League Of Legends: The Importance Of Laneswap Patch And Revenue Drama

Catching up on what I missed while I was out of town means I’m currently picking through the fallout from an interview with Andy ‘Reginald’ Dinh about how a major change to a part of the early game involving swapping lanes wrought by a League Of Legends [official site] patch affect affects professional players. Regi owns one of the most well-known teams on the LoL scene – Team SoloMid – and called the current situation “absolutely fucking ridiculous”.

I’m going to run through the drama because it feels important to the shape of the current LCS (League of Legends Championship Series) system and also acts as a decent way of explaining some of the problems/concerns around how competitive gaming works in general:

I’ve embedded theScore’s interview with Reginald below but a key point here is that players have spent a whole competitive split (seasons are divided into spring and summer splits) concentrating on getting better at meeting the demands of the game as it exists in one form, then a lot of that work can be invalidated by a patch. He explains more about the specifics in the video and touches on concepts like player burnout off the back of needing to repeatedly re-learn the game when a patch hits and also talking about some of the financial aspects of LoL team ownership like franchising and relegation.

The franchising and relegation stuff is interesting because it’s about the financial opportunities available to stakeholders in a particular team and the lack of said opportunities in the current esports climate. I’d suggest watching MonteCristo’s vlog on the subject if you want a bit more info about what’s going on on that front. One of the main points is that with the spectre of relegation hanging over teams it can be hard to get a sponsor to sign on in case the team’s visibility falls away and sponsorship is the main revenue source for teams.

In response, Riot co-founder Marc Merrill posted to Reddit [that shows the original post – the one on Reddit has since been edited] stating, amongst other things that:

“Love me some Regi, but if he’s so concerned about the financial health of his players, maybe he should spend some more fo the millions he has made / makes from League of Legends on paying them instead of investing in other eSports where he is losing money?”

He added that, regarding the patch timing:

“Coaches / owners are complaining about it because it makes it harder for them to hide certain line up / skill deficits they may have on their rosters. In our opinion, like the above, they need to continue to develop talent and pay them. We do not mind at all if there is a massive delta in compensation between the top players and the rookies – so if you’re a Doublelift / Biofrost and can do well in standard lanes against the best in the world – don’t be shy about recognizing your value in your negotiations with your team owner.”

He later attempted to clarify the post, pointing out that one of the challenges faced by competitive League is that successful team owners might sometimes allocate profits from League to their teams in other games rather than re-investing in the scene which… I mean, it was a mess of a statement to start with and the clarification did nothing to dispel the negative responses generated.

Reginald actually responded the next day, laying out TSM’s League of Legends investment and specifically refuting the point about channeling investment away from League. I think it’s worth reading the statement in full but essentially it calls out the fact that Riot bringing League of Legends operations and the majority of tournaments in-house eliminated a lot of third-party revenue streams.

Here’s the part which offers Regi’s point of view on LCS and sponsorship/alternative sources of income:

“Over time, LCS has become more demanding and restrictive and the dynamics of a mutually beneficial relationship have become more one-sided. LCS told team sponsors, which are a necessary source of revenue, that they can’t even go backstage to watch the players compete. Teams can’t have sponsor branding on beverages or hats. Logitech is one of our greatest and most supportive sponsors and they simply can’t get visibility through us competing in LCS because we can’t wear their headsets while competing. We had to push endlessly to get permission for our staff simply to be able to film backstage. LCS even threatened to fine us if we didn’t remove sponsor content from our YouTube channel, such as this HTC commercial.

“At the same time, LCS compensation has barely budged, but the length of the season and the number of scheduled matches has skyrocketed. As a result, the LCS schedule has created a desperate time-crunch for players. By taking almost all of our players’ available time, there simply is no time or energy for the players to do other activities to make money, such as doing event activations for sponsors (e.g., PAX Prime or PAX East), creating content and streaming. In order to fulfill our activation obligations to team sponsors, we were forced to hire non-LoL players who were able to travel to these types of events.”

He also reiterates the points from theScore interview regarding how skills honed on one patch aren’t necessarily transferrable to the next and can lead to things like players being benched rather than teams having the resources to coach them through a rocky switchover, especially when a Worlds title is on the line.

