Riot Games is making short- and long-term changes to the European League of Legends Championship Series, including immediate changes of financial support and format for 2018 and the postponing of its regional league plans until at least 2019, sources close to the game developer and its league told ESPN.
Riot had initially reportedly communicated to its teams and partners that it would switch to a regional, UEFA Champions League-inspired format in summer of 2018 for the European League Championship Series.
This included four regions -- Berlin, London, Paris and Barcelona, Spain -- as well as an increase to 24 total teams and a new way to qualify for a greater league. These plans are postponed until further notice and will not be enacted until at least 2019, according to sources.
According to sources, Riot was concerned it would not be able to institute the regional changes efficiently and decided to postpone those changes to evaluate its approach to enacting them.
Instead, for all of 2018, the European league will move to a single-game, double round robin format, the same as Riot announced for its North American league, sources said. Each team will play each other twice throughout the season in a single group, eliminating the current two-group format, with the top six guaranteeing themselves spots in playoffs. Relegation from the league will also be removed in between the spring and summer splits, with plans for the Challenger Series, which feeds into the league, to be determined.
Teams will also receive an increased stipend -- from a previous 350,000€ ($410,455) to 500,000€ ($586,365) -- for participating in the league.
The financial changes come after ownership of two teams, H2K Gaming and Unicorns of Love, wrote open letters regarding the financial instability of operating a League of Legends team in Europe. H2K even threatened to exit the league, and its current ownership is exploring options to potentially sell the team, sources close to that organization told ESPN.
As a result of the format change, the matches will move back to singular livestream channels, believed to be the Riot Games Twitch and YouTube channels. When North America and Europe moved to a best-of-series format, the two leagues established their own livestream channels and saw a decrease in viewership.
The overall change in pace comes after a back-and-forth between Riot Games and some of its European teams. Aside from H2K and Unicorns of Love, four European teams -- G2 Esports, Fnatic, Splyce and Misfits -- reportedly applied to participate in the franchised North American League Championship Series starting in 2018.
Fnatic, Misfits and Splyce did not make it to phase two of that process and will remain in Europe, according to sources, but G2 Esports is still in the running for potential participation alongside existing North American League of Legends teams and non-endemic investors and sports owners who applied on their own.