Back in August 2018, we featured an article on Riot’s lack of innovation within the Esports scene in recent years, questioning their stagnation in introducing new features to engage fans and grow the game. Now with the introductions of Pro View and Team Passes, Riot once again look to be headed in the right direction.
Not so long ago, Riot were the innovators in the Esports scene, from providing the first ever $1m in prize money to creating the first structured league systems. League of Legends was, and arguably still is, the biggest powerhouse title in Esports, particularly in it’s ability to stay relevant with frequent patches/changes to the game (however much of a detriment this may be to player fatigue).
Despite their continued success, there have been indications that Riot may have become somewhat overly comfortable with the game’s success, and, as a result, did less in recent years to continue pushing the game’s popularity. Not only did they give fans few incentives to follow the competitive scene, but there was also little done to push viewers to support their favourite teams other than team icons which have been a feature more or less since day one.
The introduction of franchising was Riot’s first step in getting back on course. 2018 saw two of the game’s major regions implement a franchise model, whereby teams bought into the league and guaranteed their spot with no fear of relegation. China’s LPL and North America’s NA LCS (now LCS) began the franchising era, and have since been followed by Europe’s EU LCS (now rebranded to LEC) in 2019.
The fear of relegation was historically a huge worry for League of Legends organisations. With the previous Challenger Series structure, teams would get next to no viewership after relegation, and less eyeballs led to less sponsors and ultimately a serious risk of going under as a business.
As spots are now certain and teams cannot be relegated, many teams are now offering players multi-year contracts with added job security. This, in tern, allows players to be more dedicated to the game with a decreased fear of losing their livelihood, which ultimately leads to better performances and, hopefully, an overall increase in the skill level in the franchised leagues.
There may even be evidence that franchising has already increased the performance of the leagues that have taken on this model. In the LPL’s first year of franchising Invictus Gaming won the World Championship. In NA LCS’ first year of franchising Cloud9 had NA’s best ever Worlds performance (using substitutes in a way made possible by the Academy league overhaul at the start of 2018). In the EU LCS’ first year of franchising G2 Esports won MSI.
An addition for the World Championship in 2018, watch rewards allows players to periodically earn Blue Essence in-game simply for watching competitive matches from Riot sanctioned regions. Increases in viewership were seen almost instantly as the scheme was continued into the 2019 season, and has so far helped to maintain steady growth in the scene’s popularity.
It is not clear exactly how many genuine LoL Esports fans this has guided to streams. The rewards only require 10 minutes of a match to be watched in order to count towards a player’s progress and so there are undoubtedly some fans that will only be playing this limited length on VODS to trigger the rewards.
However, Riot encouraging fans to watch their game when not playing it can only a positive for its Esports eco-system, and came as a refreshing alternative to mundane in-client notifications which are largely ignored (yes we almost forgot those existed too).
Kha’Zix Chromas + Team Pass
As mentioned earlier, team icons have been one of the only ways Riot allows fans to directly support their favourite team more or less since the scene’s inception. Fans could cough up a small amount or RP for an in-game icon and the team would receive a percentage of the revenue gained.
Though there’s obviously nothing bad about this system, and we’ve all seen season 3 TSM icons time and time again, Riot had done little to push this forward for a worrying length of time.
That changed in September of last year as Championship Kha’Zix was revealed. Not only did 25% of the skin’s sales go to teams competing at Worlds (12.5% of this shared evenly and 12.5% shared based on tournament placement), but the skin also featured team specific chromas, of which 25% of the revenue went directly to the team.
This was a significant step for Riot in producing a fresh way for fans to support their favourite organisation rather than just through an icon that is not seen past the client. Championship Kha’Zix chromas also appeared to be a stepping stone to Riot’s next organisation-revenue integration.
Team passes were introduced in North America and Europe for the Summer split and gave fans a unique way of not only unlocking items of their favourite team, but also an added incentive to tune into their games.
Purchasing a team pass would unlock missions, and completing these missions by watching the team’s matches would earn team branded emotes, ward skins, chromas and icons, as well as some Blue Essence, key fragments and chests.
Another recent feature added by Riot, and arguably the most ambitious, is Pro View. Pro View allows fans to watch games from the point of view of the player’s themselves, with support of up to 4 player screens at any given time showing spectators exactly how the pros play.
This has so far been released only for the LCS and LEC, with each region priced at a reasonable $14.99/€14.99 per region or $19.99/€19.99 for both.
After losing out on a significant broadcasting deal with BAMTech in 2017, Riot have now forged their own alternate viewing platform that will be monetised directly by themselves with the aim to increase overall revenue in these leagues. It has also been confirmed that part of the money earned through Pro View will be shared amongst teams, though exact percentages have not yet been disclosed.
Pro View has not only allowed viewers a closer look at how these top pros play, which may or may not help in their own solo queue climbs, but has already led to memeable moments. None greater than G2 top-laner Wunder opening MS Paint mid-game to draw ‘What is going on?’ as his team fights elsewhere on the map.
Aside from fan experience, Pro View has also been penned by some to be a tool that can increase the level of the play itself. LCS legend Doublelift gave his impression of the new feature, expecting that “the really shit players in LCS are gonna get exposed for being really really bad … you’re gonna see like all the things that they’re doing wrong and hopefully they will get kicked and get replaced by better players so the competition could be better”.
Well hello there