Over the course of the past few months, the North American League of Legends community has faced many difficult questions and concerns. Drops in viewerships, historical organizations leaving the LCS, and scrapping obligations for LCS teams to field an NACL roster have shaken the regional and international League fan base. While many are asking how long this crisis period will last, Riot Games has a clear view of the future of its esports ecosystem.
In the first quarter of this year, Riot has detected a “strong year-over-year increase in viewership across all key markets,” Naz Aletaha, global head of LoL esports, told Dot Esports on May 18 while attending the Mid-Season Invitational in London. Aletaha underlined increased interest and engagement compared to what Riot had noted in previous years.
“Despite what some media reports say, the engagement across LoL esports at the regional league level and certainly here at MSI is incredibly healthy,” Aletaha said.
But the issues the NA community are facing this year are undeniable. As a result, Riot is looking into the next steps needed to ensure the future of the league.
“We see it as our duty as the league and the governing body to do our part right to help the whole ecosystem get through this time,” Aletaha said before discussing the financial challenges NA faces right now.
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By working closely with its partners, including LCS teams, Riot is looking into ways to “get through this time in a scalable way,” which would involve accelerating its revenue-sharing payments to the teams and finding new revenue stream opportunities to build over the course of the next few years. Citing Riot esports president John Needham’s blog post from April, Aletaha admitted Riot had a “major change of perspective” in how it approaches its esports’ monetization. In the future, Riot will monetize esports “less so like traditional sports and more so like a game,” according to Aletaha.
So far, Riot has focused on building revenue streams similar to those seen in traditional sports sponsorships, which, according to Aletaha, is still a “healthy pipeline” despite media rights not paying out well within esports’ ecosystems. Starting this year, Riot will move to a game monetization mode, thus bringing more “business-to-consumer monetization where we can evolve and innovate on the viewing experience to unlock those sorts of opportunities for the teams and pros and the leagues,” Aletaha said.
Aletaha then added that in the short term, Riot’s new plan will be challenging to execute. But she continued by saying Riot is working alongside its partners to figure out what teams can do to “control costs” and what the publisher can do to “make sure we get through this time.”
The development pipeline is critical in any sport and the NA league is “no exception,” Aletaha added before explaining Riot’s plan for the tier-two competition in the region. While she said the recent NACL news is “tough” to take in, Aletaha claimed the “end of the tunnel” will bring a “more effective” system for the academy league in America, which will include cross-regional opportunities and competition.
“We actually look at what we’ve built here in EMEA as a really great example of what the developmental system should and could look like,” Aletaha said while describing the European Regional Leagues system as “robust” for the variety of teams present in EMEA. “We’ve seen a lot of pro players come out of the ERL system and into the LEC with a really high rate of success. We want to take the learnings from Europe and apply them to regions like NA and the Americas overall.”
But in the short term, the NACL community has seen many players and staff lose their jobs in a matter of days following Riot’s announcement on May 12. And while Aletaha confirmed the LCS team is working on what the academy competition will look like this summer and what the structure will be, she also explained what Riot is doing for those affected by the recent news.
“In an effort to provide [the leagues] with a level of stability and a cash infusion as quickly as possible during this time, we are looking to them to control their costs,” Aletaha said. “We can’t control that part of the PnL for them, but we’re working with them on that.”
Related: LCS Players Association outlines request list as league-wide walkout looms
While the LCS, the region’s Players Association, and the partnered teams look to find a short-term solution that’s satisfactory for all parties involved in the present issues, Riot is certain the future ahead of the North American region is bright.
“We are already planning our next few seasons, that’s how committed we are,” Aletaha said, mentioning esports events planned for as far as 2026. “Fans can expect to continue to see our regional leagues performing at very high levels. They’ll continue to see global events that will blow their minds and they shouldn’t be worried: LoL esports is not going anywhere.”