NA LCS Franchise Breakdown

By: John Jaskot

NA Server summoner gamertag : JazzEFiddle

With the NA LCS Franchise season starting in a little under a weeks time lets take a look at the teams you will be supporting. Follow them all or choose your favorite to be spring and/or summer split champions. Until then I will catch you on the rift!

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Team Name: Counter Logic Gaming

Existing LCS Team?: Yes

Notable Backers: The Madison Square Garden Company

Likely Reason for Acceptance: The only  team other than TSM and Cloud9 to have a North American LCS championship under its belt, Counter-Logic Gaming is a League of Legends brand that has existed from day one. CLG won back to back splits in Summer 2015 and Spring 2016, but has slid back down the table a bit since then. Another team whose absence would make the entire franchising system feel a bit hollow, Riot was sure to maintain the CLG and TSM rivalry for as long as it could.

On the business front, the Madison Square Garden Company (owner of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers) confirmed in July that it had purchased a controlling stake in CLG. Then last month, the Company announced the hiring of Nick Allen as its VP of esports and CLG COO. Allen was a former esports operation manager for Riot Games, and played a big part creating the LCS and League World Championship.

 
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Team Name: Team SoloMid

Existing LCS Team?: Yes

Notable Backers: N/A

Likely Reasons for Acceptance: Undeniably the face of North American League of Legends, Team Solomid has been the number one team in North America since the inception of the LCS. Its been a part of every single finals series in NA LCS history, and perennially been the most important, forward-facing team in the league. TSM’s franchise spot was almost a mathematical guarantee.

TSM’s presence in other games has lessened in recent months, most notably with itsdrama-filled departure from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive at the end of last year. However, TSM was one of the first orgs to actively move into PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS, and is likely banking on the success of it as a competitive title as well.

 
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Team Name: Cloud9

Existing LCS Team?: Yes

Notable Backers: NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana, Golden State Warriors co-owner Chamath Palihapitiya, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian

Likely Reasons for Acceptance: Cloud9 are one of the most popular North American franchises, and have consistently been at the top of the league. They’ve qualified for the elimination stages at Riot’s 2017 World Championship tournament, and been at the forefront of North American League of Legends since the early days of Riot’s LCS. With the London-based Overwatch League spot wrapped up as well, Cloud9 have a franchised presence in the two most lucrative esports leagues that currently exist.

Cloud9 has also seen an increase in investment interest. It closed a seed funding round in January, featuring the investment names above, and an uncovered Securities and Exchange Commission filing confirmed it has raised $19.7 million of an intended $25 million offering. 

 
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Team Name: Team Liquid

Existing LCS Team?: Yes

Notable Backers: aXiomatic

Likely Reasons for Acceptance: Team Liquid is a more recent addition to the North American LCS than either Cloud9 or TSM, but their presence in the league is a welcome one. Team Liquid was one of the earliest congregations for esports discussion, and it felt wrong that the organisation waffled on League of Legends as a viable esport for as long as it did. In 2015, Liquid rectified that error, and merged with Team Curse to finally bring its presence to the LCS.

The controlling share of Team Liquid belongs to aXiomatic, an ownership group comprised of sports team owners Peter Gruber, Ted Leonsis and Jeff Vinik. aXiomatic also has investments from Magic Johnson, Groupon co-founder Eric Paul Lefkofsky and The Walt Disney Company

 
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Team Name: OpTic Gaming

Existing LCS Team?: No

Notable Backers: Texas Rangers co-owner Neil Leibmann

Likely Reasons for Acceptance: OpTiC Gaming is easily the anomaly in this list so far. It’s a head scratcher that a long-time Call of Duty-based organisation slid into a North American LCS franchise spot over teams like Team Dignitas, Phoenix1, or Team EnVyUs, and whatever Riot’s reasons are for it haven’t been disclosed. However, OpTiC’s presence in League of Legends will surely be important.

Known for its incredibly devoted and loyal fanbase, a team like OpTiC can help inject even more hype into North America. With the Houston Overwatch League slot, and recent move into Dota 2, OpTic now boasts teams in virtually all the top tier esports.

