The European scene for League of Legends esports is changing in a big way. No longer will fans be tuning in to the European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) every week. Instead, they’ll be watching the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), and the name isn’t the only new thing on the horizon.
Following in the same model as the one adopted by the North American LCS this year, the LEC is adopting the “long term partnership” style of league. Gone are the days of relegation and promotion. The 10 teams that will start in the LEC in January will be there forever, or at least for the foreseeable future. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s almost identical to the franchising model used in a lot of American sports.
There are some familiar names in the lineup for the LEC, but some are missing, meaning some brand new faces will be appearing.
The 10 LEC teams
The full list of teams in the League of Legends European Championship are: Fnatic, FC Schalke 04, G2 Esports, Misfits Gaming, Vitality, Splyce, exceL Esports, Rogue, SK Gaming, and Origen.
Four of those teams are new for 2019, namely exceL, Rogue, SK, and Origen. However, SK and Origen both have a history at the top level of League of Legends. In fact, SK is one of the longest running esports organisations around, with a history going all the way back to 1997 with Quake. Origen entered LoL in 2014, and made it all the way to the World Championship semi-final in 2015. Now they’re returning, with backing from esports giants Astralis.
exceL may be newcomers to top tier League of Legends, but they’re already a big name in the UK. They won the League of Legends UK Premiership in 2017, and the organisation has experience across multiple games.
Rogue are new to the LEC scene too, and they’re bringing a slightly different flavour, with backing from EDM legend Steve Aoki, and huge band Imagine Dragons, who created the song Warriors for the 2014 LoL World Championship.
Why is the LCS now the LEC?
League of Legends is one of the most watched esports in the world, and the EU LCS has been particularly popular. So why the change?
“This is something we’ve thought about for a long time,” Marc Schnell, Head of EU League Management at Riot, told FANDOM. “When the LCS brand came into being in 2013/14, Europe didn’t really have a team on the ground. Once we established teams here in Europe, we knew that we wanted something that really represents our identity and something that resonates with our audience here.”
Beyond the name change bringing a little more clarity and regional pride, Riot also says the new league structure will be of benefit to players, teams, and fans alike.
“You don’t have the stress of relegation looming every four months,” said Schnell. “Over the past years, it’s something that has impacted teams’ ability to secure longer term partners and sponsorships. Teams were put in a position where they had to make short term decisions about players that might not be right for the long term. With the LEC you have stability, a better business foundation for the future.”
Longer careers and a healthier league
Ben Spoont, founder and CEO of Misfits agrees that the new model is far superior to the old one.
“Relegation being removed lifts the entire league ecosystem,” he said. “Relegation could be compelling content, but it’s not healthy. The move to the franchise model is sound, based on really good fundamentals, and ultimately will help with the sustainability of the league and the game.”
“Anything that requires you to put something on the ground for a long term, it’s a lot scarier if you’re facing relegation,” said Remer Riefkerk, Project Lead for 2019 Partnerships at Riot. “Having facilities and things like that are very valuable for players, and we feel it’s a great benefit that players and teams will see.”
As far as players go, Schnell says that “longer term careers” are on the cards thanks to strong and stable organisations, and even hinted at “better remuneration” for those on the teams.
What’s to come in the future?
Riot believes that although the excitement of teams being relegated and promoted is gone, in the long run, the LEC will be a more entertaining product for the fans.
“We think we’re really able to build on long term stories and rivalries. We want this to be a league where the father watches with his kid in a few years and rivalries are turning into legacies, stories told to children that will continue.”
Four new teams coming in means that four existing teams, and a few of the rivalries that go along with them, are on the way out. Giants Gaming, H2k-Gaming, Team ROCCAT, and Unicorns of Love won’t be in the LEC.
“They’ll continue to be great organisations,” said Riefkerk. “They’re leaving the league but on very good terms.”
“We’re looking forward to staying in touch and seeing if there are opportunities to collaborate down the road,” said Schnell. “We don’t expect this to be a 10 team league forever. We don’t have a concrete plan to expand in the immediate future, but it’s definitely something on the table.”
Who are the new teams?
As for the new teams, Riot is excited about the variety on show.
UK fans will be pleased to see a local organisation represented – Fnatic has their headquarters in London but are very much a global organisation at this point. Esports fans, in general, will be interested to see how Origen, who are actually entering the league in association with Astralis, do on their return. Astralis are currently dominating the world of Counter-Strike, but this is their first foray into LoL.
“We’ve seen Astralis’ experience in Counter-Strike,” said Riefkerk. “We felt it’s a team that’s not just going to bring sustainability and a solid business, but also a new way of looking at competition, bringing in innovation, and new ways to connect with the fans. When they came to us with the idea of working with Origen, we could immediately see it. This great organisation with solid history and high performance working with one of the most beloved brands in League of Legends.”
A different flavour of ‘League of Legends’
Then you have what might be called the “celebrity” team in Rogue. Ben Spoont says it can only be a good thing, and points to the NA LCS as an example.
“They’ll bring a different flavour,” he said. “You saw in NA 100 Thieves came in who were more culture based.”
100 Thieves are owned by Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, a former Call of Duty player who now has his own clothing and lifestyle brand, along with nearly 2.5 million followers on Twitter. The esports team is backed by the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team, and they topped the league at the end of the NA LCS Spring Split this year.
“It’s an example of someone coming in and creating a brand, maybe more lifestyle oriented, but they actually achieved significant competitive success, so they’re not mutually exclusive.”
Not everyone likes change, and there are a lot of changes coming to competitive League of Legends in Europe in 2019. However, with the precedent set by the NA LCS, and a number of huge partners on board, the League of Legends European Championship appears to be taking big steps in the right direction for the esport.