Merrill then responded to Reginald (and yeah, I know this is probably reading as an account of a back and forth argument but I honestly think it’s important because it feels like it helps explain how esports is kind of wobbling towards various sustainability solutions and it’s so interesting watching that happen). I feel like his post was kind of necessary in terms of damage limitation but it does also seem to accept that the timing of the laneswap patch which is what the initial interview with Reginald was about had a legitimately negative impact on professional players. It also details a few revenue sharing opportunities regarding merchandising and, crucially, adds “we’re exploring a lot more major steps, like league sponsorships, franchising, media rights, etc.”

Whether that will come to anything specific or big, I have no idea, although it does feel like the scene has reached a point where *something* needs to change. It does sound like a solution – or at least the constituent parts of a solution – might be up for discussion sooner rather than later though as Reginald’s response to Merrill states: “Marc, I agree that these urgent issues need to be addressed immediately. There is a detailed proposal signed by NA LCS teams and players headed to your inbox today. We’ll solve these problems together.”

The thing to note there, without knowing details of the proposal itself, is that it’s not just a Reginald/TSM proposal, but one which seems to be being made on behalf of [potentially] all of the NA LCS teams and players so… tentative steps towards collective bargaining?

Like I say, I have no idea whether this will lead to any significant changes, or whether what happens in the NA LCS will lead to anything altering in other leagues around the world but it’s definitely one to keep an eye on if you’re curious about professional gaming as a sustainable profession.

From this site

18 Comments

  1. Stevostin says:

    I don’t play LoL, I don’t even watch LoL, I am pretty sure I don’t like how it looks but this article, I found indeed interesting. Thanks Philippa!

    • Shiloh says:

      Indeed – thanks for giving a shit about this e-gaming stuff Pip so I don’t have to!

  2. lglethal says:

    I dont really follow esports but I’m always interested to hear how the scenes developing.

    But I have to admit I was shocked to hear that the teams cant wear or use branded merchandise! There goes 90% of the reason a sponsor might choose to sponsor your team. The relegation thing I don’t consider an issue, teams get relegated all the time in Football, and they may have to look to smaller sponsors to get over the drop in league status, but it happens and it works.

    However, if you’re not actually going to be wearing your sponsor’s logo in the first place, then I cant imagine why they would sponsor you at all. Remember folks, sponsorship is basically advertising, it comes out of a company’s advertising budget (usually). If its not visible it ain’t advertising!

    Hopefully they sort this out, as I would really like for esports to be successful…

    • Michael Johnson says:

      They can use branded merchandise, it’s just limited by certain factors – the Logitech example is because LCS requires teams to use standardized headphones, presumably so no-one a competitive advantage based on the hardware.

      • lglethal says:

        Equipment fine that I can understand, but this statement from the article seems to contradict your assertion –

        “Teams can’t have sponsor branding on beverages or hats.”

        Hats are the most visible thing when people are sitting behind a computer, it’s where I would expect the most branding! ;)

        • Baines says:

          Other professional sports can limit such sponsorships, so it isn’t exactly a surprise if LoL has such restrictions in place. Particularly when the league itself, or some other larger body, has its own sponsorship deals. If Nike pays for a league sponsorship, it isn’t going to be happy when a team comes out wearing Reebok, after all.

          But it happens even if the league doesn’t have its own deals. Capcom, for example, has a rule that blocks Pro Tour players from displaying sponsorships for “adult content sponsors”. The rule was originally created to prevent players from promoting porn sites, but it was later expanded to cover any “products marketed towards adults” like alcohol, guns, and cigarettes. (However, I’ve heard that Capcom doesn’t apply the rule evenly.)

    • njury says:

      In football there is a stable fan base, they will stick even if you get relegated.
      In League I don’t think this is true. Also if you get relegated there is no scene anymore. No one cares for challenger teams unless they are gimmicky or god like.

    • njury says:

      Oh and the complaint is that you get relegated as they change the game via patches. Middle of the season your team is screwed cus Riot made a change. That is not completely fair imo.

      • lglethal says:

        I agree with you on that. Rules should only be changed at the end of a season. Definitely not mid-season!

      • Archonsod says:

        It’s completely expected though. In football the governing body is in full control of the sport and it’s only real motivation is to act for the good of the sport. With E-sports however you have a commercial developer in full control, so they’re operating on their own business needs before that of the sport.
        Not sure you could solve it without somehow buying out the developer and having the league take over ownership and maintenance of the game themselves.

    • PineMaple says:

      Keep in mind that LoL esports is not representative of all esports, particularly as far as business models go. Riot has put significantly more restrictions on players and orgs than Valve ever has for CSGO and Dota, or even Blizzard with SC2. Riot has claimed they don’t make money off of esports (which baffles me considering Valve’s immense crowd funding success). And Marc’s point that Reginald/TSM/teams in general shouldn’t invest in other games where they might lose money is confusing in light of the fact that pretty much the only LoL teams making money off the game are a few native orgs.