 
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Team Name: Echo Fox

Existing LCS Team?: Yes

Notable Backers: The New York Yankees

Likely Reasons for Acceptance: Echo Fox’s performance in the NA LCS hasn’t been exactly top tier. However its owner, former NBA player and actor Rick Fox’s presence in esports is a good thing for the industy as a whole, and Riot likely knows that. The Echo Fox brand is now listed under Fox’s joint investment vehicle, Vision Esports.

Perhaps the most active and charismatic owner in the LCS, Rick Fox is often seen cheering Echo Fox on in the LCS studio or giving pep talks to his players. Echo Fox is also actively branching out into other games like Super Smash Bros.Street Fighter V, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

 

Team Name: Golden Guardians

Existing LCS Team?: No

Notable Backers: N/A

Likely Reasons for Acceptance: Joe Lacob, majority owner of the Golden State Warriors, and his son and assistant general manager Kirk Lacob, have recently turned an entire franchise around, building the Golden State Warriors into a potential NBA dynasty that doesn’t look to be slowing down. Its currently ranked as the #3 highest valued team in the NBA, with an estimated value of $2.6 billion. 

Not only do the Lacobs have the money and management experience to build a team, but two members of the Warriors ownership group are already involved in the league – Peter Guber (who is part of aXiomatic) and Chamath Palihapitiya (invested in Cloud9). Riot likely thought it a good match for Joe and his son Kirk to become (at least one) of the new league’s non-endemic team owners, especially with former Yahoo Head of Esports Hunter Leigh heading up its LoL and NBA 2KLeague operations.

 
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Team Name: 100 Thieves

Existing LCS Team?: No

Notable Backers: Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers

Likely Reasons for Acceptance: Industry veteran Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag will be the one overseeing operations for this new NA LCS addition. The former Call of Duty player and OpTic Gaming captain founded 100 Thieves in 2016, and though this will be the first professional esports organisation he’s managed, the value he’s generated not only for himself (including 3 million YouTube subscribers) and his brand evidently impressed Dan Gilbert.

And the backing by the Cavaliers evidently impressed Riot. Even though they are ranked #11 in value, acccording to Forbes, The Cleveland Cavaliers is still a billion dollar franchise. Its owner, Dan Gilbert has also taken an interest in esports, backing Wavedash Games in its $6 million financing through his venture capital firm. Its worth noting that the Cavaliers are rivals to the Golden State Warriors, and though they are not directly competing in the league, seeing a traditional sports rivalry continue on into League of Legends is a great storytelling opportunity.

 
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Team Name: FlyQuest

Existing LCS Team?: Yes

Notable Backers: Wesley Edens, Fortress Investment Group

Likely Reasons for Acceptance: FlyQuest came into being in 2016, when Cloud9’s sister team qualified for the NA LCS. Due to rules against one org managing multiple squads, the team was sold to Milwauke Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens, and rebranded to FlyQuest. The squad’s 2017 performance was nothing to write home about, and its social media following trails several declined teams.

Nevertheless, Edens has demonstrated his financial commitment to the league, having originally paid $1.8 million to buy in last year, plus an additional $700,000 for the four player contracts. His squad was the only all-North American team for 2017, and FlyQuest as a brand has begun expanding into other titles with rosters in Rocket Leagueand PUBG.

 
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Team Name: Clutch City Gaming

Existing LCS Team?: No

Notable Backers: N/A

Likely Reasons for Acceptance: As the last slot owner to be announced, the Houston Rockets rounded out the ratio of endemic to non-endemic orgs 7:3 (depending on how you define ‘endemic’). The Houston Rockets are an NBA championship team lead by Tilman J. Fertitta; chairman, CEO and sole-owner of restaurant corporation Landry’s inc. Only in September, Fertitta bought the Rockets for $2.2 billion – the highest value deal in professional level basketball, and in fact, sporting history. Prior to this, he was also an original investor in the NFL franchise the Houston Texans, and also bought the naming rights to a section of seating at Minute Maid Park, where various Landry’s-owned restaurants now do promotions.

It’ll be difficult to gauge the exact reasons why the Rockets were accepted for this slot, without Riot’s confirmation. It should be noted that the organisation hired former Archon CEO Sebastian Park in December as its head of esports and (according to ESPN’s sources) that Rockets declined participation in the Overwatch League.

John JaskotComment