League of Legends pros voting on walkout


Player salaries have taken center stage as teams and tournament organizers maintain current compensation is unsustainable. The reality is that organizations simply cannot afford bloated salaries any longer, as media rights deals and sponsorship revenues dwindle. The situation with Riot Games’ League Championship Series is a byproduct of exorbitant salaries, and something needed to give, which in this case was the closing of the farm system. — Kevin Hitt

On Sunday, League of Legends Championship Series players will vote on a walkout to protest Riot Games abruptly shuttering the farm league affiliate mandate for franchised teams. The vote has the potential to send a ripple effect through the LCS and into the entire industry. An unprecedented action of this scale in esports’ relatively short history stands to severely demonetize the first LCS broadcast of the Summer Split, which begins in June.

Critics of Riot’s move say that while the farm system hasn’t been particularly effective, closing the door on the farm leaves one of League of Legends’ major regions without a definitive future in international competitions. As Sunday’s vote draws closer, sources in and close to LCS teams are preparing for the voting and its aftermath — and there’s no definitive feeling on what the players will choose. One team management source told SBJ that any action will hinge on the higher-earning players voting in favor at a scale that would affect league operations. The vote will be decided by the level of altruism from the players, they continue, noting that the players don’t have the same collective bargaining power a union has.

The ramifications of the walkout would be stark, according to another high-ranking LCS team employee. A walkout vote clearly has the potential to damage the league at a critical time, as the league is still between commissioners. Seven of the 10 teams no longer have second-tier affiliated rosters and would not have a simple fix for their players walking out. And a “no” vote could de-fang the LCSPA’s capability to tap into public pressure to gain concessions … which might push players toward unionization.

SBJ spoke with ESG Law partner Harris Peskin about the possible ramifications of the walkout vote and unionization. He notes that without explicit unionization, no salary cap for the high spending of LCS teams on players can be put in place. A collective-bargaining agreement would put definitive limits on the spending. However, the players are directly incentivized to not unionize: Why lower their salaries when they can currently accomplish the lion’s share of their goals through the player’s association and other forms of public pressure? “The LCSPA has been able to accomplish what is normally accomplished through collective bargaining … by appealing to Riot Games as the league operator and encouraging Riot to pass terms through the teams that are participating in the league.”

In the past, Phillip Aram, director of the LCSPA, stated that it was looking at unionization. A union would have a net benefit on the league at large, as it could curb rampant spending while giving the players a unified voice. “This is an effort [from the LCSPA] to revert to a status quo that is not sustainable,” Peskin tells SBJ.

SBJ will follow the vote results and provide an update when results are available. — Hunter Cooke

Known by many as the “Michael Jordan of esports,” Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok holds all the cards when it comes to negotiating brand partnerships. The League of Legends star from South Korea spoke with SBJ how his deal with gaming peripherals brand Razer, and what attracted him to work with the company.

Have a deliberate and genuine collaboration. “The most important aspect when it comes to a partner or partnership are the different collaborations,” he said. “When I partnered with Razer, it made sense because I was using the mouse for the longest time.”

Sang-hyeok helped design and put his name on DeathAdder Pro mouse, something that had he not been afforded input, he would never do. “I need to understand the overall concept of the product since it will have my name on it,” said Sang-hyeok. “Most of the products that have been released either have my signature or my signature Demon King graphic on it.”

Commit to building the brand together. Sang-hyeok looks at brands that can help build his presence in esports – as well as what he can do for them. “It’s always best to plan for the future. As of now, I love being an active pro gamer. And with my career and experience, I hope to strengthen my image and brand in order to prepare for the future.” — Kevin Hitt

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