Three NBA franchises will be taking their talents from the hardwood to the virtual world of League of Legends this January, confirming earlier reports by ESPN. Riot Games announced Monday the 10 franchises to compete in the upcoming 2018 North American League Championship Series, including the three teams backed by some of the biggest names in basketball: the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers and defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors franchise, spearheaded by assistant general manager Kirk Lacob, will go by the name Golden Guardians in the NA LCS. In its inaugural season, along with the other fresh franchises, the team will look to upend returning three-peating champion Team SoloMid, one of the most well-known esports organizations in the world.
"As we take our first steps onto the Rift as the Golden Guardians, we're excited to join the NA LCS and the League of Legends esports community," said Kirk Lacob, vice president of GSW Sports Ventures. "We are approaching our membership in this elite esports community with respect and admiration. It's our hope to bring our championship sports roots to our new playing field and contribute to growing the league on a global level."
The Warriors' opponent in the past two NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers, will have a team that'll be known as 100 Thieves. The brand was created by the team's spokesperson, Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag, who made a name for himself in the Call of Duty scene, becoming one of the most recognizable faces in esports. The Cavaliers hope the fusion of traditional sports along with one of the best in esports will be enough to put itself ahead of the pack come the season opener in January.
Rick Fox, the head of Echo Fox, will be returning to the NA LCS after entering the league two years ago. Although the team has failed to make the postseason in its previous attempts, the team's dedication to balanced training physically and mentally has made the organization stand out in a positive light since its inception. Now having laid the groundwork for success, Fox wants to take his franchise to the next level in the coming year.
"In business and in sports, success is determined by the team you choose to work with, both on the field and off the field," Fox said. "We are extremely honored and proud that Riot Games has chosen Echo Fox as one of 10 partner organizations for the North American LCS beginning in 2018. We welcome the new team owners to the NA LCS and look forward to stepping into 2018 with a strong lineup, ready to face off where it matters most -- on Summoner's Rift."
In Houston, Clutch Gaming led by Daryl Morey and Sebastian Park will be joining Fox, the NBA finalists, TSM, Optic Gaming, and the returning clubs of Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming, Team Liquid and FlyQuest to complete the field. Overall, more than half the franchises will have a connection in some form to the NBA.
"The NBA is a forward-thinking league," said Jared Kennedy, co-head of esports at Riot Games. "They brought to the table a lot of capabilities in areas that we thought would take the league where we wanted to go. We didn't set out with a mission to get a set number of NBA teams into the league -- [we were] more looking for individuals who were passionate about what we're trying to do and the skills that we needed to make that happen. It's also to the NBA's credit [that] they were really interested in esports early on."