EU LCS to franchise in 2019, abandon promotion and relegation

Changes are coming to the EU LCS in 2018 and beyond, including a new format, the removal of promotion and relegation, and a partnership model similar to the NA LCS. Riot Games

The European League of Legends Championship Series intends to franchise in 2019, similar to its North American counterpart and other professional sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA and MLB, Riot Games announced Monday.

The league will begin taking applications for permanent partnership from existing ownership and interested outside parties sometime in 2018, with dates currently undetermined, sources said. The number of spots for the league and the buy-in price for both existing and nonexisting franchises has not been determined.

The European League Championship Series will remain in its home of Berlin instead of splitting into four regions. Game developer Riot Games had previously pitched to its ownership and partners in September that it wanted to split the league into London, Berlin, Paris and Barcelona, Spain, and increase the total number of teams to 24. Riot had logistical concerns regarding its former plan, which led to cancelling it altogether, sources said.

The league announced it will instead move to a single-game, double-round-robin format starting in 2018, similar to its North American counterpart. Over the last few years, Riot has experimented with best-of-two and best-of-three formats.

Relegation and promotion from and to the league has been removed from the 2018 midseason, and the European Challenger Series is set to be canceled, Riot announced. Teams in the Challenger Series will be compensated, although amounts were not disclosed, according to sources. Riot will establish a pan-European tournament series to develop talent outside of the EU LCS, the league announced.

For 2018, Riot Games has increased the team stipend to 500,000€ ($580,007), according to sources. Teams were previously entitled to 350,000€ ($406,005) in the 2017 seasons.

The league currently consists of 10 teams: Fnatic, G2 Esports, Giants Gaming, H2K Gaming, Misfits, FC Schalke 04 Esports, Splyce, Team ROCCAT, Team Vitality and Unicorns of Love.

Four of those franchises -- Fnatic, G2, Misfits and Splyce -- applied for permanent partnership in the North American League of Legends Championship Series in July. Fnatic, Misfits and Splyce were declined entry in September, while G2 was turned down at the end of the process in early October. Two other teams, H2K and Unicorns of Love, were publicly outspoken about the lack of financial stability in the league in August and September.

All 10 European teams will have to go through an application process against new parties that apply in pursuit of retaining their spots when partnerships begin in 2019. Existing teams that are not re-accepted into the league by the end of the process will be compensated, according to sources.

The North American League Championship Series went through a similar process in 2017. That league selected 10 partners -- six existing and four new -- in October, which reportedly welcomed the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets of the NBA, as well as ownership of the Golden State Warriors. For Europe, Riot has taken a significant interest in professional soccer clubs, which it hopes applies for franchise ownership, one league source said.