League of Legends [official site] has been dropped from Intel Extreme Masters pro-gaming events as it is no longer viable to try to work around LoL developer Riot's own pro-gaming calendar. IEM is a professional gaming tournament season run by the ESL organisation. It features a varied lineup of games and hosts high-profile LAN competitions in various locations around the world. The huge shindig in Katowice, Poland, where the season culminates in a world championship is potentially the best-known.
Now, according ESL's VP of pro-gaming, Michal Blicharz, who takes care of IEM, League of Legends is being benched for the 2017-18 season because it's simply too hard to work around Riot's own leagues, competitions and team transfer periods.
The open letter was posted on the League of Legends subreddit by Blicharz (although it needed to be reposted because of the T&Cs of that particular subreddit) so here's the link for the full letter but the relevant portion is this:
The current season of Intel Extreme Masters will not feature League of Legends.
We have taken a decision not to schedule IEM events around Riot's LCS calendar. In the current LoL landscape during the off season Western players are being traded or are on vacation while Korea and China are running tournaments with their teams locked in. Working around those limitations didn't seem like the right way to move forward.
Our 2017 events won't happen to be in a period where pro LCS teams are free to compete. In discussions with Riot it was also determined that LCS wouldn't pause for Katowice. This means that for the first time since 2011 LoL won't be there. I am sad I won't see some of you there next year.
As I write this, I am not sure if we will or will not run LoL events in IEM in the future. Should scheduling events around LCS become easier, I would certainly like us to. ESL will continue to support LoL overall with national championship events around the world.
If you're not into pro-gaming, or not into professional League of Legends you might not know why this is particularly noteworthy so I'll run through a kind of summary/overview.
League of Legends has a professional scene which revolves around a bunch of regional leagues operating around the world. You might have heard me talk about five of the biggest - Korea, Europe, North America, China and the LMS (Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) - but there are a bunch of others now too bringing the total to 13. These leagues have some regional variation and might be operated by third parties but they generally all have a spring and summer split where teams compete against each other for a few weeks to establish rankings and thus dictate entry into the high-profile inter-regional tournaments like the Mid-Season Invitational and the World Championships.
Riot has strict guidelines around participation in their events, team lineup changes and so on including transfer deadlines like you might see in traditional sports. As part of that ruleset the teams must abide by the schedules laid out by Riot or Riot's partners or risk forfeiting matches they can't make. Playing by Riot's rules is essential if you want to compete at the highest profile LoL tournament: Worlds. That means teams prioritise Riot-related competition over third-party tournaments because those are the things that get you a salary, a profile which you can try to translate into streaming cash, and the prize pools the Riot tournaments bring. The schedule is gruelling enough that downtime is valuable, plus you need to cram in things like player transfers and bootcamps to prepare for the next thing. Third-party tournaments like IEM have to either find a way to slot in around all of that or they don't get to pick from the top tier player pool because those folk are resting or playing elsewhere. Given IEM involves multiple games it's a balancing act anyway, so I can see why they'd end up ditching League as more of a headache than it's worth at the moment.
As someone who watches this stuff IEM's LoL offering has been a bit patchy for a while because of how it's had to work around the main competitive cycle for the game. Now it does feel like Riot have pretty much ended up with a single basketful of eggs. Even more so given the IEM announcement came as Riot were busy announcing another in-house tournament focusing on regional rivalry called Rift Rivals. The eggs in said basket are skilled and the basket can tap egg-fans for merchandise sales, live event ticket sales, streaming ad revenue, related digital loot sales, microtransations and the like, but without third-party egg competitions if your basket fails then... what? I mean, sure you don't want your eggs making egg-money for other hens and/or baskets but if you hold onto your eggs too tightly you end up with a sticky hand and no egg. That's a famous saying.
Here's another: Esports is like an egg. If you set it free it will come back to you. Makes you think.