LCK 2021 Franchising – A look at the almost guaranteed contestants
On April 6, Riot Games’ Korean division announced that the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) would be entering a franchised model. The premier league for LoL competition in South Korea, the LCK is the last of the four major regions to franchise after China (2017), North America (2018), and Europe (2019).
As part of franchising, the LCK will reportedly mandate that all players must have a minimum salary of 60 million South Korean Won (~49 thousand USD). The league beneath the LCK, League of Legends Challengers Korea, will be discontinued and replaced with an Academy league. Additionally, teams looking to enter a partnership with the LCK, and purchase franchise spots had until June 19th to do so. From June till August, Riot Korea will review applications and interview with applicants. In September, Riot Korea will select and sign with teams and in late September, the teams will be announced.
LCK Franchising Applicants
The buy-in to partner with the LCK is reportedly 10 billion Korean won (~8.2 million USD). Newcomers previously not in the LCK would need to pay an additional ₩12-15 billion ($10-12 million) depending on competitive interest. This is in line with previous reports on buy-ins for the LCS and LEC.
In May, Riot Games reportedly declared that 25 teams had submitted letters of intent to join the franchised LCK. Most notably, non-Korean organizations such as FaZe Clan and NRG Esports were reportedly among the teams looking to join the LCK.
In late June, 21 organizations formally applied for their teams to join the LCK as franchise partners. These teams are:
- Damwon Gaming
- KT Rolster
- Afreeca Freecs
- SeolHaeOne Prince
- Hanwha Life Esports
- Team Dynamics
- SANDBOX Gaming
Seven of the nine current Challengers Korea teams:
- Awesome Spear
- Element Mystic
- ESC Shane
- hyFresh Blade
- Jin Air Green Wings
- OZ Gaming
Four non-Korean organizations:
- Gamer Republic, INC.
- Omaken Sports
- World Game Star
- Wrdn Game League
FaZe Clan and NRG are two organizations that are notably absent. They apparently did not follow through on their letters of intent.
Riot Games will likely choose teams based on several criteria. Their ability to meet the buy-in, their history with League and potential for stability and future growth of the organization. Additionally, their relationship with the Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA) will be taken into account.
Under these parameters, the four teams most likely to join the LCK are T1, KT Rolster, Jin Air Green Wings, and Gen.G.
T1 is almost assuredly guaranteed to qualify for LCK franchising. Prior to its rebrand, T1 was SKT T1, the most successful organization in all of LoL history, despite only entering LoL in 2013. It is also the only organization to have won more than one LoL World Championship (2013, 2015, 2016) and more than one Mid-Season Invitational (2015, 2016). As SKT and T1, the organization has nine domestic LCK championships, including the most recent 2020 LCK Spring. The team has significant financial backing and guarantees and is operated by T1 Entertainment & Sports, the joint venture between SK Telecom and Comcast Spectacor.
T1 also has a clean public record with no notable scandals or controversies. SK Telecom T1 is also a member of KeSPA.
KT Rolster has been part of South Korean League of Legends for as long as its perennial rival T1. For much of Korean LoL history, KT was notorious as the second-best team in the region, constantly chasing SKT’s coattails. Despite the organization’s struggles in recent years, KT Rolster is historically a top-caliber team. Since entering LoL in 2013, the organization has had multiple second and third-place finishes and won a domestic championship in LCK 2018 Summer.
KT Rolster has financial backing from the telecommunications giant Korean Telecom. KT Rolster is also devoid of major public controversies, though its recent competitive record (ninth and eighth in 2019, fifth in 2020 Spring) is underwhelming for its venerable history. KT Rolster is also a member of KeSPA.
Jin Air Green Wings
Jin Air Green Wings (JAG) is a well-known name in South Korean League of Legends, if not necessarily well-respected. Debuting in LoL in 2015, JAG spent the first few years as a solid middle-of-the-pack team, finishing between fourth and seventh. Things started going downhill for JAG starting in 2017. JAG has never finished higher than seventh in as of late, and have had to fight to avoid relegation to Challengers Korea (CK) thrice. It failed to stay afloat the third time and was relegated to CK for 2020 Spring. JAG finished seventh in the eight-team CK league and successfully fought to avoid relegation from CK for 2020 Summer.
Despite this lack of competitive success, JAG remains a relevant team in LCK franchising discussion. JAG’s parent organization is Jin Air, a subsidiary of Korean Air, and thus can meet the financial obligations demanded of an LCK franchise partner. Jin Air Green Wings does not have any major public scandals or controversies and is the originator of the much-beloved Sadplane/Gladplane.jpg meme. Jin Air Green Wings is also a member of KeSPA.
Gen.G is relatively new to South Korean League of Legends. Founded in 2017 as KSV Esports, Gen.G entered League of Legends with its purchase of the 2017 World Championship roster from Samsung Galaxy. They team has had up-and-down results during its time in the LCK.
In its debut year in 2018, Gen.G finished fifth in both Spring and Summer. In 2019, Gen.G finished seventh in Spring and sixth in Summer. Most recently, Gen.G improved greatly to finish second in 2020 Spring.
The organization has a reputation for providing well for its players, and has not had any high-publicity scandals or controversies. Due to its founders’ roots in Silicon Valley, it is not a member of KeSPA, but has made multiple large contributions to and efforts in South Korean esports.
Gen.G’s founders are Kevin Chou and Kent Wakeford, co-founders of game development company Kabam. Since Gen.G’s establishment, it has bought into multiple high-level esports franchises. These include the Seoul Dynasty in the Overwatch League, the Tigers of Shanghai in the NBA 2K League, and Gen.G Esports in Flashpoint.
In the end, the LCK 2020 Summer Season is the last season before franchising. Results during this split might also sway Riot’s decision towards some teams earning a spot into next season.