TL;DR: We’re making some immediate changes to the upcoming 2017-18 calendar, including introducing a new regional clash called Rift Rivals in July. Read on for more info!
Within this post, we’ll be introducing some changes for the 2017 off-season and 2018 season as well as sharing some insight on how we balance international and regional competition.
We want to create great entertainment for fans worldwide as well as a stable ecosystem that’ll be around for the long term, and there’s a couple of important ways we try to achieve that. We try to strike a balance between regional play, which supports a healthy local ecosystem, and international play which creates exciting focal points for the season. With that in mind, there’s a few changes we’re going to be introducing for this year.
Introducing Rift Rivals
The biggest change we’re excited to introduce is a brand new events series coming up in July - Rift Rivals. Held in multiple locations across the world during July 3-9, Rift Rivals will pit regional rivals against each other in mid-split grudge matches for glory and bragging rights.
Click here for a sneak peek of this event.
League of Legends no longer a part of IEM
Another change is that League of Legends will no longer be a part of the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM series) for 2017-18. While we remember and cherish epic moments from the past, we believe that withdrawing for the upcoming season is the right way to go.
We know that these changes shake up the international calendar, and while we’re excited to introduce a new brand with Rift Rivals, we also wanted to give some insight into how we’re thinking long-term around domestic and international events. Read on for more info.
How do we set international schedules/calendars?
As we talked about above, when we look at a rebooted 2017-18 calendar and beyond, it’s our goal to balance regional play with consistently high-quality international events that pit top teams from different regions. Regional play creates meaningful connections between fans and pros/teams and promotes positive things like deeper team investment and larger pro salaries - critical for a league that will last beyond the short term. International events are exciting displays of the highest level of play from the best teams in the world. Looking at 2018 and beyond, we believe we could improve the way we structure our seasons around regional and international events, so we're taking a few steps to address that - some immediate, and some in the longer term.
Why two splits? Why not kill Split 1?
It’s worth saying that no system is set in stone, and that we’ve investigated radical changes (like adjusting the structure and length of regional splits). With that said, we see some clear benefits in having a league system with the current amount of regional play.
There are 13 regional pro leagues, over 100 teams, and hundreds of pros worldwide. A regional league system allows for stable, consistent participation for a large number of teams and pros globally - key to building local fandom and sustaining financially stable careers for pros. Tournament systems, on the other hand, reward a much smaller number of top teams and pros at the most successful and competitive end of the scale. Making drastic moves in either direction could imbalance the current ecosystem, driving down salaries down for pros and sponsorship value for teams.
With so many teams worldwide, not every team can compete in meaningful international competition without making those tournaments unreasonably large. Let’s assume any international tournament would likely only feature the top 2-3 teams in a region without being unwieldy. If these replace the spring split, the bottom 6-7 teams in most regions would be playing for a total of 9-10 weeks over the year (just the summer split). With such limited play time, sponsorship values for those teams will drop, and teams outside of the top 2-3 likely will not be able to maintain pro salaries over the full year. This essentially risks nearly 80% of our global teams and pro player careers for increased spotlight on the top 20%.
Why not shorten the splits and add more international play?
It’s something we’re considering, but not for 2018. The sport is growing, but is still in a relatively early and fragile state worldwide: pro player salaries are still stabilizing, organizations are still finding their footing financially, and local teams are still building their local fanbases. Consistent regional play creates a strong economic base for all teams - and by extension, pro players. We think that major structural changes to reduce regional play could be destructive at a time when leagues are finally getting some financial stability.
We’re not opposed to the idea of shortening splits to make more room for more international play in the future. It’s our expectation that in the near future, leagues will have stabilized to the point where that kind of system makes sense. We just want to make sure that if and when we make those kind of changes, it doesn’t come at a significant cost to many pros’ and teams’ livelihood.
Why not add more international play on top of the current amount of regional play?
Our season is already long, and we want to make sure that pros avoid burnout by having a sufficiently long off-season. Elite teams are practicing or competing in as many as 42 weeks over the year, sacrificing even weekends to be the best, and with very little time off to relax, take a vacation or do anything other than train for long hours at high pressure. Creating an uninterrupted offseason for pros in 2017 was one of the factors behind our decision to withdraw from the IEM series.
Additionally, the off-season is an important time for teams to evaluate potential roster changes and for players to consider their career options. We don’t want to make the off-season more stressful for pros by making the period they have to make roster changes significantly shorter.