Rumour mill keeps churning in the League of Legends offseason

Jess Carruthers Roar Guru

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    A new team will threaten the status quo in Oceania (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

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    Samsung Galaxy’s stunning 3-0 win over SK Telecom T1 on Sunday marked the end of the 2017 League of Legends Season in spectacular fashion, and even though this year is over, there is still so much to be excited for.

    Most of what I want to look at this week are the many rumours that have been flying around about the NA LCS teams accepted into franchising. We’ll also take a quick look at what this means for the players. Finally, we’ll touch on a couple of other items that have come up over the course of Worlds.

    First, franchising. It’s been almost a month since the stream of still unconfirmed leaks regarding franchised teams came out from Jacob Wolf at ESPN, so you’d be forgiven for having forgotten some of them. Here’s a quick list of the teams as a reminder:

    Returning teams

    • Cloud9 (C9)
    • CounterLogic Gaming (CLG)
    • Echo Fox (FOX)
    • FlyQuest (FLY)
    • Team Liquid (TL)
    • Team SoloMid (TSM)

    New team owners

    • Cleveland Cavaliers
    • Joe Lacob of the Golden State Warriors
    • Houston Rockets
    • OpTic Gaming

    Applications declined

    • Immortals (IMT)
    • Phoenix1 (P1)
    • Team Dignitas (DIG)
    • Team EnvyUs (NV)

    Now, while we’ve had this currently unconfirmed – but also not refuted – information for a good long while as we see the back of the World Championships, Riot is likely to make official announcements soon.

    (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

    The big four’s presence in the 2018 LCS is not only unsurprising, but there would have been outrage if any of them had been overlooked. CLG, TL, and TSM have all been around since season one, and although that was not a guaranteed ticket (as we’ll see shortly), these teams have such a passionate following and solid footing that there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that they would come through.

    Although C9 didn’t join the other three until the middle of Season 3, they came in with a bang and have been there since. Although they’ve waned in some ways, they were similarly an expected team in the line-up.

    FOX were not a certainty in the same ways, as they have not been around for nearly as long. Way back when, they were the old Curse Academy team, becoming Gravity for a year over 2015 and bought by Rick Fox ahead of 2016. While the fan base and history is less impressive, the continued investment by Fox despite mediocre results appears to exemplify the attitude Riot wants to encourage going forward.

    As much as I love them, FLY are certainly the team least expected to make it through. Their average performance over the 2017 season wasn’t terrible but also wasn’t great, and considering they don’t have a big public backer, they’re certainly the organisation with the least obvious alignment to Riot’s approach. Still, if these rumours do turn out to be accurate, I’m very much hoping some of the details around the decision-making will be shared by Riot so we can see how the decision was reached.

    Very little is known about the approach for three of the four newcomers. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Joe Lacob and the Houston Rockets are all well-established basketball teams – between them and Rick Fox I have to wonder what makes the LCS so appealing to people coming from basketball – but have no real history in esports. Their successful applications speak to how strong their business cases must be, and I’m very much looking forward to the formal announcements of their teams, staff and brand strategies.

    OpTic Gaming rounds out the new teams. With an extensive history of FPS and particularly CoD, the organisation has a well-established fan base in esports. In the last couple of days it’s also been announced that the org has been bought by Neil Leibman, co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team.

    Much of the fate of these four teams will depend on who they sign to their organisations, but the extensive development that goes on behind the scenes in traditional sports is quite a significant departure from the individual-centric approach that many esports teams have taken. We’ve seen some of this in Echo Fox already, and having half the league with tradition sport-heavy management will be interesting.

    And finally, there are four teams whose applications have reportedly been declined. These four unsuccessful applications give some insight, albeit a very small amount, into what Riot has prioritised. P1 came third in split one of this year and IMT have just returned from a stint at Worlds. While good teams are obviously desirable, it clearly factors in significantly less than team backing.

    NV and DIG’s failures are a little less clear. DIG were bought by the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team earlier this year, so they already had the backing that the four new teams do, and although NV’s LoL team hasn’t seen a lot of success, they’ve done well in other esports. As much as we all want to know the ins and outs of Riot’s decisions, I doubt we’ll ever get a particularly clear reason for these two applications losing out.

    (Image: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

    This brings us nicely to the other main part of this article: roster changes. I’ve not seen any actual official roster change information, but with so many free agents there are going to be a wealth of new rosters and team moves to watch out for.

    There are around 30 players currently listed in Riot’s contracts database in the four teams that are rumoured to be leaving the LCS, a further 11 from three challenger teams that appear to not have been accepted and over 20 players whose contracts are up in the end of November. That’s around 60 players vying for some 30 spots as starters in new teams and fresh openings. I’m not even looking at the 20 players who will be in the scouting grounds or the international players.

    I love the roster shuffles in the offseason and I can’t wait to see how it all pans out this time around. In September Riot said they would make an announcement in November, so we should be hearing more very soon.

    To round off, all-stars voting has taken place ahead of the tournament to be held in early December. Unfortunately there will not be an OPL team attending, but OCE players can still vote for other regions until 5:59pm AEDT on Saturday. There are eight regions taking part this year, but the polling for the GPL and TCL closed early for administrative reasons.

    You’d have been forgiven for missing it, but Riot announced a week or two ago that the LCS tournaments will be moving back to a best-of-one format in 2018. There are pros and cons to this as a viewer; while fewer games mean less league to enjoy, I know personally I’m looking forward to catching more of the EU games than I have over the past few splits.

    So much has happened over the last seven weeks that I didn’t talk about because of the focus on Worlds. Did the tournament deliver for you? What are you most excited about this offseason?