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Riot threatens to cancel a 'League of Legends' esports season after a player revolt

Pros voted 'overwhelmingly' for a walkout to protest changes to the minor leagues.

ELIJAH NOUVELAGE via Getty Images

The pro League of Legends scene has been upended after players voted "overwhelmingly" in favor of a walkout to protest changes Riot has made to the minor leagues. Now, the publisher has threatened to cancel the summer season of the League Championship Series (LCS), which would prevent North American teams from qualifying for the LoL World Championship, if an agreement can't be reached.

Players approved the action only a few days before the Summer Split of the LCS, the top level of LoL esports in North America, was set to start. Riot has delayed the season by two weeks in an attempt to resolve issues with players and the LCS Players Association (LCSPA), the association that represents them.

"Hopefully, this two-week window will give us time for productive dialogue between the LSCPA, teams and the league and then resume LCS competition this summer," Naz Aletaha, Riot's global head of LoL esports, wrote in a blog post, which was published after a meeting with the LCSPA. "The LCS will not be penalizing the teams for not fielding their rosters during this two-week period to allow everyone space to focus on constructive dialogue. We are doing our best to ensure LCS employees, contractors and others supporting the LCS are not negatively impacted by the delay."

The company said although it needs "an LCS that is thrilling to watch and showcases the highest levels of League of Legends play," it wouldn't be able to delay the Summer Split any further. Aletaha said doing so "would make it nearly impossible to run a legitimate competition," and as such Riot would be prepared to nix the season entirely. "That is not an outcome we’d want, but it’s unfortunately the reality of ensuring we run a fair, competitive global system," Aletaha added.

The LCSPA claimed on Monday there had been "attempts to require teams to field scab players at the start of the season." The LCSPA urged potential replacements to refuse to play for an LCS team because "crossing the line puts all players’ futures at risk" and "undermines player negotiating power."

On Sunday, a majority of the 50 LCS players voted in favor of the walkout, resulting in one of the first major instances of collective action in esports. They are protesting a decision Riot announced earlier this month to no longer require LCS teams to field a team in an official farm system. The company agreed to a request from the teams in order to "support the continued, long-term success of the teams and the professional esports ecosystem in North America."

Most LCS teams swiftly said they'd be dropping their North American Challengers League (NACL) rosters. The LCSPA said the move would result in "as many as 70 players, coaches and managers" losing their jobs and that most of the current LCS players came through the official farm system. The LCSPA claimed the average salary cost of an NACL roster "accounts for less than 17 percent of an average LCS organization's League-based salary costs in a year." It claimed that although farm systems in other regions were working well, "North America now has a developmental product with no viewership, no institutional support, no paying jobs and no future."

The LCSPA urged Riot to agree to several conditions, including a promotion and relegation format between the LCS and NACL. It also wanted the publisher to "commit to a revenue pool for player salaries of $300,000 per NACL team per year."

Aletaha addressed each of the LCSPA's five requests in the blog post. In terms of the revenue pool, "this ask is for multiple millions in subsidies for the NACL. That simply isn’t sustainable — and to be brutally honest, it shouldn’t be necessary. We have other Tier 2 leagues around the world which thrive on their own, and we believe the NACL can get to that place too." Aletaha noted that Riot is giving the organization that operates the NACL a one-time payment of $300,000 to "jump-start" the season and provide support to teams.

"Without players, there is no league, and there is no esport," the LCSPA said in response. The association planned to today start discussions "that result in meaningful collaborative action to get our players back where they want to be: competing for fans on the LCS stage."