After the NBA announced major losses for the 2019/20 season, how will this affect the LCS?
Since franchising began during the 2018 season, it was announced that as many as four of the ten franchised teams would receive backing from NBA teams, most notably the Golden Guardians owned by the Golden State Warriors, Flyquest, owned by the Milwaukee Bucks, and Dignitas owned by the Philadelphia 76ers.
With the boom of esports over the last few years, sports teams backed esports organisations have become more of a common practice, however, with the COVID pandemic directly impacting the profits of sports with the limitations of fans allowed in the arenas, could NBA backed LCS franchises be at risk of failure?
Usually, it would be expected that top teams such as the Golden Guardians and Flyquest would be looking to improve their teams to push for titles, however, as a direct result of the NBA lack of profits, both of these teams have been forced to cut back their investments and field rosters that many fans would call experimental at best.
After heading to Worlds 2020, Flyquest were expected to keep a majority of their roster and potentially improve at weaker positions, although it was announced that star mid-laner Tristan “PowerOfEvil” Schrage would be leaving to join TSM, and jungler Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen would be joining Team Liquid - effectively dismantling the core of the team that finished second in both splits of the 2020 season. As for Golden Guardians, the majority of their roster did manage to stick together, however finding themselves on a completely different organisation, under the 100 Thieves brand.
This could be a problem for the LCS, as the league could become a lot less competitive with teams forced to use budget rosters whilst teams like Cloud9 and Team Liquid are still offering multimillion-dollar deals to some of the best players in the West. Cloud9 flexed their spending power by reportedly spending $11.75million on Luka “Perkz" Perkovic, who is regarded as one of the greatest European League of Legends of all time.
Comparatively, the teams at the bottom couldn’t dream of spending anywhere near that on a single player, meaning the gap between the top and the bottom is ever-expanding, with the issue only getting worse when teams are being forced to sell their best players due to their owners prioritising NBA profits over a competitive LCS team.
Could it be a positive?
On the flip side though, many people believe that it is about time NA teams decided to focus on developing new talent and perhaps the budget cuts forced upon them by the NBA cuts will finally make this happen.
After having possibly one of the worst years for NA at Worlds 2020, with the number one seed TSM going 0-6 in groups and neither Team Liquid nor Flyquest making it out of groups, the community uproar to see new talent in the league instead of recycling old talent that hasn’t succeeded internationally has become overwhelming, and it would appear teams are finally starting to listen.
This has been shown by the Golden Guardians roster that was announced as a developmental roster and features two players from the Maryville Esports team that competed on the amateur circuit during 2020. The two players from amateur are top laner Aiden “Niles” Tidwell and jungler Ethan “Iconic” Wilkinson. They will be joined on the roster by former Golden Guardians academy mid Nicholas “Ablazeolive” Antonio Abbott, experienced ADC Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes, and Latin American import support Leandro “Newbie” Marcos.
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Whilst the overall expectations for this roster are probably bottom two in the league, many people still respect the fact that they’re using the opportunity to pick players from amateur and give them a chance to prove themselves, instead of players who have proven their ceiling in the LCS.
However, the team that appears to have rebuilt the best is probably Flyquest. Whilst the team isn’t expected to perform up to the same standards of their last roster, fans still have high hopes that the new team can reach the playoffs. Adding star top laner Eric “Licorice” Ritchie in a package from Cloud 9 alongside former academy players Cristian “Palafox” Palafox and David “Diamond” Berube, both of whom were considered one of if not the best players in their positions in academy. They’re joined on the roster by Brandon “Josedeodo” Joel Villegas, a young jungler from Argentina. Josedeodo showed his promise at the 2020 Worlds play-in stage, leaving many fans hopeful that he would be playing in a major region for the upcoming season and these fans wishes have come true.
Currently, it is unsure as to whether or not the NBA could make or break the LCS, and with the effects of COVID likely to having a lasting effect on the league, fans can only hope that the teams in the LCS are innovative and that the new rookie talents in the league can step up and perform on a level with the veteran talent that fans know and love.
Images via lolesports