Riot Games announced on Tuesday the 10 League of Legends teams that will be permanent partners for the newly franchised and rebranded European Championship, confirming earlier ESPN reports. Those teams are Fnatic, G2 Esports, Misfits Gaming, Splyce, Vitality, FC Schalke 04, Rogue, SK Gaming, exceL Esports and Origen (operated by RFRSH and Astralis).
For Europe, franchising meant not only deciding which 10 organizations to choose as permanent partners, but a complete rebranding of the EU LCS to the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), building upon the groundwork that the EU LCS broadcast laid throughout 2018. This will further separate the EU and NA broadcasts and leagues, each leaning to regional and cultural strengths. Europe as a region is a loose amalgamation of a variety of countries, each with their own languages and culture.
Although there are several different organizations within the new LEC that have region or country-specific fan bases -- like France's Vitality -- Riot Games Europe's Marc Schnell, Head of EU League Management and Remer Rietkerk, Project lead for 2019 partnerships, said that this was not a strong consideration in the application process.
"It's safe to say that regionalism or local affinity was something that we did look at," Schnell said.
He was quick to reiterate that it was not an integral part of the application process, and if they had wanted to make the LEC more country or region-specific, they would have designed the entire league differently.
They had a similar attitude toward endemic and non-endemic esports organizations, as well as any sort of traditional sports backing. Unlike the NA LCS franchises, many of which have large investments from a variety of National Basketball Association organizations like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, the new LEC only has two new partners with significant traditional sports branding or partnership: Misfits (the Miami Heat) and FC Schalke 04.
Schnell and Rietkerk stressed that they wanted the application process to take place on a completely level playing field, regardless of prior esports investment and experience, or traditional sports investment and experience.
Commonalities between the organizations are few, and what the LEC hopes to create is a positive feedback loop with teams sharing each other's brand strengths and leveraging those to cover teams' weaknesses. According to Schnell and Rietkerk, the most important factors in these organizations' branding was an understanding of the esports audience and the desire to win.
"They're here to win," Schnell said. "This will be the most competitive league we've ever had."
Said Rietkerk: "They obviously really understand the esports audience. I would say that's the thread."
One brand that will turn a few heads is Origen, the Spanish organization founded by former Fnatic mid laner Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez. After a stellar first split in the EU LCS and a 2015 League of Legends World Championship semifinals berth, Origen hit a downward spiral that ended in relegation. This will leave many fans skeptical of their upcoming inclusion and performance in the LEC and it will be up to Astralis and managing partner RFRSH Entertainment to resuscitate the Origen brand.
"RFRSH as an operating partner, their engagement with Origen we felt was such an organic fit," Schnell said. "Origen is a beloved brand."
There were a few key takeaways from successes and hiccups in the NA franchising process that helped the EU process go a bit more smoothly, with the primary factor being time. They began preparations over a year in advance, and there was a lengthier application time period.
"The NA process was incredibly compressed," Schnell said. "We tried to have a longer time period." He added that they relied on a lot of work done by the NA offices in their initial foray into franchising, especially regarding contracts. Rietkerk and Schnell read all of the applications in their entirety before having a third party look over them as well. They're also looking at a committee system to have greater communication with their new LEC owners in order to keep them involved in the league.
With the upcoming 2019 World Championship in Europe, next season should mark a banner year for LoL esports in Europe and the new LEC.