ESPORTS FRANCHISING: WHO MADE THE CUT PART 1
By Feature Writer Jordan Fragen
Franchising continues to be one of the hottest topics in esports and we’ve already analyzed the differences between Riot’s North American LCS and Activision-Blizzard’s Overwatch League.
And this is with good reason.
In recent years, the instability of the NA LCS and many other esports leagues have deterred potential investors. Afterall, nobody wants to see their team get relegated and their investment lose value. Two perfect examples are NRG and German soccer team FC Schalke 04 who both lost their LCS spots last year.
This year, both Riot and Blizzard offered brands the chance to acquire permanent franchises in the NALCS and the Overwatch League respectively. Many of the lingering questions were finally answered this past week. Today, we’ll bring you a quick overview of this recent burst of news and the landscape of the upcoming leagues set to start next year.
This week, Riot ended the speculation as to who’s franchising applications they would accept.
While many were initially concerned that Riot was actively seeking to partner with non-endemic teams, it appears that this is not the case. 6 of the 10 teams currently control spots in the NALCS.
So who’s in?
Off of a 3-year streak of not making it out of the group stage at Worlds, fans were itching for some good news. Turns out they wouldn’t have to wait for long.
Given the team's dominance with Bjergsen and the management’s ability to remain profitable, TSM was perhaps the most expected team to meet Riot’s requirement. However, nothing is guaranteed in the world of esports. Fans can rejoice though as TSM will remain as one of NA’s permanent teams.
COUNTER LOGIC GAMING
CLG was one of the original teams in the NALCS and for years they dominated the North American scene. Today, they are not as prominent as they once were, but with an investment from the Madison Square Garden Company, it appears that Riot is confident in the team’s future.
After finishing 2 splits in a row in 9th place, Team Liquid has not necessarily met everyone’s expectations. Given that the team received a huge investment from Axiomatic and it’s many investors, including the majority owner of the Washington Wizards and a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors, the team’s performance has not followed suit. However, this does not appear to have deterred Riot from accepting their application.
If anyone had a good week, it was Echo Fox. Along with announcing that the team had just received an investment from the New York Yankees, Echo Fox’s future in the NALCS was confirmed. Likely, these two stories were very much related to one another, but it’s unlikely that official sources will confirm this any time soon.
As the newest team in the NALCS, Flyquest’s acceptance is probably the biggest surprise on this list. As Wes Edens owns both Flyquest and the Milwaukee Bucks, they have the traditional sports pedigree that Riot clearly was looking for in franchises.
The team is also investing in other esports such Rocket League and the upcoming NBA 2K League. This commitment to the industry may have also played a factor. Either way, Flyquest will also remain a permanent fixture in the NALCS.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
While Peter Guber is an investor in Axiomatic and by extension an owner of Team Liquid, the majority owners of the Golden State Warriors have not yet been involved in esports.
That is until this week when the Lacob family’s application was accepted by Riot.
Given the recent success of the Warriors, it is no surprise that of the traditional sport teams that reportedly submitted applications, they would be one of the lucky few to be chosen. Additionally, they are also participating in the NBA 2K League though the branding is not likely to overlap.
Way back in December of 2016, the Houston Rockets hired Sebastian Park as their Head of Esports. It was truly only a matter of time before the team was involved in the ecosystem.
While they are not one of the 17 teams in the NBA 2K League, they did show commitment to the space through his hire and entrance into the NALCS.
Like the Golden State Warriors, no one can deny the success Cleveland has had since Lebron returned home. Similarly, they are also participating in the NBA 2K League.
But that wasn’t the only announcement coming from Cleveland. Former competitive Call of Duty player for top team OpTic Gaming and successful streamer Nadeshot is reportedly involved.
While initial reports have him serving as the Director of Esports, sources close to the Cavs say that his role may not be one you are currently seeing across other teams. Regardless, Nadeshot being attached in any capacity to the Cavs is very meaningful for the team’s content strategy in addition to the opportunity to help monetize his upcoming apparel line.
[Edit: Dan Gilbert via Courtside Ventures has made several investments in the space with the most being the super successful exit for Beam]
In Part 2, we will look at who made the cut for Activision-Blizzard's Overwatch League and the two teams that made both - Cloud9 and OpTic Gaming.