Riot has created the first truly professional eSports league. These will be teams with a guaranteed revenue stream, a regular schedule, significant broadcast exposure and significant winnings on the line. The expectation is that the 16 teams participating in the League Championship Series (LCS) are to play the game like a job and to carry themselves like professionals would in any other sport. This is one of the reasons why Riot is limiting access to players who are 17 or older.
Each week, starting February 7th, four games will be broadcast per day, Thursday through Sunday. The North American server games will be played Thursday and Friday and the European games Saturday and Sunday. The league format will be four games against each opponent in a giant, multi-week, round-robin format. After 14 weeks, there will be an all-star break (with "all-star" festivities being loosely promised as "exciting" with a "significant reward"). This will be followed by a promotion/relegation tournament putting the lowest four teams in each league into a Battle Royale against on-line qualifiers who will have a chance to come up into the LCS for the second half of the season.
Riot has tentatively indicated that there will be inter-league play, likely in conjunction with partner events like IPL. What this will mean in practice is unclear at this moment. What is clear is that fans of eSports in general should be sure to check into the Twitch TV and/or YouTube streams. Riot has always had great production quality on their events and, I suspect, that's only going to improve as they get practice week-in and week-out holding these events. So, what should we look for?
The skill gap from top to bottom in the NA side of the house appears stark. Curse breezed through qualifying and there seems little chance that we'll see anything other than TSM, Dignitas, CLG and Curse Gaming being safe in the top four. I expect GGU and FeaR to give them a little bit of trouble, potentially even pressuring Curse and/or Dignitas, but ultimately few people will be betting on them auto-qualifying for the second half of the season. Initial predictions:
- Brunch Club
If the European Qualifiers are any indication, the LCS on the other side of the pond promises to be very exciting. Fnatic, arguably the best team in Europe based on current form, lost to GIANTS! and struggled against Alternate. We already know the margin of difference between Fnatic and the three pre-qualified teams to be razor thin. Now we have confirmation that some of these recently qualified teams are equally threatening.
The level of experimentation and innovation in Europe is also a bit higher than on the NA side. I suspect that will only add to the excitement and surprises as the season progresses. My initial predictions for this side?
- Gambit Gaming (formerly Moscow 5)
- Evil Geniuses (formerly CLG.eu)
- SK Gaming
- Copenhagan Wolves
- Against All Authority
Week 1 Preview: The game schedules are a little lopsided, so instead of every team playing twice, it'll be four teams playing three times, two teams playing twice, and two teams having a bye week.
This week features all of the biggest teams playing three games. This can't be a coincidence and Riot is clearly trying to make a statement right from the beginning and build some excitement. The top four on both lists above will clash this weekend and hopefully provide some insight into exactly how close this League Championship Series will be.