  3. Calculon says:

    Im not a LoL fan/watcher/even like MOBA – but the article was very interesting.

    The vibe I got from the Riot responses was basically that they view Professional Players like little more than ‘cattle’ who are lucky to graze in their pasture. That’s a pretty bad attitude to have IMO and is going to lead to a fracture of the LoL scene (I would imagine).

    • Xocrates says:

      To be fair, LoL actually has a lot of regulations designed to ensure that the players are treated decently well regarding contracts and what not.

      The impression I get is more along the lines that Game > Players > Teams. So Riot will screw teams over to protect the players, but will frequently screw both of them if they consider it better for the game and viewership.

  4. Bullfrog says:

    Despite never having as much as sniffed in the direction of a MOBA let alone play one I very often find myself reading the articles about them on here.

    So please keep writing them, they’re rather good.

  5. field_studies says:

    Can someone who follows LOL explain the nuances of this patch complaint?

    I follow the DOTA pro scene pretty closely. Patches are released regularly (though no major ones in the weeks leading up to big tournaments), but I don’t recall ever hearing much complaint from the pros about it. What’s different about the LOL situation?

    • tormos says:

      Teams in Dota occasionally lose tournaments because of patch changes, but they don’t face the long term consequences for losing that LoL teams do. League teams face relegation (losing their space in the LCS and being put in challengers league, which is much lower prestige, has a fraction of the viewership for most games, and essentially the prize is reduced to being allowed to be back in LCS) if they do badly over the course of a split. Given that a split is only nine weeks long, teams that are disadvantaged by a sudden patch may be pretty much doomed to relegation.
      The other thing to consider is that team owners essentially lose their investment (or at least it is massively less valuable than anticipated) if their team is relegated. In DOTA, by contrast, a team may underperform in a given tournament (or season) but it is not thereby prevented from participating in qualifiers or other tournaments unless the slump carries on significantly longer, so the team has time to turn things around and the owner has at least a chance that their investment will recover in value.

      All this makes team owners justifiably upset when riot does something that indirectly tanks their investment, especially when riot’s other actions have minimized the possibility of revenue streams outside LCS.
      This is all from the perspective of an avid dota watcher who follows League casually but also reads/thinks about formats and such recreationally.

      • imsobored says:

        This is just so wrong. There is far more stable income in lol due to the league format that’s why there’s a lot more teams in lol. Where is a dota team going to get revenue if they lose a tournament? An lol team can exist as long as they stay in the league. I really can’t believe it reading these comments. Esports is not like physical sports, the games have patches, the rules are supposed to be fluid. And if you played decently enough most of the year you wouldn’t be in relegations in the first place. Is it so unreasonable to give others a chance because you couldn’t be bothered to adjust to a new patch? And anyone who’s actually watched the matches this latest change is so overdue and you look at the playoffs, the teams that did well before are doing well now post patch, it’s a hallmark of good players to be able to adapt. I mean dota players have to learn so many more champions, lol pros sound like whiny babies in comparison. Why are you guys so eager to come to defence of the teams when it’s their job to adapt to the rules??? I’m just glad to have stopped going to reddit, i enjoy the game so much more now, just can’t believe I’m seeing those knee jerk reactions on this website now. ughh.

  6. pockoman says:

    Holy moly.

    From Weldon:

    mindgamesweldon 1925 points 3 days ago
    >but when owners don’t want to shell out for top talent, that’s a tricky problem.
    Where are owners going to get the money to pay the kind of money that elite performers need to command?
    League of Legends esports is locked up as a marketing vehicle for your company. Therefore, all the money it creates is funneled first to you, and then to the teams. And you even do a poor job of monetizing the actual sport itself, preferring to instead drive the attention towards in game purchases.
    maybe he should spend some more of the millions he has made / makes from League of Legends on paying them instead of
    >Maybe you should spend some of the millions you are making off of the Esport you created on the scene instead of on hiring more employees?
    Pretty sure that Supercell just hit 2.6 billion in revenue with only 360 employees, and Valve runs 2 massive esports with a company that appears to me to be 1/3rd the size of Riot. Meanwhile, you have produced a single game, and turned into a monolith.
    I look at TSM and see a tight ship. I look at Riot and see bloated spending and waste.