Riot plans to mandate teams give players employee benefits

Fans packed Staples Center in Los Angeles last weekend for the League of Legends World Championships final. When the new League Championship Series begins next year, teams will reportedly be required to pay their players as full-time employees. Gail Fisher for ESPN

League of Legends developer and tournament organizer Riot Games plans to mandate that all teams participating in its North American and European League Championship Series competitions contractually employ their players and coaching staff beginning with the 2017 season, multiple sources close to teams and the company tell ESPN.

By making the change, players participating on League Championship Series professional teams will be eligible for employee benefits, including healthcare and 401(k) retirement plans. Additionally, teams as employers will need to withhold taxes upfront from the players, which has been rare over the past few years as many teams have contracted their players as independent contractors.

Currently only six teams -- Cloud9, H2K Gaming, Immortals, Team Liquid, Team SoloMid, and Unicorns of Love -- employ their players as employees instead of independent contractors. The remaining 14 teams in North America and Europe will need to update their business models and infrastructure to comply with the rule change.

In addition to the employment change, sources say Riot Games is currently considering increasing the player minimum salary distributed by Riot Games to teams for individual players. Currently, the Riot Games minimum compensation is $12,500 in North America and €11,250 in Europe per player, per split which would equal $25,000 and €22,500 per year respectively. Riot has reportedly not yet decided what the minimum will be.

Riot did not respond to a request for comment.