For many years, Riot has been focused on building League of Legends esports into a global sport that will last for years to come. Over this past year, there has been a lot of focus on the rollout of long-term partnerships in North America but we haven't said much about our plans for Europe. The future of League esports in Europe is extremely bright. We have strong, talented pros, supported by passionate fans across multiple countries. It’s time to take the next step towards building an environment where pros can succeed at the highest level and a league where everyone is rewarded for their part in building success.
Last year we outlined how we plan to build a long-term future for esports on a global scale, focusing on fandom, economics and stability. Here we’ll be explaining how those key themes can be applied specifically to Europe. It’s our long-term goal to move to a system in which pro players, teams and Riot share in the success of the league together and build towards a stable future. In the short-term, teams are facing increasing challenges when it comes to financial health and investing in team infrastructure and therefore we’ll be taking steps to create more immediate security and stability.
Format update for 2018
We evaluated the current Best of 3s (Bo3) format from an engagement and viewership perspective and found that the EU LCS has become harder to watch. When we initially made the switch to Bo3, it was under the assumption that fans would be able to watch more games from their favorite team in a full series rather than individual games. While the move to Bo3 was positively received initially, it had a negative impact on engagement over the course of the season. We conducted analysis on viewership trends and ran community and player feedback sessions to evaluate the results of the 2017 format and found that the switch to Bo3 has made watching the EU LCS more difficult and less enjoyable. Primarily, it fell short in these areas:
- Creating more content than fans were able to watch on a regular basis - fans cited having less time to watch EU LCS as the primary reason for tuning in less.
- It’s difficult to tune in halfway through a series and feel engaged - it makes it less approachable for the majority of our audience who is not tuning in right before game 1.
Based on analysis and feedback, we’ve made the decision to go back to a single league, double round robin Bo1 for the regular season starting from Spring 2018. Bo1s mean there’s less of a time commitment for fans, and it’s easier to watch more games across multiple teams. We’re able to move away from the groups format and we can continue to broadcast on a single stream, which fans prefer to a dual stream broadcast.
Fans watching the league is critical for sustainability of teams, healthy salaries for pros, and the long-term success of the league. We believe the move back to Bo1 will make the league more enjoyable to watch, more accessible for fans and will be better for the health of the league.
The EU LCS will be moving to Fridays and Saturdays for the regular season beginning on January 19. From the beginning of 2017, we added Saturday (and occasionally Sunday) as broadcast days for the EU LCS, from previous Thursday/Friday schedules. In 2018 we will move back to 2 broadcast days a week, therefore we wanted to assess which days would be best for European fans. We took a look at player feedback around the broadcast days and found overall that Thursday was the least preferred day, Saturday was the best and Friday/Sunday were extremely close, with Friday scoring slightly higher. We’re still looking into start times - we’re aiming to begin later than 5pm CET, but will confirm in the next few months.
We want teams to be able to plan rosters and investments strategically, but it has proven difficult to plan ahead when the guaranteed EU LCS competition window is only one split. With that in mind, combined with the feedback we’ve received from team owners, we’ll be removing mid-year promotion/relegation in 2018. With a full season to plan ahead, teams will have more security when making investments in infrastructure, sponsorships, rosters and team strategies. It’s also a step towards our long-term plan of partnering with teams to build a more stable league. This also affects the EU Challenger Series, which we will be changing next year to better fit the needs of the ecosystem - read on below for more.
We see a future for the EU LCS in which teams, pros and Riot are working together towards sharing in the success of the league as a common goal. In order to bridge the gap between now and then, we’ll be introducing a few changes to help support teams in the short-term.
We’re still in the early stages of building an economic base for league revenue through new opportunities like the BAMTech deal. While those foundations are put in place, we want to create some interim relief, so as a temporary solution, we’ll be increasing the financial support provided to teams for the year. We know this is only a short-term solution. Extra financial support will alleviate some immediate pressure, but in the long-term we believe that a partnership model where league revenue is shared amongst all parties is the best route to an ecosystem where teams can grow and thrive.
While we plan ahead for future partnerships, we want to reward teams who are positively contributing to the success of the EU LCS. As a result, we’ll be introducing a viewership bonus for teams in 2018. Teams will receive financial incentives based on the viewership the league generates over the course of the year. When teams invest in growing their fanbase, attracting more viewership and building a strong brand they deserve to share in a part of that success.
Rethinking Challenger Series
When Challenger Series was launched, the goal was to create an environment for teams to grow and develop talent, as well as providing a path to the top for new team organisations. Unfortunately, the current structure doesn’t meet these goals - overall it’s a high-risk, high-investment system for teams without stability for pros, and limited exposure.
We believe we can do more for aspiring pros, which is why we’ll be removing Challenger Series and introducing a new pan-European tournament involving local country teams. Already established ERLs will continue to qualify teams into the tournament and we’ll be increasing our support across Europe to enable aspiring pros to take part in the competition regardless of which EU country they’re in. The top teams from various local competitions will qualify for a special pan-EU tournament that will run twice a year.
Our goal is to create a better competitive environment for non-EU LCS pros with more opportunities to demonstrate their talent, and an environment that nurtures new pros joining the scene. We want them to be better equipped for the transition to pro through more frequent competition, more opportunities to play in front of a live audience and pro-team scouts, and more chances to gain exposure and build a fanbase throughout the year. We’ll have more details to share around the new structure and format in a much more in-depth post soon.
What’s next for the EU LCS?
Next year, we’ll be back with details around how we plan to transition to a partnership system in 2019. We’re excited to take the next step in building a stronger future for our sport, with pros and teams at our side. Passionate fans are the backbone of our sport and we are excited work together to build a successful and sustainable league that will be enjoyed for years to come. We would not be here today without the support of EU LCS fans, so we want to thank you for being a huge part of the league and we look forward to the future.