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.