As the LCK (League of Legends Champions Korea) is set on franchising for the upcoming season, let us take a look at the possible benefits and downsides of franchising in esports. We’ll take a look at some examples where franchising was (relatively) successful but also those situations that turned out to be a bit more messy.
What exactly is franchising?
For this structure esports took a page out of the book of traditional sports. In a franchise system there’s one party who oversees everything (often the publisher or developer when it comes to esports leagues) and offers up a finite number of available spots in a league. Teams or investors who are interested in participating will then have to pay a sum for one of these spots and the chance to compete.
Thank you to all of the fans, players, teams, the LCK crew, partners, and everyone for joining us throughout this year.
— LCK Global (@LCK_Global) September 9, 2020
Benefits and drawbacks
The price for a spot in a franchised league is often steep (we’ll look at some examples later) but does come with quite a few perks. Teams won’t get relegated after underperforming and will find a lot of marketing opportunities thanks to being part of the franchise as a whole. Thanks to their staying power teams might also find it easier to build up a loyal fanbase.
One of the biggest benefits is the stability a franchised league offers to their players. They find themselves in a more secure situation with a well thought-out contract and a more stable salary. This gives them a bit more freedom and reduces stress while (often, not always) offering new and up-and-coming players something to aim for.
Of course there are also some drawbacks to franchising a league, for starters the often high price to buy into the league in the first place like we mentioned before. This might serve as a deterrent for some teams who were big names in the scene before franchising, but can’t (or refuse to) cough up the money needed for a spot. This might even damage the reputation of a franchised league early on.
Teams also lose out on some income in a franchised model as they need to pay certain fees and royalties to the parent company. They also have less control over decisions made within the league and what exactly happens to their team, limiting their (financial) freedom in a way. This can often lead to conflict within the league and a clash between the league owner and the teams and investors that bought into it.
The LEC as a success story
One of the biggest franchising success stories these past years is that of the LEC (League of Legends European Championship). One of the first indicators is the performance of the European teams on the international stage, even though that isn’t telling the whole story. Teams like G2 Esports and Fnatic have performed at the highest stages of international play, namely Worlds and MSI, showing the strength (and consistency) the league has reached since franchising.
Another thing to consider and possibly even the most important argument is the increase in viewership and interest in the LEC. The LEC has shown amazing numbers when it comes to viewership which are increasing year over year, making the initial investment of the teams pay off in a major way. The franchised LEC is also helped by the strong foundations that are set up. With multiple national leagues feeding into its talent pool, paving a very clear way to the top for new players.
Rough on the edges
The transition to a franchised league doesn’t always go down smoothly. The biggest examples of this in recent years are the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty League, which are both run by Activision Blizzard. These franchises had their inaugural season start in 2017 and 2019 respectively but a lot of fans, players and owners are still not convinced of the franchise model.
With this much #OWL2020 talent on one broadcast, anything can happen 🙌
What are you most excited to see in All-Stars Asia?
— Overwatch League (@overwatchleague) September 24, 2020
Both the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League had a high buy-in when it comes to a franchise spot, leading to some fan-favourite teams disappearing. The Overwatch League also added new teams after their first season where not everyone was convinced that was the right move to make. Viewership numbers for the Overwatch League have also started dwindling leading to discussion of a possible saturation of the market.
— Call of Duty League (@CODLeague) September 15, 2020
The inaugural season of the Call of Duty League also faced some problems. Activision Blizzard often clashed with the teams and players when it came to rulesets and communication. Viewership also hasn’t been spectacular, mostly spiking when fan-favourite teams such as Chicago Huntsmen and Dallas Empire are playing. A lot of the players also didn’t like the current version of Call of Duty they were playing on (Modern Warfare). Changes are sure to be coming to the CDL with them already announcing they’ll be moving back to a 4v4 format when Black Ops: Cold War rolls around.
Franchising in esports opens up a lot of doors when it is done well. Teams and players can benefit from a more stable environment as well as the organizers. Implementing a franchise model can be hard and requires a lot of money, work and dedication. In the end, it might arguably be the best way forward for some esports scenes.
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