerships matters a great deal. But also that we’re a unique sport and we’re going to have to chart our own path as well.”
The League of Legends World Championship kicks off Sept. 29 in San Francisco with stops in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles on Oct. 29.