China’s LPL League of Legends league has become the first around the world to officially announce franchising and an end to relegation.
Bohan Wu of Chinese esports news site Wanplus reported the announcement last night that the process would begin almost immediately, from the 2017 Summer Split onwards. The move was also announced on the official lolesports Weibo account.
The teams qualified for the Summer Split will all be guaranteed franchise spots, with relegation now abolished. The league will then be expanded to 14 teams in 2018, with a view to including 20 teams in the future.
A report earlier this month claimed that franchising may finally come to the NA LCS next year about lengthy speculation. Riot Games have as yet given no clear response to the report. Instead Riot points to this post from last year where they discuss wanting to give teams “a permanent stake” in a “stable future”.
The news will be an incredible boon to newly promoted sides like DAN Gaming, and a huge kick in the teeth for recently relegated Vici Gaming and Game Talents. Those two teams will potentially go down in history as the last two teams to be relegated from the LPL.
Team owners in North America have long called for increased revenue sharing and potential franchising, with many bemoaning relegation as harmful to the growth of the game. They and others argue that if a team can be relegated after just one split, it reduces the incentive for investors to get involved.
Across North America and Europe, we have seen big money teams like NRG Esports, Schalke 04 and Team Dignitas relegated from the top tier—although Dignitas was able to buy its way back in through the merger with Apex Gaming.