The League of Legends Championship Series Players’ Association (LCSPA), could potentially lock out the league pending a vote this Sunday. According to a report from Mikhail Klimentov, the LCSPA is upset about Riot’s new ruling that would remove the requirement for LCS franchises to maintain a Challengers League roster. But pulling the lens back, the mention of a potential strike is monumental in and of itself. American esports has never seen a total league lock-out in its young history.
This vote is also taking place against the backdrop of esports’ tough financial start to 2023. Klimentov spoke with Esports Illustrated and said that Riot’s actions to cut the Challengers League requirement came from the economic strains LCS teams are facing currently:
“Riot has said that changes to the NACL have to do entirely with owners’ demands,” he said. “Riot has also gestured publicly at the “esports winter”[…]and I’m sure there are a lot of conversations happening internally about it. They probably knew before anyone else that this was going to be an issue…”
Klimentov also noted that a potential strike would “disrupt the start of the entire LCS season schedule”, and that the action from the LCSPA is a bid to “course correct” the direction of the League. With LCS viewership dropping, the league would likely seek to avoid a stoppage of play.
First-Time Collective Action
There has never been a major esports league shut down for contractual or collective bargaining reasons in the US. The closest we’ve seen came in the 2022 Overwatch Contenders series. In that instance, players from 01 Esports coordinated with their opponents, Ex Oblivione, to protest a competitive ruling that sent 01 to the lower bracket. Other than that any instances of refusals to play or contract disputes at a league level have taken place behind closed doors.
For those familiar with traditional sports, lockouts are part of the process. Usually centering around collective bargaining agreements, players’ associations in multiple sports have shut down the league during negotiations. The NHL experienced four lock-outs between 1992 and 2013 and the MLB saw a strike in 1994 which canceled the entire MLB season. Virtually every major action in American sports came from the players having strong unions. Esports, on the other hand, is just now beginning to explore those options.
The LCSPA itself is only six years old, which makes it the oldest (and one of the only) esports player associations in the world. Before 2020, the organization was fully funded by Riot Games, which clearly posed some potential conflicts of interest for the PA. The LCSPA’s genesis served as a bellwether for a wave of collective action in the video game space in general.
Over the past three years numerous game studios, including Riot Games, have seen walkouts and protests over toxic work environments. The push for unionization came to a head in 2022 when the Communications Workers of America won the legal right to represent a group of Raven Software employees. While collective bargaining hasn’t reached every studio in video games, there’s been some progress. The esports space, however, hasn’t seen much unionization beyond League and CS:GO.
Even if the vote doesn’t result in a lockout or strike, the LCSPA is still showing that they have teeth. And the Summer Split of the largest esports league in America is at risk.
Esports Illustrated has reached out to the LCSPA for further comment.